EDITORIAL: Ongoing government-contract saga in LA is an ominous sign for PR firms coast to coast

The latest news out of Los Angeles, that Mayor James Hahn has ordered a cessation of all negotiations with PR firms and the cancellation of existing contracts, is disheartening. No longer just Fleishman-Hillard's problem, the crisis over PR contracts now affects anyone doing business with city government. Or, rather, anyone who was doing business with city government.

The latest news out of Los Angeles, that Mayor James Hahn has ordered a cessation of all negotiations with PR firms and the cancellation of existing contracts, is disheartening. No longer just Fleishman-Hillard's problem, the crisis over PR contracts now affects anyone doing business with city government. Or, rather, anyone who was doing business with city government.

The inevitable chest-beating has begun about the PR industry's negative image. Enough already. We spend way too much time in this profession (and this publication) ruminating on the bad image of PR. There are two more critical issues that come out of this episode. One is that the profession must work harder to communicate the role that PR plays in government agencies. PR firms are considered a waste of taxpayer money. In order to correct that misapprehension, the industry needs to focus its message on the vital part PR plays in communicating back to the client about its stakeholders' priorities and perspective. If government is more efficiently meeting citizens' needs because of the dialogue a PR firm brings to programs (dialogue: meaning talking and listening), the appropriateness of a firm is tougher to question. The other lesson is that the PR industry is a community. Fleishman may very well be innocent of any wrongdoing, but let's assume for a moment there was malfeasance. Is there any other industry where a unilateral ban on all service providers in a certain category would be enacted because of the actions of one? There's been a fair amount of schadenfreude over Fleishman's predicament. But the deeper message here strikes at the heart of PR's relevance, not its image - and that's a problem for everyone. PRWeek, Peppercom unite to close 'gaps' Do "gaps" between corporate communicators and executives in other departments really exist? Apparently they do, judging from the response we've had to our "Closing the Gap" breakfast series, which we are presenting in association with Peppercom. The first panel discussion in particular, which focuses on the "gap" between corporate communications and sales departments, has prompted a lot of questions. At the heart of the issue is why does the perception linger that in-house PR people, and their agencies, not only don't care about helping companies achieve their overall business objectives, but also lack the fundamental know-how to really do it. In some cases, the latter may be true. As some of the PR pros who were interviewed for our Agency Excellence Survey tell us, in-house PR people are not always experienced enough to effectively choose or run an agency or, presumably, to increase the relevance of the role to areas beyond media relations. The benefits of a working relationship between sales and communications are obvious. The road map for making it happen is not always clear. This panel discussion, which features three in-house communicators debating the issue with three in-house sales executives, will identify stumbling blocks to successful partnerships, as well as ways to navigate around them. For more information on the PRWeek/Peppercom "Closing the Gap" breakfast series, log on to www.prweek.com and click on the ad that appears at the bottom of the page, or contact Christie Casalino at christie.casalino@prweek.com or 646-638-6030.

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