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Tuesday, 28 April 2009

PR: Spin or Substance?

There is a hang-over from the overt spin-doctoring practiced by political parties that has tainted PR with a reputation for white-washing unpleasant truths. That may be possible for a while in politics, but Churchill's point still rings true today: You can fool some of the people all of the time but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

There's a world of difference between public sector PR, which is fighting off media interest, and commercial PR, which is usually fighting for media coverage.
But it's all too easy to get coverage in either the public or the commercial sphere when things go horrendously wrong.

PR is not very effective as whitewash - or green wash. It's never a substitute for fixing things. But it’s a great tool when you’re in the middle of fixing things, because it allows professional communicators to inject extra clarity into what can become a conflicting and confused scenario. The discipline of clarifying the key objectives, defining the key audiences, and crafting messages for each audience (including staff), and delivering those messages down multi-channels will stand an organisation in good stead long after the incident has passed, although they will do much better in the first few critical hours of a crisis if there has been regularly reviewed preparation, training and practice for potential disasters.

You don't need to practice for every conceivable disaster. A very experienced PR practitioner should have an understanding of the media approaches and the common underlying themes and help you build a broad base to adapt for most scenarios.
PR is not the solution when something goes wrong: speedy and effective remedial action is the only lasting solution, but PR is the best communications tool to communicate that there is a remedy being applied.

Good communications gradually evens up the bad messages with more positive stories and helps restore something that can’t be bought: some people call it buzz, but I call it the confidence that comes out of faith in a future.

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posted by Penny Haywood Calder at


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