Oedipus had to solve the riddle of the Sphinx in order to avoid death. Similarly, the riddle of the unmotivated airline rep is a test only for the stouthearted. What magic words must be uttered to escape travel delays, frustration, or unnecessary expense?As one who makes a living observing corporate PR strategy, I find the disconnect between what companies tout as great communications successes and what one actually witnesses at the consumer level pretty discouraging. A recent experience with an airline not unknown to PRWeek's pages for its efforts to improve the customer experience while managing costs (one of many airlines in that predicament) was a reminder that the best employee strategies can be undermined by one surly service provider. What seemed a simple matter of changing a flight started off as "impossible," according to the representative. After questioning, it was downgraded to "prohibitively expensive." Further investigation made it not only "possible," but "cheap." Of course, one had to cunningly decipher the clues - what starts off as no, peaks at maybe, and ends at yes? But to be honest, the experience did not surprise me - which is sad. No company can prevent a rogue employee from really pissing people off. But unless companies can help customers understand the expectation of service excellence, and the resources they have available to access accurate information and support, they are vulnerable to the unpredictability of irritable or lazy employees. Employee communications efforts, without supporting programs that communicate the company's brand values, will only exacerbate the problem. In other words, if no one expects good service, they probably aren't going to get it. "It's about helping employees understand the connection between the company's values and its brand promise. But it's also about creating an expectation from customers that employees will deliver on that experience," says Monica Oliver, principal of Monica Oliver Consulting and a consultant in employee engagement. Many in the airline industry, facing critical issues of survival, will struggle to keep employees engaged. But the objective, at least, should be clear. As others seek answers, PR must take action Procter & Gamble's global marketing officer issued a challenge to the advertising industry at this month's AAAA's Media Conference and Trade Show. "As an industry, we're recognizing the value of well-rounded marketing programs that are not dependent on TV," Jim Stengel said in his keynote. "I give us an A for our recent efforts, but a C for overall progress." Meanwhile, back in PR, the opportunity to capitalize on the changing marketing spectrum is in danger of being missed. While advertising searches for a new identity, and companies demand agnostic marketing solutions that deliver real results, PR departments and firms have a chance to transcend the usual squabble over proving the power of PR and demonstrate creative problem-solving and thorough execution. But while the rest of the marketing mix looks for the answer, PR pros somehow forget the pragmatism that is the best part of this industry and become trapped in theoretical quicksand. The key is action. Let the marketing folks ruminate on lost influence. Let's see the PR industry pitch us more real examples of how its strategies are actually working.