EDITORIAL: The willingness to take risks is often what separates good and great communicators

In a recent example of crisis communications in action, The New York Times published a detailed account of the fraud perpetrated on the reading public by its former reporter, Jayson Blair. Some argue that its mea-culpa strategy was far from successful.

In a recent example of crisis communications in action, The New York Times published a detailed account of the fraud perpetrated on the reading public by its former reporter, Jayson Blair. Some argue that its mea-culpa strategy was far from successful.

Somewhere within that organization there may have been a PR professional saying, "Don't do it - it's too risky." Maybe that person would have been right, but communicators need to choose their battles. Advising on the possible consequences is one thing. But demonstrating palpable aversion to risk is not an image PR counselors want to cultivate. The consequences for PR people engaging in too much nay-saying can cause "the slow and inevitable erosion of credibility," says Don Spetner, SVP of global marketing and communications for Korn/Ferry International and former VP of communications for Nissan. Spetner's perspective has been echoed by other senior professionals who lament that fear can kill intuition and the ability to think through a problem. This mindset is not limited to crisis situations. Our feature on the role of PR in change management (p. 15) examines companies embracing risk as they refocus their messages and priorities. A quaking PR team can hinder a company's efforts to transform. Beth Comstock, the company's CMO, describes the experience of changing the long-term tagline, and attitude, of the huge brand. She told me in a separate interview that her team fights against fear. "The challenge is to try and keep a sense of optimism, and keep PR in a 'can-do' mindset rather than a 'can't-do' mindset." Spetner says that professionals have to learn to live with a level of uncertainty. "We grow up as PR people fearing that we are going to be the person that presided over the great disaster that ruined the brand," he says. The "right" path is not always obvious. It is during these situations of great change, pressure, and speed when PR pros really prove their mettle, he adds. "This gray area is what really separates a good PR person from a great one." Good Award nominees are right under your nose The pages of this magazine are filled with examples of exceptional professionals from corporations, agencies, and nonprofits, many who are regularly pitched to us for inclusion. Yet when it comes to PRWeek Awards nominations, somehow many of these same leaders are forgotten. Those who have been honored with the PRWeek PR Professional of the Year award in the past have been excellent practitioners, representing everything that the award stands for. But I remain mystified at the list of those individuals who are never nominated, in spite of the respect they engender across the profession. You know who they are. PR firms certainly have an obligation to look at their client roster and identify the great organizations and leaders worthy of nomination. But corporations should also acknowledge the notable professionals in their corridors and their agencies. Really great people won't ask to be nominated for awards - they just deserve to be.

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