Original Image Courtesy: Mike Cassano; Cropping and Text: Casey Braun
As my first year of graduate study in public relations draws to a close, I feel compelled to discuss something I don’t think enough people realize: Public relations isn’t that easy.
Having experienced a myriad of internship and informational interviews, conferences, PRSSA meetings, lectures and other industry events, I feel qualified to make that declaration. It is inspired by a disturbing realization I had this year. There is a very real issue public relations practitioners have to face every day. They have to justify their existence in corporations and the usefulness of their services to clients.
I would argue the root of all evil in the public relations justification battle are the following sentiments: “It’s just communication. Anyone can do it,” or worse yet, “I’m the fill-in-the-blank-with-C-suite-position. I know best.” If those were true statements, I imagine we wouldn’t have this list detailing the biggest PR failures of 2013.
Hurricane Katrina still stands as the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States and the deadliest since the Okeechobee hurricane of the late 1920s (Knabb, Rhome, & Brown, 2005). As such, the scrutiny of the government response, particularly at the federal level, to the hurricane was intense and widely proliferated in the mainstream media. As the leader of the federal government, President George W. Bush made numerous public statements regarding the exigencies of those who were directly impacted by Katrina and what the federal government’s relief plan would entail.
The following is a deconstruction of some of the president’s communications in the context of the social and political climate of the immediate aftermath of Katrina’s Louisiana landfall. During the deconstruction, the messaging will be compared to the singular archived response the president issued after category four Hurricane Charley struck Florida the previous year, which also happened to be an election year, to better understand, again, the social and political underpinnings and the implications of power versus powerlessness in a situation when people are at the government’s mercy for relief and relief communication.