Third party technique
The third party technique has been defined by one public relations (PR) executive as, "putting your words in someone else's mouth." PR firms have been known to put their words in the mouths of journalists by hiring reporters to write stories which favor their clients, or by funding tendentious university research which they then publicize as "proof" of their client's position.
The use of scientists as seemingly independent, authoritative experts is another frequent variation on this technique. PR firms and corporations also like to sponsor so-called think tanks that "think" whatever the sponsors think they should think. Corporate-sponsored front groups often are created or used by PR firms to appear as "independent" third parties.
With the public's perception of corporate credibility waning, hiring corporate spokespeople is of limited use. "For the media and the public, the corporation will be one of the least credible sources of information, on its own product, environmental and safety risks. Both these audiences will turn to other experts ... to get an objective viewpoint", Amanda Little from the Sydney office of PR firm Burson-Marsteller told an advertising conference in 1995.
"Developing third party support and validation for the basic risk messages of the corporation is essential. This support should ideally come from medical authorities, political leaders, union officials, relevant academics, fire and police officials, environmentalists, regulators", Little said.
Tobacco industry use of third party technique
A 120-page Philip Morris report from October, 1989  shows how the tobacco industry works through third parties to introduce "proactive" legislation -- bills specifically designed benefit their business -- and designed to prevent legislators from finding out that the industry is the main entity behind the effort. Often pro-tobacco legislation is masked as bills pertaining to non-tobacco-related issues, like employment, air quality or ventilation. The industry's efforts to hide its involvement in drafting and pushing these bills, and its need to utilize third parties to lend these measures credibility, is sprinkled throughout the document. In one example (at Page -8530), the report says,
- "...the new bill will focus on 'ventilation standards,' not 'clean indoor air'... it is imperative that the Tobacco Institute not be identified as a major player in this effort."
Other key excerpts from the report indicating the tobacco industry's use of third parties to introduce seemingly unrelated proactive legislation are as follows:
ALASKA INDOOR AIR QUALITY/ VENTILATION STANDARDS
OBJECTIVE: To enact ventilation standards legislation.
During the 1989 legislative session, an indoor air quality bill (H283) was introduced by angry state employees concerned about workplace health concerns; While these employees have some knowledge of the IAQ issue, the bill they drafted is clumsy and potentially dangerous to the tobacco industry ...
When the legislature reconvenes in January l990, a substitute for H283 will be prepared, in conjunction with Institute legal and labor counsel, for introduction at the first committee hearing... the new bill will focus on "ventilation standards," not "clean indoor air." By focusing on ventilation, we hope to limit amendments that would restrict smoking...In light of our Alaskan legislative and ballot measure problems, it is imperative that the Tobacco Institute not be identified as a major player in this effort. Our image has never been great in Alaska, but the 1989 oil spill has made any outside corporate entity suspect. The success of this effort will depend totally on the ability of our labor allies and consultants to develop a committed coalition under our direction.
Prohibit private employers from, discriminating against smokers in hiring practices. Legislation would attempt to prohibit employers from using non-job-related personal behaviors as a criteria for employment or promotions.
...The purpose of the legislation is to restrict the ability of a private employer to discriminate against smokers. The primary proponent of the legislation will be the Connecticut State Federation AFL-CIO ... This legislation would be postured as a labor and not a tobacco issue. Other non-job-related activities would also be protected by the legislation. The industry would play a supportive role in the development and passage of this legislation...
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
INDOOR AIR QUALITY/ VENTILATION STANDARD
Ventilation Standards Legislation
Enact indoor air quality (IAQ) legislation that focuses on the need for proper ventilation rather than controlling "sources" of indoor air pollution...
For the industry to achieve its objective, the Institute will direct legislative efforts through third party contacts in the labor community ... The Institute will work closely throughout to ensure that the IAQ bill does not become a vehicle for more onerous restriction legislation. Contingency plans to kill the bill under such circumstances are being formulated...[Italicized emphasis added.]</ref>
Another powerful example of how the tobacco industry cultivates third parties is contained in the transcript of a 1984 Philip Morris Corporate Affairs World Conference. In it, Alan Miller of PM's marketing department explains the "constituency system" invented by Philip Morris to defend itself and neutralize its enemies. This excerpt discusses how the tobacco industry neutralized one of its most formidable potential enemies: firefighters.
Example. The self-extinguishing cigarette. Who would normally be involved in the self-extinguishing cigarette on the other side of the fence? Probably the fire-fighting community. As you know in the United States, we have put a huge amount of time into helping all the organized groups of professional and volunteer fire-fighters. They get such help from us that is monumental. And then when we need them to stand up and say, not cigarettes that cause fire in 99.9 percent of the cases, we get their cooperation. But that's because we have cultivated them and helped them achieve some of their goals and we have seen that they are a potential enemy that has real credibility. That's the greatest credibility, your potential enemy. We had turned them around and made allies, third party defenders for ourselves.
Articles and Resources
- Amanda Little, "A green corporate image - more than a logo", Presentation to Green Marketing Conference, June 25 & 26 1990. (Little was Manager, Communications Services, for the Sydney office of Burson-Marsteller at the time).
- Philip Morris collection Proactive Legislative Targets - 900000 Report. October 2, 1989. 120 pp. Bates No.2025848520/8639
- Philip Morris collection Proactive Legislative Targets - 900000 Report. October 2, 1989. 120 pp. Bates No.2025848520/8639, at page -8530
- Philip Morris collection Proactive Legislative Targets - 900000 Report. October 2, 1989. 120 pp. Bates No.2025848520/8639, From Page 11, Bates Page No. 2025848530
- Philip Morris collection Proactive Legislative Targets - 900000 Report. October 2, 1989. 120 pp. Bates No.2025848520/8639, From Page 18, Bates page No. 2025848537]
- Philip Morris collection Proactive Legislative Targets - 900000 Report. October 2, 1989. 120 pp. Bates No.2025848520/8639, From Page 27, Bates No. 2025848546
- BLAKE, J; DOWLING,J; FLORIO,D; MERRITT,W; MILLER,A; ROTHERMEL,T; WOODWARD,G Philip Morris Corporate Affairs Philip Morris Incorporated 840000 Corporate Affairs World Conference, Rye Brook, New York 840913 Workshop - Dealing with the Issues Indirectly: Constituencies Transcript. September 13, 1984. 67 pp. Bates No. 2025421934/2000
Other SourceWatch resources
- Front groups,
- Industry-friendly experts,
- Industry-funded organizations
- Jonathan Gruber
- Dealing with the Issues Indirectly: Constituencies (Philip Morris Corporate Affairs World Conference workshop transcript explaining the use and application of the third party technique)
- Corporate philanthropy
- APCO Worldwide, "Opinion Elites Cite Need for More Communication on Corporate Social Responsibility: APCO Insight Study Finds Third-party Engagement Creates Credibility", Media Release, September 9, 2004.