EDITORIAL: The times that try PR's inherent value - This ismake-or-break period for the PR industry's reputation - and of allpeople, we should understand what that means

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

for clients.

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

company X."

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


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