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March 16, 2012

PRSA to Senate: Don’t Use the PR Industry as A ‘Punching Bag' — 'Roll Call' Op-Ed

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) had an op-ed published March 15, 2012, in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call expressing its concerns with a Senate investigation into the federal government’s use of public relations and advertising services.
In the opinion piece, PRSA Chair and CEO Gerard F. Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA, urges Senator Claire McCaskill (D–Mo.) and Senator Rob Portman (R–Ohio), who are jointly leading the investigation, to avoid actions that might diminish or severely restrict the government’s use of approved public relations and public affairs contractors.
The op-ed accompanied letters PRSA sent to Sens. McCaskill and Portman regarding the role and value of public relations to the federal government and its citizens.

Corbett: Don’t Kill the Public Relations Messenger
By Gerard F. Corbett, PRSA Chair and CEO
Roll Call

Published: March 15, 2012

The Senate’s investigation into government use of public relations services is detrimental to restoring the public’s trust in politicians.
When faced with a tough re-election battle, what is the easiest path to winning over John Q. Public? Proposing proactive solutions that benefit your constituents or taking on an industry you deem to have too much influence?
In the case of Sens. Claire McCaskill (D–Mo.) and Rob Portman (R–Ohio), the answer appears to be the latter. As Roll Call reported Feb. 29, the pair is trying to appease cost-conscious voters with a “wide-ranging investigation” of the federal government’s use of public relations and advertising services.
As chairman of an organization that represents 32,000 public relations professionals in the United States, I share the Senators’ concern that the government prudently spends taxpayer dollars. What I question, however, is their motivation and seeming interest in using the PR industry as a punching bag for America’s dysfunctional political system.
In an era of disastrously low trust in government and politicians, McCaskill and Portman’s investigation may be missing the proverbial boat. It disregards public relations’ central value to government: its ability to engender a more informed society through ethical, transparent and honest communications between the government and its citizens.
Therefore, any investigation into the government’s use of PR firms should not be undertaken unilaterally. It must be met by an equally robust examination of how the government communicates with the public and how it can better use innovative PR firms and professionals to best reach and inform citizens.
Killing the messenger won’t make the government’s public trust and transparency issues disappear.

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