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What PR Media Should Learn from Terrorists

Updated on July 8, 2016


Terrorism is a dangerous and bloody business, led by people who want to instill fear in populations all around the world. And when it comes to organized terrorist attacks today, no organization trumps ISIS. ISIS inspires fear in not just government officials, but also the people they govern.

In 1985, long before ISIS rose to notoriety, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher handled one terrorist attack by urging news and media companies not to help feed the terrorists’ agenda of spreading fear, by giving them more publicity.

This is a strategy adopted by law enforcement even in the U.S. today, as people are urged to focus on the victims and lives lost, rather than the offender.

Terrorists Make their Own Media

However, terrorists have now found their way around this, by distributing their content in the form of high-definition videos, live tweeting play-by-play action of gruesome events as they unfold, and even high-quality recruitment videos. In the past three years, this is the route ISIS has taken to spread its message.

Rather than wait for the media to get wind of its activities, ISIS creates and distributes its footage of civilian beheadings juxtaposed against the so-called utopian life of joining the organization.

What PR Can Learn

In spite of ISIS’ message of fear and terror and the awful activities it carries out to this end, there is much to learn from how they handle their media and public relations.

High-Quality Content. For instance, many companies believe the more often a brand is seen, the more it boosts the brand’s good PR. While this is mostly true, the quality of the content put forward about the brand also decides how people view it.

Low-quality content makes the brand a low quality or cheaper alternative to better options. Low-quality content can also lead to bad PR if people find errors, inconsistencies, and other characteristics that might attract ‘trolls.’

ISIS produces high-quality content by creating professionally filmed TV productions of all their atrocious acts. Nothing is too gruesome for public viewing.

Own your Content. High-quality content is great, but it’s even better when the company makes their own content, rather than rely on placement on other content-driven platforms. ISIS has achieved this ownership of their content by creating Amaq, their own news agency.

Become an Expert. Many brands rely on big media groups to create and distribute expert knowledge regarding them in the form of press releases, product launch announcements, and ads. However, brands should control the expert information about themselves by providing their own updates, announcements, press releases, and promotional content via their own platforms.

This is essentially what ISIS has done, as it publishes webzines in several languages; including French, English, and Russian. So, rather than read speculative pieces from journalists, the public can look to ISIS for virtually all the information they need.

As a terrorist organization, ISIS seems to be the last place any reputable organization should look for inspiration. However, when it comes to its PR engine, ISIS provides at least one good lesson… for PR experts.

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    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 10 months ago from San Diego California

      Excellent analysis into how ISIS has propelled itself from a rag-tag band of dusty malcontents into caliphate status. The power of skillfully used media to manipulate people cannot be denied.