Third Party Techniques

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The third party technique has been called the "heart of public relations" and has been used for decades by the public relations (PR) industry. For example, in 1991, Merrill Rose, the Executive Vice President of the PR firm Porter/Novelli, advised companies about the technique, which can offer controversial actors a credible voice:

"Put your words in someone else's mouth ... There will be times when the position you advocate, no matter how well framed and supported, will not be accepted by the public simply because you are who you are. Any institution with a vested commercial interest in the outcome of an issue has a natural credibility barrier to overcome with the public, and often, with the media.”[1]

Background – What is the Third Party Technique?

The tobacco industry employs this tactic, where arguments favorable to tobacco are lobbied by apparently independent third parties

This is a tactic used not only by the tobacco industry but also to give credibility to companies engaging in controversial industrial activities. Many companies have found it very unhelpful to use corporate spokespersons to defend themselves.

According to Tobacco Tactics in 1995, Amanda Little, Manager of Communications Services from the Sydney office of PR firm Burson-Marsteller told an advertising conference: “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.” “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.”.

Sometimes the Third Party Techniques are explicit and the industry, or their front groups, pay for these visions. In 2011, for example, the Privacy International group, which campaigns to support civil liberties, produced a report on smoking and privacy, commissioned and paid for by the pro-tobacco group Forest (em inglês). [2]

More often, financial ties are less transparent. They can be overshadowed to hide the links between industry and facade groups. While the goal is to persuade public opinion that a broad spectrum of people and organizations share the industry's view, techniques involving others do not necessarily seek to shake public opinion "per se." This is a battle that the tobacco industry has already lost. The goal of the tobacco industry is not to win a good public relations campaign, but to avoid losing political and legal battles. The Survival strategy ( survivalist ) has been working, for the tobacco industry, for over forty years.

Researches on internal tobacco industry documents, previously classified as secrets, shows that industry employs techniques involving third parties as a strategy quite frequently and this can be verified in the records below:

In this way, industry allies and those promoting a tobacco-friendly agenda should be scrutinized more closely for possible links with manufacturers.

Technical Varieties

Third-party techniques come in many forms and not all are camouflaged. They start lobbying, establish networks and build alliances. When there is a financial link, help is also contracted or - when the link is hidden - the use of 'front groups'. A specific use of 'front groups' is termed as astroturfing & reg; ".

Building Alliances

The most natural, let's say, of a third party technique is building alliances with those involved with the industry in some way. This includes, for example, employees, unions or consumers. Business organizations, representing either industry or a broader coalition of transnational corporations, can be effective in lobby groups and transnational lobbying networks.

For instance, in the United Kingdom, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, became notorious for receiving money from British American Tobacco to campaign against the regulations on Tobacco displays and advertising, on tobacco sale points.


The archives of the Tobacco Industry haveinnumerable documents revealing how celebrities have been used to:

  • Promote the "habit of smoking and tolerance" [3]
  • Participate on tobacco Advertising [4]
  • "Smoke KOOL [cigarrettes] in movies" [5]
  • Attend to sport events sponsored by the Tobacco Industry, with "excellent exposure possibilities". [6]

Forest Celebrities

The tobacco financed Front Group, called Forest, has it's own "council of supporters", formed by celebrities. Some of these celebrities speak publicly against the laws that Forest also disqualify, such as the prohibition of smoking and/or plain packaging. However, their link with Forest is not mentioned always, as shown in the example in the paragraph below.

  • The chef Antony Worrall Thompson is Forest's Patron, who gives interviews, as forest would say, "representing them at anytime and anywhere, be it for GMTV Channel 4 News or the World Service". He has also been the official host at Forest events on the Groucho Club, in Soho (club which he is a partner), and the Savoy Hotel, in London. [7]

However, the link between Forest and the chef, isn't so explicit. For example, in august, 2011, when Worrall Thompson divulged a eletronic petition claiming that the government should review the smoking ban. [8] Simon Clark, of Forest, has admitted that he asked the chef, not to propose another petition. "Na quinta-feira, 4 de agosto, the government launched their new site, with that same petition. "As the majority of readers know, i'm not a fan of petitions, in general", he wrote. "However, I spoke to the Forest's patron, Antony Worrall Thompson, and he agreed to submit a petition entitled as: 'Save our pubs and clubs_review the smoking ban." [9] If you click on the E-Petition of the British Government's website, you can only see Worrall Thompson's name, with no mention about Forest, or his role as it's patron. To the unwarned population, it seems like just "another famous chef", signing a petition, not a pro-tobacco organization. [10]

Hired Help

Companies related to tobacco business sometimes hire Research Institutions, independent experts or other consultants to write a report or emit a opinion favorable to the Industry. For example, opposing themselves over the Display Ban policy, or about the Plain Packaging. Paying for researches and for the endorsement of physicians for example, is explained in Influencing Science pode ser incluido na categoria "Third Party Technics" as "hired help".

'Front Groups' & 'Astroturfing'

'Front Groups' are organizations specially created by the tobacco industry (TI), to act as it's voice, supposedly independent in the debate over tobacco. These organizations include apparently autonomous entities. The truth is that they all have connections (occasionally occult) with the TI. Sometimes they are funded or financed by third parties, as shown in Research Institutes. One specific way of using front groups, is called 'Astroturfing': simulating a supposedly authentic movement (grassroot movement). [11].

See more at:

Notes and references

  1. ROSE, Merrill. Activism in the 90s: changing roles for public relations. HighBeam Business, Estados Unidos, v. 36, n. 3, 22 set. 1991. Available at: Access in: 18 nov. 2014. Full Document: PDF.
  2. DAVIES, Simon. Civil liberties: up in smoke. Ingleterra: Great Britain, 2011. Available at: Access in: 19 nov. 2014. Documento integral: PDF.
  3. BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO. Brief of celebrity interviews. Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, Estados Unidos, 9 ago. 2005. Available at: Brief for celebrity interviews Brief for celebrity interviews. Access in 19 nov. 2014. Full Document: PDF
  4. BATES, Ted Bates. Project A - Use Of Personalities. Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, Estados Unidos, 24 mai. 1999. Available at: Project A - Use Of Personalities. Access in: 19 nov. 2014. Documento integral: PDF.
  5. DILLON, Cindy. Creative assignments. Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, Estados Unidos, 24 jun. 1983. Available at: Access in: 25 nov. 2014. Documento integral: PDF.
  6. BROWN & WILLIAMSON. Viceroy golf tournament publicity program. Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, Estados Unidos, 8 nov. 1983. Available: Access in: 25 nov. 2014. Documento integral: PDF.
  7. FOREST. Our supporters., Cambridge, Inglaterra, [s.d.]. Available AT: Access in: 25 nov. 2014. Documento integral: PDF.
  8. FOREST. TV chef launches e-petition to amend smoking ban., Cambridge, Inglaterra, 25 ago. 2011. Available at: Access in: 25 nov. 2014. Documento integral: PDF.
  9. CLARK, Simon. The Leader of the House of Commons and the smoking ban e-petition., 15 ago. 2011. Available at: Access in: 25 nov. 2014. Documento integral: PDF.
  10. HM GOVERNMENT. [E-petition]: review the smoking ban., Inglaterra, 22 ago. 2012. Available at: Acess in: 25 nov. 2014. Documento integral: PDF.
  11. Nota: Astroturf® is the registered brand of a variety of artificial grass and, as such, radically opposed to grassroots.