January 2009

Eye Askant

Governance and political campaigns from a marketing perspective.

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Perception is Reality

It is a worldview I often teach to students, advertising agency staff and to people I counsel, for it is a principle well worth carrying into careers and industries and relationships. It is an important precept in communications, in the governance of people and nations, in business and stocks, and when dealing with friends and relatives. Perception is reality, and though perception is seldom reality, how the outside world perceives us and what we do has dramatic repercussions on the relationship. Simply stated, though we may be faultless, there is a fault to fix.

Perhaps there is nothing that underscores the point better than to state that the Perception is Reality principle is biblical. When asked whether eating food sacrificed to idols is a sin, Paul answered that it is, by itself, not a sin. “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one... but not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled... Be careful (then) that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak... So this weak brother... is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.”

"You mean I have to be concerned about what people think even if I have done no wrong?", so reacted an aghast vice president of Adformatix, the advertising agency I headed for two decades. For one to pay no regard to an accusation because it is untrue is foolhardy and politically naive. A public servant may be totally innocent of a crime he is accused of, but perception has life: the accusation is real, with form and weight and mass and influence, on career and performance and personal reputation.

"But how could I have stolen money? I wasn't even in government yet!"

Facts seldom matter, which is a fact of life in the public relations field. Cries of innocence and alibis, however valid, cannot outweigh intrinsic bias. While one may be blessed by innocence, an accusation must be accorded almost the same concern as if there were guilt. "The principle of "Caesar's wife" is absolutely vital for any government seeking to uphold public rectitude... if questions of conduct lead to the case being referred to the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards, in no circumstances may the minister remain in office. That may seem hard if the accusations come to nothing, but governments must accept that the appearance of corruption can be as damaging as the reality, and that the insistence on quite irrelevant legal principles is apt only to increase cynicism and disenchantment among the people it is meant to reassure."

  1. The London Independent Philip Hensher 2001

The average Filipino public servant will probably not adhere to the same severe code, but he can choose to manage perception better. And management of perception begins with acceptance that a government post is tainted with original sin.

Why governments disappoint.

"You mean I have to be concerned about what people think even if I have done no wrong?"

About the Professor

In his 35 years in advertising, Professor Pozon has been been involved, in varying degrees, independently and as an agency man, with political campaigns.


"It’s not the accuracy and abundance of information that should matter most — rather, it’s how that information is interpreted." 

  1. Kathleen M. Sutcliffe and Klaus Weber, Harvard Business Review

“The financial markets are the manifestation of the push and pull between reality and perception. Therefore, successful investing must start with market perception.”

  1. http://kanundrum.com

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