Someone once asked me what PR people are good for. Aren’t they just spinners or obfuscators of the truth? Other than the fact that PR people play an indelible role in the news gathering process — like it or not — it is in times of human crisis where their skills shine most. I remember a letter one PR person wrote to an industry trade following the Tsunami disaster in south Asia. He bemoaned the fact that those monitoring the earthquake (that set off the Tsunami) did not have the PR wherewithal to contact a global wire service like Reuters or The AP to get the word out in time to do something. The scientists were obsessed with going through government channels — and we all know how frustrating that can be.
It’s no different with Katrina. Yes, of course, all the news organizations can cover this astounding disaster on their own. But behind the scenes, these journalists relied heavily on the communications departments, i.e. PR people, of the primary sources of hard information, FEMA, the National Hurricane Center, the National Weather Service, the Louisiana Governor’s office, the National Guard, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, etc., to do their jobs.
I can assure you that the professional communicators at these and countless other organizations worked liked they never have before to help get the word out to consumers to save lives. My hat goes off to them.