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Published: Saturday, 9/17/2005

Expert: Storm PR failures inexcusable

Communications were abysmal after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, especially from federal and state governments, and spokesmen have no excuse for being uninformed at news conferences, says the head of a national public relations group.

You have to know what you re talking about, but you also have to be honest, Judith Phair, chief executive of Public Relations Society of America, said yesterday after giving a speech in Perrysburg Township.

She added: If you don t have [information], your job is to get it.

Ms. Phair spoke to about 30 people at a luncheon at Owens Community College for the association s Northwest Ohio chapter. She also is president of PhairAdvantage Communications, an agency in Laurel, Md.

Governments clearly did not have a crisis communication plan to handle the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and shortcomings are being admitted to, Ms. Phair said. With the leadership change at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, communications are improving, and President Bush is visiting New Orleans instead of flying over, she said.

During her speech, the association leader told local professionals and students that her group is working with FEMA and the American Red Cross to provide volunteers and other assistance. Hurricane Katrina has worsened the public s confidence in government and the world s view of the United States, and the association can help erase such reactions, Ms. Phair said.

For their part, corporate spokesmen are dealing more with issues about governance and corporate responsibility, she said.

And analysts and investors, she said, have become more demanding.

The pressure is greater than ever relentless, even to meet month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter Wall Street expectations, Ms. Phair said.

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