Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from an op-ed published today in Roll Call. The opinion piece was written by PRSA Chair and CEO Gerard F. Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA, in response to a Senate investigation into the federal government’s use of public relations and advertising contracts. PRSA also sent letters to Senator Claire McCaskill (D–Mo.) and Senator Rob Portman (R–Ohio), who are leading the investigation, to express its concerns with the investigation.
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.