Opinion: Leader - 2005: not a year for faint-hearted PROs

For most of us the festive season proved a welcome break - a time to relax, reflect on the year past, and muster resolve for the year ahead.

For some in the industry, however, it was far from that.

While of course we must keep things in perspective, with the almost inconceivable levels of loss suffered in Asia, it is worth sparing some sympathy for communications professionals at charities, travel organisations and the Foreign Office. Many of these people have been working flat out since we first started on the turkey sandwiches.

Staff in embassies have worked round the clock to try and give accurate information amid the chaos, while the NGO sector has been quick to respond to the ever-accelerating crisis, co-ordinating its campaigns and efforts with admirable efficiency.

In the travel business, one ABTA spokesman did his first live radio interview at 4.45am on Boxing Day and has handled more than 200 interviews since.

Similarly, tour operators and airlines have worked tirelessly to provide useful information to those affected. Tourism organisations continue to strive to avoid a potentially devastating tourism slump in the worst-hit countries.

These, among other issues, set a rather serious tone for the communications industry in 2005. Public affairs specialists and pressure groups are gearing up for a general election year (despite Tony Blair's unconvincing protestation on Today this week) and this will inevitably have a knock-on effect for public sector PROs.

Financial and healthcare PROs face 12 months of growing public scrutiny and potentially restrictive regulation. Corporate PROs will test their mettle as the demand for responsible business increases.

All in all then, not a year for the faint-hearted. But that's how it should be. For too long PR has been seen as the poor cousin in the mix of marketing disciplines - a lightweight and fluffy practice rather than one of strategy and persuasion. It's time for the industry's talented and robust practitioners to come to the fore. Here's to a challenging and enjoyable 2005.

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