THE BLOG

Response to Floods Shows Public Relations Doesn't Have to Be a Dirty Word

18/02/2014 18:36 GMT | Updated 20/04/2014 10:59 BST

'So then, what do we do about the floods?'

A question heard throughout boardrooms of businesses across the UK this past month. After one of the cruelest winters imaginable for thousands of families, big organisations were compelled to respond, not least because they too had been affected.

It is at times like this that public relations can really earn its money. Not in the hastily arranged 'wallies in wellies' photo opportunities (hello, Ed, Dave, Nick - how many sandbags did you fill?) but in the ability to advise decision makers within organisations of a simple truth:

Actions speak louder than words.

From supermarkets and clothing retailers, to mobile phone operators and white goods sellers, there have been thousands of businesses who have worked with, and without, the Government to help people, whether that be on a national scale, or supporting local communities.

Throughout the past few weeks, there has been a refreshing lack of advertising crowing about what a great effort companies have made, a dearth of staged-managed photo opportunities (the Royal family can be excused as a different case), and any media coverage has been truly 'earned' rather than sought.

Let's face it, many people see PR as a dirty word, but public relations is more than the knowing wink of the spurious survey, or the bikini-laden park bench work-out of a reality Z-lister with a new weight-loss DVD to flog.

It's about understanding and working with those people affected by an issue, regardless of their place in society, and knowing that communicating through action is just as important as rhetoric.

It's in the setting up a flood relief fund, as one major supermarket has, or in the donation of time and goods to local people whose lives have been turned upside down.

It's about knowing the good that this 'CSR' does for a brand locally and nationally, and not being ashamed by it. Of understanding that people are sophisticated enough to judge for themselves and that if you avoid exploiting disaster, and invest in the human condition, this judgement can be a positive one.

The floods continue to be terrible and the worst may be yet to come - but PR is part of the positive response, and we should be proud to work in an industry that can react like that.