COMMENT: EDITORIAL; PR isn’t a straw to be clutched

Top PR consultants are often seen riding to the rescue when politicians are in trouble. So we should not be too surprised that Sir Tim Bell is said to be advising beleaguered Russian president Boris Yeltsin in the run-up to the forthcoming elections.

Top PR consultants are often seen riding to the rescue when politicians

are in trouble. So we should not be too surprised that Sir Tim Bell is

said to be advising beleaguered Russian president Boris Yeltsin in the

run-up to the forthcoming elections.



There is no doubt that PR will be vital to Yeltsin’s campaign, which has

to be fought chiefly through the media because it lacks the vast grass

roots party structure available to the former Communists. But it will

not succeed unless the Yeltsin camp agrees to follow the public

relations strategy advised. The recent parliamentary elections proved

that one cannot win simply by throwing money and publicity at the

problem.



On the face of it, resurrecting Yeltsin’s tattered image in time for

polling day seems an almost impossible task. PR can help by emphasising

his experience in high office, in contrast to his rivals. It can prevent

further recurrences of his more outlandish gaffes - such as goosing

women in front of the TV cameras. And it can present positive images -

such as the recent TV interview with Yeltsin’s wife which portrayed the

old bear as a homeloving parent and devoted husband. But it all seems

depressingly like damage limitation at this stage.



Better late than never to call in the cavalry, one might think. But

politicians might not get into such deep electoral trouble if they took

top level public relations advice throughout their term of office and

not just when the end is approaching.



Yeltsin is not unusual in this respect. As our own political parties

wind themselves up for the next general election, we are forcibly

reminded of the fact that too often they only turn to PR when they are

in a hole.



Politicians need to be reminded that the value of public relations

advice is not limited to crisis management once their electoral

credibility has been cut to ribbons. For while PR plays an increasingly

important part in staging an election campaign, it should be a vital

consideration in everything they do. In fact, it is probably least

successful when it is only applied like lip gloss in order to simper at

the voters every four or five years.



Businesses are beginning to realise that the best time to take PR advice

is before you take a decision with potentially catastrophic consequences

for your reputation - not afterwards when your customers are deserting

you in droves. It is time that politicians also realised that public

relations advice works best if you take it when it matters most. And

that’s not at the last minute.



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