PR rarely causes problems, but it frequently solves them

Much of the discussion at PRWeek's recent NEXT Conference at The TimesCenter in New York revolved around cementing communications' place at the epicenter of corporations and organizations to ensure it is embedded in top-level strategy and plays a fundamental role in how companies do business.

Much of the discussion at PRWeek's recent NEXT Conference at The TimesCenter in New York revolved around cementing communications' place at the epicenter of corporations and organizations to ensure it is embedded in top-level strategy and plays a fundamental role in how companies do business.

Also last month, former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told the Council of PR Firms' Critical Issues Forum that when he was still in that post, there were never "policy problems," only "communications problems." 

In other words, it's easy to blame PR if things go wrong. But it wasn't the PR department that decided to put a $5 monthly charge on debit-card accounts at Bank of America in a climate where the financial industry has a lower approval rating than Penn State's football program. It wasn't PR that raised prices 60% at Netflix, spun off its DVD arm under the name Qwikster, and forced customers to create two accounts to deal with one entity. It wasn't PR that left JetBlue passengers stranded at Hartford Airport in Connecticut for eight hours during the recent unseasonal snowstorm. And it wasn't the PR department at BP that blew up a rig in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

Gibbs' comment reflected what Gil Schwartz, CCO at CBS, said in his NEXT keynote speech: "Companies don't have PR problems, they have behavior problems."

But if PR pros really have gone beyond a pure communications role into the realm of strategic counsel and taken their place at the top table - yes, it's a cliché, but it's a cliché because it works perfectly as a descriptor - why are so many of these so-called PR disasters still happening on a weekly basis?

In the conference's closing session, Richard Edelman tackled the issue. He said PR must wage war on lawyers and advertising because they are "enemies" blocking the communications discipline from playing its proper and most effective role.

An extreme stance, some might say, but something needs to be done to convince the C-suite that communications must be fundamentally ingrained within the operational structures of corporations if it is to add the value we know it can. 

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