EDITORIAL: PR needs to up its prominence in DC

While corporate CEOs and their trusted lieutenants show

ever-increasing signs of understanding the benefits of PR, many key

players in Washington, DC still seem to undervalue the communications

discipline - a problem becoming all too apparent at the moment. If we

are to convince the country of the value of PR, we must market the

industry harder to the nation's capital and to the public sector as a

whole.



As has been widely discussed in the press - despite the President's

apparent immunity to criticism - the government has done a substandard

job of communicating a coherent message on the scale and nature of the

threat posed by the current bioterrorist attacks (see p. 11).

Information officers and departmental spokespeople clearly weren't

coordinating their thoughts or actions. Those people should be meeting

regularly at any time - and especially at this time - to discuss the

message they are putting out to the public. They did so under President

Johnson and they should do so again.



On Capitol Hill there is still a culture of key communications positions

being awarded to people with no PR experience whatsoever. Being a press

secretary is often just another step up the staff ladder for the people

who are given the role. In addition, many government agencies and public

sector organizations run communications departments on extremely limited

resources.



Comparatively poor remuneration in public organizations also means they

lack the big-hitting PR pros who would give them true communications

leadership.



These pros, understandably, have taken their skills to the private

sector - just look at the number of former government and public sector

communicators currently plying their trade at the Washington offices of

Burson, H&K, Fleishman and the others.



So what can be done to start shifting both the perception and reality of

the PR business in DC? Speaking at the PRSA's annual conference in

Atlanta - shortly after he had received the association's prized Golden

Anvil - Ofield Dukes gave the audience one answer to this question. The

PRSA, he said, must have a greater presence in the capital. Explaining

himself afterwards, he told PRWeek: "There are 4,000 trade associations

based in Washington, DC. It is the center of the communications world.

PRSA should be there."



Of course, there is a successful local chapter of the organization in

DC, but his point is that the PRSA is so clearly headquartered in New

York. To expand its presence in DC, and ramp up its representation of PR

interests on Capitol Hill, would be an invaluable exercise in making

public communicators feel they are part of a large, successful business.

In addition, the key players in the industry must do what they can to

reach out to government agencies in DC and offer their assistance, even

if it is just sharing best practice with them and giving them increased

confidence in the importance of their function.



Most agencies know how important the public affairs function is to their

business, but has the PR industry done enough to make government and

public sector communicators aware of the body of knowledge and

experience that the business has to offer? It doesn't look as if it has.



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