Monday, January 31, 2011

When all else fails, blame PR

Most PR professionals today realize we live in an era of transparency.

We also know we have a job to do. We need to make sure our client's side is being heard. We are hired to conduct campaigns. The good firms know our job is best done with facts, not spin.

I've found the most effective firms at getting their point across are ones who use facts, and use them well.

Those on the losing end of a campaign will generally start blaming everyone except themselves.

Case in point is the continuing skirmish we call California Water.

Sure, this is a highly charged issue and a lot of "political muscle" is used. Deals are made. Issues are resolved in court. Companies, water agencies and others hire public relations companies to help them, just as they hire attorneys or accountants. The task for a PR agency could be simple, like creating fact sheets, or complex, like creating and implementing strategies for a long-term campaign involving elected officials, top government officials and more.

But when it comes to taking your case to the public, the good PR and public affairs firms rely on facts. And the really good ones don't attempt to cover up the blemishes. The good ones anticipate the arguments from the "other side" and will respond with ... facts (not spin).

So, what happens when the "other side" appears to be losing the argument? They blame "high priced..PR" firms conducting "sleazy propaganda campaigns" and make other accusations that lack fact or attempt to elicit some kind of emotional response with outdated descriptions.

When you hear these sorts of phrases, beware. It's actually...spin.

Such is the case today with an opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle by a fisherman's trade association.

For example, this column argues things "that you won't hear" from a campaign being waged by a well-know PR firm. The problem is: Most of the apparently "ignored" or "buried" facts are out there...and have been for quite some time.

For example, state water associations and others readily discuss how water is divided in California with up to 80 percent of the state's supplies used by agriculture. What the fisherman's author fails to mention is the percentage of state water supplies set aside for environmental needs, such as protecting the very fish he wants to catch.

I'll grant you that one side of this water battle is gearing up for a skirmish, and is or will soon go on a campaign. That's what we do, to get a win on our side. And in California Water, not everyone wins. But a good PR agency knows you can't fool anyone with spin or hiding the facts. The risk in going down that path is great and creates enormous risks at damaging the credibility your side needs to be effective.

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