WASHINGTON, DC: The federal government, historically not known for its PR tact or its sensitivity toward the needs of the press, is trying to humanize its communications with the public and the media.
WASHINGTON, DC: The federal government, historically not known for
its PR tact or its sensitivity toward the needs of the press, is trying
to humanize its communications with the public and the media.
In a seminar held earlier this month, more than 500 government
communicators, representing 140 government organizations, met to hear
from several prominent members of the media on how they might improve
their PR skills.
Washington Post reporter Juan Williams said that while the public and
many of his colleagues used to criticize government communicators for
their lack of assistance and sensitivity, he believes the PR climate is
As an example, he cited the recent failure of NASA’s Mars Polar Lander
mission. Instead of decrying the loss of millions of dollars devoted to
the project, the space agency put a human touch on the drama by holding
frequent briefings and letting the public see the scientists’
frustration and disappointment. ’NASA showed our friends and neighbors
going through a very difficult time,’ Williams said.
But Dateline NBC consumer reporter Lea Thompson warned that today’s
continuous news cycle would place added pressure on the government’s PR
pros. ’There are more media members and fewer people covering beats,
which means that there are fewer you trust,’ she said. ’There aren’t
enough (communicators) to go around.’
To frame a successful story, Williams advised government PR pros to
’dramatize and create tension,’ and build a successful narrative. He
also warned the audience to tailor pitches to the specific outlet they
The day wasn’t without its share of controversy. Tim Clark, editor of
Government magazine and a panel moderator, posed a question - ’Which is
the best background for a government communicator: PR, politics or
journalism?’ - that rendered many panelists speechless. Those who
responded were critical of longtime PR people filling the job.
NBC’s Thompson said PR pros often try too hard to ’put a spin or the
best face on things,’ while former NBC journalist and Justice Department
spokesman Carl Stern claimed that people with a PR background ’are not
sensitive to government.’ He added that political and PR people ’don’t
get it when it comes to separating initiatives from the work of