The limits of PR

A reporter for Roll Call interviewed White House senior adviser David Axelrod last Thursday about the upcoming elections.

A reporter for Roll Call interviewed White House senior adviser David Axelrod last Thursday about the upcoming elections.

Facing a likely historic number of losses for Democrats, Axelrod indicated that the Obama Administration didn't do enough to explain its accomplishments to the American people.

"President Barack Obama 'didn't have time' to focus on messaging as he tackled major issues that 'came in rapid fire' as soon as he got to office,” Axelrod said in the interview.

It's honorable for Axelrod to admit a mistake. But I am hard-pressed to believe that better messaging would have a big impact on these mid-term elections. Even the best communications strategy would not have stopped the tide of voter dissatisfaction headed for the polls next week.

There is a lesson here for PR professionals. We often believe that the solution to any organizational or business challenge is better communications. Yet, if we are going to be effective advisors, we must gain an understanding of the real strengths and limits inherent in any strategy.

Take, for example, a software company I am intimately familiar with. For years, the solution to mediocre sales was to ratchet up spending on PR and advertising. It was not until the company redirected every dollar from its marketing budget toward dramatically improving the product and implementing a world class customer support operation that sales took off.

Now the product sells itself. And PR is smartly implemented to encourage word-of-mouth marketing through social media. Just as it is with politics, no amount of PR can sell a product when customers are fundamentally unsatisfied.

The most effective PR professionals not only understand the fundamentals of communication strategy, but also understand the fundamentals of business strategy.

Jeff Mascott is MD of Adfero Group.

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