In this issue, you can read about a host of public relations people
who have already made the industry - even their whole country -
incredibly proud. Witness Mark Ackermann's tale of his recent work at
Saint Vincent's Hospital (p. 12), Robyn Massey's efforts to help out her
former colleagues at Windows on the World (news), or Steve Goldstein's
account of how last week's events impacted The Wall Street Journal (p.
Indeed, it should make you proud to read any of the stories describing
how communications teams are helping limit damage to the thousands of
businesses reeling from the aftershock of September 11.
But there are also a few whose thoughtless actions threaten to detract
from the impressive efforts of their peers. CNN's New York publicity
department has already come under fire for its efforts to push a ratings
story to the press.
(Although, one can argue that it's a valid story if handled the right
way, as it offers a gauge as to how many Americans wanted information on
the tragedy.) But the worst culprits are those who are trying, in the
most shockingly transparent ways, to use the tragedy as an opportunity
You've probably spotted some of the releases in question: "Among all
this terrible news, there is some good news for the customers of savings
bank X, which is offering a special loan rate"; "Real estate company X
has lots of prime space for displaced companies"; or, "Now is the time
to look after your well-being, with well-being food products from
Of course, business has to go on. But PR execs reaching out to people in
New York and Washington, DC must remember that there is a line between
caring and being crass, or as John Schwartz of The New York Times put
it, between "pitching in and pitching for business."
Can you really blame Steve Goldstein when he says he was a little
"disconcerted" to receive calls on Tuesday and Wednesday from PR
companies offering crisis counseling at the usual prices? An offer of
pro-bono work might have been accepted as a nice gesture; it might even
have led to a long, trusting, and - for the agency in question -
profitable relationship. But we're talking about a man who might have
lost colleagues, friends, or even family. He was highly unlikely to be
receptive to people pitching for business.
Now is a great time for PR practitioners to build new relationships, to
prove how invaluable they are for clients, and to raise their stature in
society. But as Richard Edelman pointed out last week, "You do these
things because you want to, not because you want to take credit."
There is lots of advice in this issue from PR executives suggesting how
to get back to business, but surely the most important thing is to
think. Hard. Many in the media enjoy taking a potshot at the "flacks."
Now is PR's chance to make them eat their words rather than fuel their