Framing is something we hear about a lot in politics, but the concept has now crossed over to general messaging and communications. So what the heck is it? Simply put, it is establishing context for the purpose of influencing how an action or issue is viewed. Framing helps you direct how your audience perceives what you are doing and what you are saying in a way that is advantageous to you.

If perception is reality and framing affects what our audiences perceive or don’t perceive, then framing would be a must for successful persuasion. But is it ethical? I suppose that depends on your motives.

The PRSA Code of Ethics calls on us as communication professionals to promote truth, accuracy and fairness while respecting all points of view. Framing that derides or obfuscates important elements of an issue, flies in the face of fairness and respect. Unfortunately, framing in political circles often does just that. Political strategists will tell you that negative works and gets votes. Motivating people through fear can get quick action, but in the end what kind of relationships does it build? What does a community really gain through discourse that emphasizes what’s bad instead of what works or what’s possible?

Effective public relations professionals drive organizational messaging and counsel management on the consequences to their decisions. As part of that responsibility, we should also be advocating for positive framing that builds honest context and meaning for our audiences. The resulting messages, along with responsible actions, will create trust in what an organization says and does. That builds relationships and reputations that endure.

By Jeff Julin (jjulin@mgacommunications.com)

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