Shoot the Messenger


The top story on today’s national media agenda focuses on the lack of relevant experience by FEMA officials to deal with a disaster. The New York Times went so far as to address this issue in its lead editorial where it characterizes FEMA management as “advance men,” and includes a healthy dose of disrespect for the public relations profession.

In fact, the FEMA PR people who are serving as PR people deserve their share of chastisement given the inexplicable mixed signals over the distribution of $2000 debit cards. Clearly an emasculated and heavily patronized FEMA management merits much of the blame for not establishing clear channels of communication.

But getting back to the insinuation that public relations is no more than spin and gloss. This is a siren call for practitioners to absolve their long-held role as messengers in exchange for a seat at the decision-making table. Our core competency is not one of finding words to minimize reputational damage, but rather advising on operational decisions or actions that will produce results. Are we experts on how many firefighters or troops to deploy? No. But we should have the honed instincts to anticipate, and provide counsel on the fallout for not having enough.