EDITORIAL: PR can help any company respond to a crisis, but its job isn't to make the problem go away

Perhaps it is a contrarian view, but I think there is a risk that some executives will believe too much in the power of PR.

Perhaps it is a contrarian view, but I think there is a risk that some executives will believe too much in the power of PR.

The speech that David Siegel, CEO of US Airways, gave to the American Bar Association last week is, in part, a great testimonial on the crucial role PR has played in the company's strategy as it entered, and eventually emerged from, Chapter 11 protection. But as important as messaging was throughout the process, as gratifying as it was to hear straight from a CEO that communications was a crucial link in the chain, the airline industry is still in dire straits. Thankfully, Siegel focused more on the business plan than on the PR plan, without diminishing the vital and continuing role communications will play. On the other hand, HealthSouth's executive team displayed no such comprehension of the nuances of communicating transparency, as it boldly announced the adoption of new corporate governance practices a week or so after the scandal broke. Well, sorry, but "duh." Sure, it's the right thing to do, but it smacks of the worst kind of retroactive openness that makes stakeholders all the more skeptical. That is especially true when you consider that the head of PR and marketing at the company was now infamously underqualified for the job, judging by the standards that most professionals in the industry use. During the Arthur W. Page Society's annual spring meeting last week, Fortune reporter Bethany McLean, the journalist widely credited with breaking the Enron story, answered a question from the audience about the role of PR in Enron's demise. She told the group of senior corporate communicators that she thinks a disproportionate belief that one could "PR" one's way out of any problem may have contributed to the company's precipitous fall. Corporate communicators and their agencies have a responsibility to help key executives understand that PR provides a megaphone for the company's well-thought-out business initiatives, not a tool to make the problem disappear. Educate marketers like you would clients The results of the PRWeek/MS&L Marketing Management Survey should be illuminating, judging from conversations I've been having recently. There is still a strong belief among many in PR that those that control the marketing purse strings have little understanding of PR's power and capabilities. The survey will help us determine if that sentiment is true, and will also offer some tools that will help improve communications with other marketing operations. I admit that I sometimes get frustrated with the refrain "they don't understand us" coming from PR professionals who say they are constantly battling for budget and respect. Bridging these kinds of gaps is supposedly the core competency of the industry. Through research and dialogue, we can correct this, but it needs to be an active campaign, rather than hoping the marketers will come around on their own. Readers should encourage their marketing-side partners and clients to take this survey, and use it to initiate a discussion about these themes. Practitioners should also share, through these pages and in forums provided by industry associations and PR firms, their strategies for making their voices heard in the marketing din. To take the survey, log on to www.cyberpulse.com/marketing.

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