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Agenda Setting Theory: Agenda Setting Theory suggests that the media has the power to set the agenda for what issues publics think about but not what they think specifically. Addressing the influence of media, the Agenda Setting Theory allows public relations campaigns to bring certain issues to the forefront while not necessarily relying on shaping the public’s interpretation of these issues.

The Agenda Setting Theory relates to the approach public relations practitioners take when communicating with their publics. As a Theory of Mass Communication, PR people may choose to simply focus on bringing their issue or campaign the most attention rather than focus on how it will shape it’s audiences opinion.

PETA’s 2004 campaign, “The Holocaust on your Plate”, provides an apt example for the application of the Agenda Setting Theory. Juxtaposing pictures of Holocaust victims with photographs of suffering animals in slaughterhouses, PETA created an incredibly controversial campaign that sought to bring the issue of the treatment of animals in the meat industry to the public’s attention.

Addressing the highly controversial and emotional issue of the Holocaust, the campaign received an excess of appalled responses from offended publics (including prominent religious leaders) and thusly garnered significant press coverage and media attention for their target audience of people who are unaware or unsympathetic of the state of the meat industry.

Though the slaughterhouse photos used were certainly picked to highlight intense suffering and garner sympathy for these animals, the campaign seemingly didn’t intend to provide as compelling of a case for not eating meat as it could have. “The Holocaust on your Plate” campaign relied on inciting controversy and provoking responses rather than relying on highlighting facts, data and certain specifics regarding injustices in the meat industry. Using such contentious and potentially offensive images of Holocaust victims, “The Holocaust on your Plate” campaign was arguably not about gaining support for their cause of injustice in the meat industry but about setting the agenda of issues for their audience to consider.

Post by Hari Khalsa


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