Reading the op-ed in The San Francisco Examiner, I am simply livid at the continued convenience of beating up on the Public Relations industry. This industry is a convenient whipping boy.
In an editorial, the paper stated:
It’s ironic that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, by agreeing to spend $100,000 for a public relations firm, has created a PR nightmare. Facing a $21 million deficit and a history of problematic service, the last thing the SFMTA should be doing is wasting money on outside media consultants, particularly when the agency already has a press office.
If one has a press office, so that means they cannot hire press specialists? If the city has a budget officer then why do they need auditors? If they have a prosecution attorney, then why do they need a contract attorney? Public Relations professionals are not all the same – and people who work for the city may need assistance, and truthfully $100,000 is a nominal sum compared to the millions cities waste on most other things. The very fact that they are being attacked for hiring a PR firm means they are likely to face more criticism and so should be prepared for an ongoing battle. Hence, if a PR agency succeeds at making the San Francisco transportation look better and more professional they will recover that fee many times over.
Why do most organized businesses and even government office not allow the average employee to talk to the media without preparation? Well, because it is very risky, and you can be sure that there are many more attorneys on staff than PR people – just to keep people inside from talking to too much and possibly saying things that can be misconstrued. While a lawyer can help instruct you what not to say, or even what is permitted to be said, a good PR pro can help make those comments or the silence seem totally appropriate and understandable. Lawyers know legalese while PR pros understand media.
The paper goes on to state:
If the agency really wants to improve its public image, it should start by reducing the lateness of Muni’s vehicles and decreasing the unexplained absences by transit operators. Muni registered a sorry 71 percent on-time mark from October to December. The agency has a mandate to achieve an 85 percent on-time rate, which it has never approached.
If perhaps vehicles are late because they are old and not repaired who can explain that? If traffic lights perhaps do not work properly or there are other issues which affect tardiness, who should tell the story?
Instead of spending $100,000 on PR flacks, the SFMTA would be better served by hiring more security officers to catch or deter fare evaders.
$100,000 to hire “PR flacks”. What is it about managing media that people seem to find so convenient to insult? Reporters and journalists make and break people, organizations and companies – that is how the media sees its role – to grab the story and make it a bigger story. Often, media helps make a mountain from a molehill and the subject of the story, truly deserving or not, can lose his reputation. Good PR can counter than. In the grand scheme of things $100,000 is a small fee when one considers how much municipalities spend on legal fees. Honestly, how much security will be hired with $100,000 – two extra security officers? If PR is successful and the public is convinced of the need for security, politicians will find budget to hire many more than two security officers.
There’s nothing wrong with public relations and nothing wrong with trying to maintain your image, protect yourself or just making yourself look good. It is like asking a woman –“Why do you wear makeup?”
Good and quality public relations similarly does not hide anything; it simply allows one to put his best foot forward. It is tiring to consistently read stories written by media insulting the Public Relations world. It is like criminals waxing eloquent about why police are overrated.