Undecideds fail to get a meaningful message as both campaigns focus almost solely on Iraq war

As the death of 1,000 US soldiers in Iraq was marked last week, both sides of the campaign continued to score hits off each other over the issues of everything from justifying the war to the way it has been managed. And though The New York Times and others have reported on the refocusing of the Kerry campaign, there are few signs that any meaningful messages on little issues like jobs or healthcare are getting through.

As the death of 1,000 US soldiers in Iraq was marked last week, both sides of the campaign continued to score hits off each other over the issues of everything from justifying the war to the way it has been managed. And though The New York Times and others have reported on the refocusing of the Kerry campaign, there are few signs that any meaningful messages on little issues like jobs or healthcare are getting through.

The Bush campaign has not shied away from discussing the conflict either. It has even admitted to miscalculations along the way. Were I working on the Kerry campaign, I would begin to suspect that the Bush administration does not fear this topic as much as one might suppose it would. Perhaps that's because anyone whose vote for President in November is being dictated by the Iraq war will not, at this point, be dissuaded from that vote by further rhetoric from either side. Anyone who has ever been stuck in the middle of a heated dinner party debate over the war knows that the sides are intractable in their points of view. That leaves the often-talked-about "undecided" vote. And what message are they getting now? Only that the media loves to dissect this subject from every angle - it's become the ultimate reality show. Every good PR practitioner knows that messages that motivate action are the only ones worth communicating. But when the curtain closes on the voting booth, what will those undecideds be thinking about before they pull the lever? It is not clear that either party has a clear notion of the answer to that question. Whichever party prevails in November, the result at the end of this feast of all things Iraq - at the expense of serious domestic issues that are clearly a tougher sell to the media - will be an expectation vacuum demanding to be filled. PR should embrace constant place in the spotlight The PR industry is divided into roughly two camps - those who worry about a negative reputation of the PR industry and those who don't. Media analysis done for PRWeek by CARMA International revealed that, in spite of the overwhelming perception that coverage of the profession is generally negative, that isn't necessarily the case. (See "PR in the spotlight," p. 21.) We offer this feature annually, in part as a cathartic outlet for the frustration felt by many who believe that the industry is misunderstood and unfairly maligned, and also to evaluate the real credibility issues that may impact how effectively PR pros may do their jobs. But one point always seems to escape analysis - the fact that PR is part of a public universe which will always be studied, criticized, and held to a higher standard. Journalists, celebrities, and politicians are used to it. Why can't PR pros seem to grasp that their key role in how issues play out, products are pushed, and messages resonate puts them squarely in the crosshairs of public scrutiny? In a universe where consumers are more aware than ever of how messages are delivered to them, we should be glad that the influential power of PR is not overlooked, and that its purveyors are held accountable.

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