Today’s List – Public Relations Gone Awry

Today’s List – Public Relations Gone Awry

When a famous dog bites a non-famous dog, it’s not news; it’s news when it happens more often than not. (Charles Anderson, American writer, 1819-1997) “News is what someone somewhere wants to bury; all of it is marketing.” (Rudyard Kipling, American author and cartoonist, c. 1920) A lot less common, still real news is what some famous people want to bury, like their own.

A favorite saying about the media is “The publicity can make the news.” I think most people would agree with that, at least most famous ones. I remember reading once from an old book by Enid Blyton, where she wrote about how “a little publicity is good”. How often do you get to read something like that these days? Not often, and usually at the expense of someone’s feeling or property. But for a famous celebrity who can afford a personal assistant to constantly represent them in the press, or who has a ghostwriter to write their PR statements, it’s practically a must.

But today’s list is different. Today, what most people consider news is the fact that President Bush is having a two-day vacation on his ranch in Texas. While the rest of the country is being wiped out in Hurricane Katrina’s fury, and the listlessly floating barges in the Atlantic are getting stranded in the Gulf of Mexico, our President is relaxing in Texas. And that’s news!

In all seriousness, there’s nothing wrong with that; what’s wrong is when he gets on that plane and starts doing what any good PR professional does, which is selling himself, and his re-election campaign, by creating a PR crisis. Yes, I’m sure that many of you are rolling your eyes, or thinking, “What on Earth is he talking about?” But consider this: during the week when Hurricane Gustav was heading towards the Gulf Coast, President Bush was busy giving interviews on his cell phone to Fox News, and CNN, while millions of Americans were getting battered by the storm. He took a day to address the media, make a few comments, and head back to his ranch. How many public relations professionals let that happen?

Two days later, Hurricane Gustav has hit again, and this time it has caused even greater damage. This time, however, people are calling the President by name and asking how they can help. They have lost their homes, they have been out of work for over a month, and the stock market has dropped so low that they are calling the President ‘Eli.’ Yes, Mr. President, you can handle this; you’ve been doing it for the last three years. But is it working? No, not at all.

Public relations professionals are supposed to help the public understand how the government is working to help them, not make them feel better. The White House blog, for instance, does an excellent job of explaining how the federal government is working to extend help to the states affected by Hurricane Katrina. But it doesn’t say anything about how well those in the state are coping, or whether those efforts are having any effect at all. In short, the public relations community does far more for their clients than they actually do.