Government aims to place human face on PR efforts

WASHINGTON, DC: The federal government, historically not known for its PR tact or its sensitivity toward the needs of the press, is trying to humanize its communications with the public and the media.

WASHINGTON, DC: The federal government, historically not known for its PR tact or its sensitivity toward the needs of the press, is trying to humanize its communications with the public and the media.

WASHINGTON, DC: The federal government, historically not known for

its PR tact or its sensitivity toward the needs of the press, is trying

to humanize its communications with the public and the media.



In a seminar held earlier this month, more than 500 government

communicators, representing 140 government organizations, met to hear

from several prominent members of the media on how they might improve

their PR skills.



Washington Post reporter Juan Williams said that while the public and

many of his colleagues used to criticize government communicators for

their lack of assistance and sensitivity, he believes the PR climate is

changing.



As an example, he cited the recent failure of NASA’s Mars Polar Lander

mission. Instead of decrying the loss of millions of dollars devoted to

the project, the space agency put a human touch on the drama by holding

frequent briefings and letting the public see the scientists’

frustration and disappointment. ’NASA showed our friends and neighbors

going through a very difficult time,’ Williams said.



But Dateline NBC consumer reporter Lea Thompson warned that today’s

continuous news cycle would place added pressure on the government’s PR

pros. ’There are more media members and fewer people covering beats,

which means that there are fewer you trust,’ she said. ’There aren’t

enough (communicators) to go around.’



To frame a successful story, Williams advised government PR pros to

’dramatize and create tension,’ and build a successful narrative. He

also warned the audience to tailor pitches to the specific outlet they

are pursuing.



The day wasn’t without its share of controversy. Tim Clark, editor of

Government magazine and a panel moderator, posed a question - ’Which is

the best background for a government communicator: PR, politics or

journalism?’ - that rendered many panelists speechless. Those who

responded were critical of longtime PR people filling the job.



NBC’s Thompson said PR pros often try too hard to ’put a spin or the

best face on things,’ while former NBC journalist and Justice Department

spokesman Carl Stern claimed that people with a PR background ’are not

sensitive to government.’ He added that political and PR people ’don’t

get it when it comes to separating initiatives from the work of

government departments.’



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