Sunday, November 20, 2005

Looking Back: Thinking Forward - Part 6 

This is part 6 of an extended article reviewing early blog entries and what I have learned from them.

PR and Crises

Most of the entries in this category pointed to PR crises underway and the challenges facing those dealing with them. One of the first focused on the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) (2/03/2003) when it lost another shuttle and the astronauts in it. NASA once lived in a PR dream with amazing feats and profound discoveries. It has had a hard decline since and seems to lurch from one crisis to another, especially in the manned space program. It is a training ground for crisis counselors. Not even NASA’s amazing PR success with the Mars’ Rovers (1/06/2004) has overcome the negatives. The backside of the Internet bubble also provided fertile crisis examples (2/20/2003) as investors sued everyone and anyone to recover lost dollars. Crisis counselors have found full employment there. Issues like employee problems, such as The New York Times had with Pulitzer prize-winner, Rick Bragg, entered the blog (5/29/2003). I also included incidents such as when dissident employees go public (6/4/2003), and internal mistakes, such as posting sensitive documents on the Web – a situation that happened to public relations giant Fleishman-Hillard (7/11/2003).

I documented how technology affects crises and blogged how cell phone short message services (SMS) were a primary medium for broadcasting alerts about a deadly flu virus in China (4/4/2003). I wrote, “This is important news for PR practitioners. It means crisis news and rumors have another way to sweep through a population before practitioners can respond.”

I related my own experience with crisis and the suddenness of it (4/17/2003), and the fact that nearly every PR practitioner gets into one crisis where everything that can go wrong does (5/15/2003).

Crisis is instructive because PR practitioners and the organizations and individuals they serve learn where values are grounded and how well prepared they are. That is why it is important to highlight crisis as it occurs as a learning experience for practitioners. A failure in my blogging was not following important crises more closely to show response and its effectiveness.

PR and Politics

I try to be apolitical, but I follow politics because many new communications techniques and the toughest communications challenges occur in the political arena. Politics also demonstrate the worst behavior to be found in PR. There is no “I win-You win” in political PR. Rather, it is destroy the opposition, and in so doing, anything goes.

By coincidence, the period covered was an historical time for political public relations. It was the time when President Bush was persuading the US to go to war against Iraq. I noted that Bush and his cabinet were moving too quickly and potentially setting themselves up for a fall (9/23/2002).

In their rush to combat evil with a sword of truth and justice, they have become intemperate. And, being intemperate is as evil as the Inquisition in Medieval Europe. I hope America is resilient, able to take such lack of perception and then, recover common sense. Some days I am not so sure. How does any of this apply to public relations? PR practitioners convinced of their positions set themselves up for a fall… It is axiomatic in PR that one should maintain balance. It is unfortunate that many do not.

I blogged on several occasions that Bush was engaged in high-stakes PR that could threaten his administration if anything went wrong. (1/07/2002, 1/17/2003, 2/10/2003, 2/28/2002). I blogged as well the news events that showed the administration had erred in contentions about Weapons of Mass Destruction wrong and the PR damage it was doing to the administration. (3/12/2003, 3/31/2003, 5/30/2003, 6/17/2003, 7/15/2003, 10/13/2003, 11/04/2003, 12/15/2003, 1/20/2004.) It was easy to see the PR risk President Bush was taking and just as easy to foresee what would happen, if it went bad.

A second historical event took place in 2004 – the presidential election. It was this election that pioneered the acceptance of online media, including political blogging (5/27/2003, 11/20/2003). Howard Dean’s campaign led in nearly all aspects of the developments (1/19/2004) until Dean imploded. It was an exciting time for an observer of PR. I covered a range of communications issues, including PR and campaign financing (5/08/2003), Bill Clinton as unintended bad PR for Democrats (6/5/2003), the front-runner’s curse in the primaries and how the media overly focuses on individuals (8/11/2003).

A third historical event also occurred in that period. The governor of California was voted out of office in a special election and a former movie actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, voted in. Having been born and raised in California, communications issues arising from that campaign also found their way into the blog (8/29/2003, 10/22/2003).

I documented other political communications issues as well, but the temptation is to write too much. I have backed away since from political PR. Perhaps, I should return. Battles between opposing forces haven’t lessened.


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