EDITORIAL: Amid all this talk of corporate accountability, PR can't lose sight of its basic daily concerns

Numerous PR leaders have told me how fortunate I am to be taking over as PRWeek's editor-in-chief right now. They're right. I am lucky. Not just because my predecessor left me with a great editorial legacy, but because today's economic climate offers a unique chance for the PR industry to foster a better understanding of its role in corporate America. The business media is busy covering the problems facing companies that would have benefited from bringing strong PR counsel into the boardroom. Enron, in its current incarnation, apparently got that message, and added its top PR person to the executive board. Measuring and managing corporate reputation, along with navigating an uncompromising media terrain, are vital functions of responsible corporations, their PR departments, and agencies. But as the spotlight shines on so many key PR issues, we must not forget that most companies face the challenges associated with operating in a tough economy. PRWeek will continue to report on companies facing financial crises and media scrutiny. Meanwhile, the business of running a PR department or agency goes on. And while we must still focus and learn from the missteps of the Tycos and WorldComs, we can't lose sight of day-to-day management issues that still preoccupy most PR staffs. Tight budgets and increased pressure for ROI challenge the relationships between corporate PR arms and internal audiences, as well as agencies and clients. Account reviews are protracted and intense. Firms struggle to balance existing client service with cultivating new business. Cost-conscious corporations are demanding more contractual assurances. Many top PR execs are struggling to create the optimal structure for their PR departments. These in-house teams may be trying to impose a new global structure, as Oracle has recently done, or maximize a reduced head-count. Some have engaged the same PR firm for years, and the firm's institutional memory outstrips that of its client. How can companies reassess the value of a PR firm in that context? Even in this tough market, hiring and retaining staff is tough. Some top-level corporate PR vacancies have been left unfilled for months, as companies seek more international experience, cultural diversity, and solid business acumen. PR firms must staff accounts with excellent people, but they face potential pitfalls when those employees are hired away by the client, leave the firm, or ask to be moved to other accounts in the interest of career development. PR staffs and agencies are asking many of the same questions. How can I prove my value to my key audiences? How can I run my business more effectively? How can I better manage expectations? It is vital not to lose perspective on seemingly mundane issues amid the newsworthy discussion of corporate accountability and the heady impact of Jack Welch's concession to "public perception." These topics will remain crucial long after the details of WorldCom's misdeeds are relegated to MBA textbooks. -Julia Hood

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