While corporate CEOs and their trusted lieutenants show
ever-increasing signs of understanding the benefits of PR, many key
players in Washington, DC still seem to undervalue the communications
discipline - a problem becoming all too apparent at the moment. If we
are to convince the country of the value of PR, we must market the
industry harder to the nation's capital and to the public sector as a
As has been widely discussed in the press - despite the President's
apparent immunity to criticism - the government has done a substandard
job of communicating a coherent message on the scale and nature of the
threat posed by the current bioterrorist attacks (see p. 11).
Information officers and departmental spokespeople clearly weren't
coordinating their thoughts or actions. Those people should be meeting
regularly at any time - and especially at this time - to discuss the
message they are putting out to the public. They did so under President
Johnson and they should do so again.
On Capitol Hill there is still a culture of key communications positions
being awarded to people with no PR experience whatsoever. Being a press
secretary is often just another step up the staff ladder for the people
who are given the role. In addition, many government agencies and public
sector organizations run communications departments on extremely limited
Comparatively poor remuneration in public organizations also means they
lack the big-hitting PR pros who would give them true communications
These pros, understandably, have taken their skills to the private
sector - just look at the number of former government and public sector
communicators currently plying their trade at the Washington offices of
Burson, H&K, Fleishman and the others.
So what can be done to start shifting both the perception and reality of
the PR business in DC? Speaking at the PRSA's annual conference in
Atlanta - shortly after he had received the association's prized Golden
Anvil - Ofield Dukes gave the audience one answer to this question. The
PRSA, he said, must have a greater presence in the capital. Explaining
himself afterwards, he told PRWeek: "There are 4,000 trade associations
based in Washington, DC. It is the center of the communications world.
PRSA should be there."
Of course, there is a successful local chapter of the organization in
DC, but his point is that the PRSA is so clearly headquartered in New
York. To expand its presence in DC, and ramp up its representation of PR
interests on Capitol Hill, would be an invaluable exercise in making
public communicators feel they are part of a large, successful business.
In addition, the key players in the industry must do what they can to
reach out to government agencies in DC and offer their assistance, even
if it is just sharing best practice with them and giving them increased
confidence in the importance of their function.
Most agencies know how important the public affairs function is to their
business, but has the PR industry done enough to make government and
public sector communicators aware of the body of knowledge and
experience that the business has to offer? It doesn't look as if it has.