Swine Flu or Summer Cold?

by Roger Pynn

Confidence and credibility may be the two most important commodities in today’s business world and more than the economy is responsible. The snowball of doubt has been rolling downhill for business and government for so long that it is hard to remember a time when there was such an incredible lack of faith.

An essay by Margery Kraus, president and CEO of APCO Worldwide and Jerry Swerling, Ph.D., Director of The Strategic Public Relations Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication issued a call to public relations executives to stop defending what we do and realize that there is a broad assumption that strategic communication is essential to success.

I’m not so sure. Unfortunately there are still those who think they can “get away with it.” Whether we’re talking about politicians or corporate leaders, some just seem to think they are bullet proof and that by the fact that they’ve risen to the top they can do as they please and need not answer to stakeholders.

Kraus and Swerling – writing that the need for strategic public relations is greater than ever because of the economy, say:

“Further, consumers and other stakeholders are more skeptical than ever of the companies they believe created this economic downturn. They see marketing and advertising campaigns as “spin” and believe CEOs have something to hide. For more credible information, consumers join social networks and look to the people they trust more every day—their peers. In short, they evaluate the credibility of the information they receive based on the strength of the relationship they have with the person who shared it with them.”

Kraus and Swerling are right when they say:

“Today’s highly skilled, strategically-oriented public relations professionals have expertise that goes far beyond traditional media relations. Equipped with new-media savvy, a global perspective, a finger on the pulse of the public mood and a field of vision that sees the situation through the eyes of multiple stakeholders, they have precisely the tools needed to respond to, or take advantage of, the extraordinary reputational challenges of the day.”

What’s important for public relations strategists is to talk not among themselves but among those who lead and oversee the leadership of organizations, institutions and companies. The authors were correct that the days of being apologists for our profession are behind us, but not – I believe – because there has been a fundamental change in human nature, but rather because there is a near pandemic of mistrust that without our help will result in economic and social chaos that will make the current economic malaise look like a summer cold.

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