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Jan. 13, 2004 – For some people, public relations is all about putting a "spin" on news in the media. Catherine Bolton, president of the Public Relations Society of America, begs to differ.
"I don't believe in spin … You can't spin facts. Public relations is really about facts, and how an organization deals with those facts," Bolton told about 30 people on Tuesday at a meeting of the Advertising Club of the Virgin Islands at Palms Court Harborview Hotel.
Bolton previously managed public relations for Six Flags Corp., directed special projects for WNET-TV in New York, and was vice president for communication of the International Copper Association. She's been president and chief operating officer of PRSA since 2001.
Her Ad Club talk focused on how public relations can improve a company's image, office morale and bottom line in ways advertising never can do.
"Public relations enhances the credibility of an organization," Bolton said. Advertising and PR work together and often use some of the same communications tools, she said, but PR is more about building relationships and generating goodwill in the community.
She also cautioned those with PR jobs about pitfalls many encounter: Do the proper research and know what audiences you are trying to reach. And be sure to counsel your boss, often the chief executive or president of the company. "Good managers deal with little bits of smoke before they become fires," she said. "When that fire becomes crisis communication, it takes some companies years before the fire is out."
While the job market in the United States is bleak in many fields, public relations is the fastest-growing segment of the job market, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Bolton said that's partly due to new laws that govern corporate America.
"It's hit home to many CEOs just how important public relations is to their organization," she said. "CEOs pay attention now — because now you can go to jail" if you're not honest with the public about your organization's financial health.
She also had advice for government officials: "Pursue transparency and disclosure in everything you do, and make trust a fundamental precept of governance."
Accessibility is key to managing good PR, she said: "People want to hear from you, and you have to be a leader, not just in your organization, but in public."
Bolton held her audience's attention from start to finish. The Virgin Islands does not have an active group of public relations professionals.
"She was fantastic," Gloria Gumbs, a communications entrepreneur, said. "She helped define PR and the relationship PR has to sales and marketing. As she said, advertising is often a communication tool of good PR."
Bolton is to speak to the St. Croix Ad Club members at noon Wednesday in the Caravelle Hotel in Christiansted.

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