Third Party Technique
As corporations become less and less trusted in the eyes of the public to provide reliable opinions on issues that they are invested in, they are increasingly turning to Third Party solutions. For Third Party Technique to be effective, the public has to believe that the parties presenting the sponsored messages are reliable and working in the public interest, rather than veiled corporate Front Groups or Astroturf campaigns.
Whilst some Third Party Techniques can be overt, the main objective is to use Deception to keep financial links between corporations and their sponsored third parties hidden. The aim is to convince the public that a wide range of independent individuals and organisations share the vision of the sponsor, often relating to controversial areas of public policy.
Methods of Third Party Technique
Think Tanks, Front Groups and Astroturfing
Many Public Relations firms and corporations fund Think tanks, political interest groups that conduct research and engage in policy debate. Whilst some Think Tanks are genuine, others are little more than Front Groups acting as independent third parties, serving the interests of their corporate sponsors by thinking whatever they are told to “think”.
Corporations have been known to put words in the mouths of seemingly independent, authoritative scientists. Public Relations firms often hire scientists to publish research or reports that are beneficial to the interests of their corporate benefactors, or aim to cast doubt on the opinions of opponents. PR companies have also been known to encourage journalists, medical professionals and policy makers with financial benefits to publish reviews, articles and opinion pieces that benefit their corporate sponsors. .
Examples of Third Party Technique
Credit Research Centre
In 1997 Georgetown University’s Credit Research Centre published a study which argued that debtors were using bankruptcy as an excuse to avoid paying back their creditors. An opinion piece in the “Washington Times” seized upon this research, using it as evidence to support the lobbying activities of banks and credit agencies in Congress for ‘bankruptcy reform’.
What the author failed to mention in his article was that the Credit Research Centre is funded entirely by banks, credit agencies, credit card companies and retailers. The author also failed to mention that the study was funded by a $100,000 donation from Visa and Mastercard. Furthermore, the author also did not declare that he himself had been hired to work as a credit industry lobbyist.
Social Issues Research Centre
The Social Issues Research Centre, or SIRC, claims on its website to be a non-profit organisation dedicated to conducting independent social research. Recently, the SIRC has started lobbying for restrictions on what journalists can and cannot write about in terms of issues of GM foods and foodborne illness, in order to combat the ‘excessive and unfounded’ public sensitivity to these issues. It has also recently published a report promoting the benefits of public houses.
It has been discovered that the SIRC shares the same offices, directors, and personnel as a Public Relations Firm, MCM Research, which claims to be able to aid the causes of their clients through the application of social science and social research. Some of its main clients include top firms in the alcohol, food and restaurant industries.
An organisation called Consumer Alert is frequently quoted in the print media when discussing issues of product safety. Consumer Alert has recently expressed opposition to flame-resistance standards in clothing fabrics issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It has also been a champion for the diet drug Redux, which was recently taken off the market because of its association with heart valve damage.
What reporters fail to mention time and time again is that Consumer Alert is funded directly by big business, and is usually dichotomously opposed to the positions taken by true grassroots consumer safety groups. Consumer Alert receives funding from the corporations whose products it defends, including Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Elanco, Exxon, Chemical Manufacturers Association, the Beer Institute, Coors, and Chevron USA.
Mothers Opposing Pollution
In 1993 a group called Mothers Opposing Pollution was formed, calling itself “the largest women's environmental group in Australia with thousands of supporters across the country”. Its sole focus was a campaign against plastic milk bottles; it claimed plastic milk bottles were detrimental to the environment, caused a greater risk of carcinogenic material leaking into the milk, and caused a reduced quality of milk due to light exposure. The group’s spokesperson, Alana Maloney, summed up their argument in a press release: “The message to the consumer is never buy milk in plastic containers”.
An investigative journalist found out that Alana Maloney was just a Sock puppet, a fake personality created by the director of a Public Relations firm called J. R. and Associates, Janet Rundle. It was discovered that Rundle was a close business partner of Trevor Munnery, owner of the PR firm Unlimited Public Relations, whose biggest client was the Association of Liquidpaperboard Carton Manufacturers (ALC) - producers of paper milk cartons.
- Wikipedia, Third Party Technique: Brief overview of the concept
- SourceWatch, Third Party Technique: Critical look at Third Party Technique
- PR Watch, What is Impropaganda?: Examples of corporate Third Party activism
- SourceWatch, Third Party Technique, SourceWatch website, accessed 24 March 2015
- Investopedia, Third-Party Technique, Investopedia website, accessed 24 March 2015
- Tobacco Tactics, Third Party Techniques Tobacco Tactics website, accessed 24 March 2015
- SourceWatch, Think Tanks, SourceWatch website, accessed 24 March 2015
- PR Watch, What is Impropaganda?, Regain Your Brain website, accessed 24 March 2015