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Monday, July 18, 2005

Framing an issue: The key to winning elections and finding PR success

In Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai writes about "The Framing Wars" and how the power of words - and careful word choice - played a big part in the most recent presidential election.

He writes: "Exactly what it means to 'frame' issues ... has to do with choosing the language to define a debate and, more important, with fitting individual issues into the contexts of broader story lines. ... Republicans, of course, were the ones who had always excelled at framing controversial issues, having invented and popularized loaded phrases like 'tax relief' and 'partial-birth abortion' and having achieved a kind of Pravda-esque discipline for disseminating them."

Sounds like something from an advanced PR class. Having a story to tell is one thing, but framing the issue in an appropriate context and appealing to base-level emotions, tying stories to a developing trend, or establishing them as part of a "big picture" is what brings success. And when framing an issue - in business like in politics - word choice matters.

Talking about careful word choice and issue framing might make some people think of "spin," that dirty word that PR professionals have been trying to shake for years. Spinning a story has negative connotations, but there are plenty of ways to legitmately frame an issue and establish the preferred vocabulary for discussing that issue while maintaining the highest levels of ethical communication.

And that's how framing an issue works in PR.

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