03 August 2005


In his book, "The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America," published in 1961, Daniel Boorstin introduced the term "pseudo-event." A pseudo-event, he said, was a staged and scripted event that was a kind of counterfeit version of an actual happening. According to Boorstin, a pseudo-event is not intrinsically significant but is created in order to make news. For instance, a press conference called by a public relations firm on behalf of its client.

Sadly, most PR firms and university curricula shy away from discussing this topic. But, there are a few who do. Here are some excerpts from Professor Michael Turney’s class on the ‘Principles of Public Relations’ from the Northern Kentucky University:

Public relations practitioners routinely stage events and try to control the situations in which their clients and their publics interact so that their client is presented in the best possible light…

One of the most frequent and effective ways public relations practitioners control situations and the circumstances surrounding an organization's interactions with its publics is by conducting special events. Instead of waiting for happenstance to provide a situation in which the organization and its publics encounter one another and which may or may not turn out positively, they orchestrate a situation that occurs when the organization wants it to and proceeds in ways that favour the organization.

Public relations practitioners and their clients are enthusiastic and laudatory about special events. And, for the most part, the publics who participate in them are also fairly accepting, and sometimes highly appreciative, of them…

A pseudo-event is certainly not a popular term among public relations practitioners, especially those who frequently rely on special events to generate news coverage for their clients, but it is a perspective would-be practitioners need to be aware of and be prepared to address.

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