War on Iraq prompts US PR to focus on the long term

CHICAGO - With US and British troops poised to march on Baghdad, media tours and other PR-related activities were being placed on hold across the US last week, as much of the PR world's focus was shifting to longer-term projects.

Many PR agencies were disseminating blueprints for clients on how to handle media relations during the war. The recurring thrust of these instructions was that major news outlets now have little space for anything beyond war news.

Nevertheless, the industry is hoping the war will be short, and that PR can return to business as usual after it ends.

Last week, Rick Frishman, president of Planned TV Arts at Ruder Finn, which handles radio and satellite media tours, advised one client to postpone a tour, and was monitoring others hourly.

Yet for some clients, going forward made sense. The author of a book on sleeping problems got media attention since his book could be tied to people's war-related anxiety.

General Motors is continuing to work with magazines with long lead times to launch a new model Cadillac, noted Steve Harris, VP of communications. Should world events change, "we wouldn't hesitate to move our schedules," he said.

Ron Simoncini, president of Axiom Communications, has advised his New York hotel clients to talk about how their bookings for summer are up compared to those of last year, thus giving consumers something to focus on beyond war.

"There's really not much you can do about the days and weeks surrounding the conflict," he said. "You have to look beyond that."

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