EDITORIAL: Not only can PR do its job now, it must

A number of young PR people have sought Howard Rubenstein's counsel

in the last few weeks, confronting him with the idea that they feel

useless at this time. After all, what can a young account executive do

in response to such tragedy, such challenges, such a dramatically

altered world? As he advised them, and as we must all advise our staff

and co-workers in this business, nothing - but nothing - could be

further from the truth.



There are so many issues that PR can and must address, many of them

highlighted in these pages in recent weeks: ensuring people continue to

fly; persuading people to visit tourist attractions, theaters, cinemas,

museums; explaining - not sensationalizing - threats to citizens' safety

and well-being; reassuring staff that they are being looked after in

their workplace; educating people about different ethnic groups; and

preparing America to respond appropriately to any further threats or

assaults. The list is daunting, but certainly emphasizes that every

communications executive has a job to do in one way or another.



And PR is in many ways better suited to tackle these issues than its

marketing brethren. An ad, as one-way, paid-for communication may be

useful in reminding people why New York is a great place to be. But

finding out the nature of people's fears and the reasons why they are

not flocking to the city in their usual numbers, then addressing those

issues through sources that people trust and depend on, is far more

likely to provide an effective solution to the current crisis in the

tourism business.



As Rubenstein puts it, "Now is no time to hide from your clients." He

adds, "PR people can really be heard from right now, or they can shy

away from the issues, and people will look back in two years time and

ask, 'Where was PR when we needed it?'" Perfectly phrased.



In that vein, agencies should not be shy about explaining to clients,

potential clients, or even groups who could benefit from pro-bono

counsel, what they can do for them in this changed world. For example,

PR21 is one of many agencies stepping up its crisis management capacity

at this time (See p. 9). But in launching this practice, EVP Jon

Goldberg comments that it will be tough to market this service so that

it doesn't appear to be profiting from the tragic events of September

11. His sensitivity is nice to hear, but unnecessary.



Clients are realizing they need to be properly prepared for a range of

crises, and the PR industry houses the experts in this field. If we

believe in our capabilities in this field, why not come forward and

openly promote the fact that we have something extremely valuable to

offer. This is not taking advantage. It's doing what we must do, much

the same way Mayor Giuliani and President Bush have done what they must

do.



Yes, in the process of doing what they have had to do, the mayor and

President's ratings have risen, but that is not why they did it. PR's

stock can similarly rise in this climate, not because it is taking

advantage, but because it is doing what it must do.



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