PRWeek's 2005 Campaign of the Year shows integral role PR plays in government process

Every year, the PRWeek Campaign of the Year award is chosen from winning programs across all categories.

Every year, the PRWeek Campaign of the Year award is chosen from winning programs across all categories.

To some extent, and by accident rather than design, the winner represents a theme that has dominated the industry, as well as the broader business or political environment. Last year's top campaign, for example, was rooted in the financial toll of Sarbanes-Oxley compliance on US businesses at a time when that issue was roiling.

This year's top campaign is a public affairs program: GCI Group and Medtronic's efforts to increase Medicare reimbursement for a life-saving device that can prevent sudden heart-failure death. It was chosen for the quality of the multidimensional program and for its demonstrable success. But the program could not be highlighted at a more convenient time for the industry, when PR's role in government process is viewed with great skepticism.

Two recent New York Times pieces underscore the disparity between the perception of PR as nothing more than an instrument of obfuscation and the impact it can have on issues that affect people's lives.

In a February column, Maureen Dowd eviscerated President Bush for lecturing Russian president Vladimir Putin on transparency and democratic checks and balances, "while his officials strive to create a Potemkin press village at home." One of the administration's most powerful weapons for doing this, she wrote, is PR, as $97 million was paid "to an outside PR firm to buy columnists and produce propaganda, including faux VNRs."

On the other side of the paper's editorial page, about a month before Dowd's column, an editorial lauded Medicare for its plans to boost reimbursement for the implantable cardioverter defibrillator. No mention of the role of GCI Group or any other communications organization or individual, though that wouldn't have been appropriate. But as the industry takes legitimate hits for its missteps, it shouldn't take for granted that the public, or the media, will recognize its successes.

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