Politics and PR

During my 10 years in PR, marketing and communications, I helped companies “make up” news to garner media attention, so I have a pretty good sense of what qualifies as legitimate information versus fluff.

Keeping the general public informed and developing awareness is, at its most idealistic, what public relations ought to be about in the political arena. Even negative events can be put to good use with the right kind of focus. Case in point: The Tylenol pain reliever scare in 1982 (The Tylenol Crisis).

After several deaths in the Chicago area were attributed to Extra-Strength Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson did what many considered economic suicide. They told consumers that, even though the tampering didn’t take place in manufacturing or distribution, nobody should use their products. They instituted a nationwide recall and kept everyone from the federal government to the general public informed about their efforts to cooperate with the investigation into the deaths. In short, they voluntarily and publicly took responsibility for their product and held themselves accountable for the safety of their customers.

This is a lesson many of our political leaders need to study. Before indulging in knee-jerk reactions and politically expedient rhetoric, focus on the things that elected officials are supposed to do in order to implement effective action. Things like public safety and effective community development sound like high ideals; however, these and other goals can be achieved if they’re integrated into every action and speech.

Calling the shooting of Kabaka Oba “targeted” implies that other shootings are random. Guess what? All shootings have a target — whether it’s a person or a piece of paper at a shooting range. In the hurry to assure citizens that the steps of City Hall are “safe” for those who aren’t “targets,” Mayor Mark Mallory and the rest of our political leaders lost an opportunity to interact effectively with the public.

Yes, downtown Cincinnati is a violent place — anyone who compares the number of killings in Hyde Park or Pleasant Ridge can see that. Yes, we need and want to change this. Start by acknowledging that there’s a problem and take some responsibility for reaching a positive outcome. Like voting, do it early and often.

Be honest — the “public” can easily be dismissed as uninformed or incapable of understanding complex issues; but that kind of attitude devalues us, and we’re smart enough to figure that out.

Talk about practicing personal safety. Provide practical information: Drive with your car door locked, don’t leave valuables in plain sight in a locked car. Then provide resources for learning more.

A standard in PR is that any publicity is an opportunity. Whether it’s deemed negative or positive is irrelevant as long as you know what you stand for and you know how to use those moments to communicate what matters. Ask any PR firm in town; they’ll tell you the same thing. Maybe UC can offer PR for politicians next fall.

— Margo Pierce

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2 Comments on “Politics and PR”

  1. david gallaher Says:

    Speaking of PR:
    As our downtown and OTR tiptoe toward chaos, why is Mallory still being proclaimed as the “Great White Hope”?

    Did I get the skin tones right?

  2. 5chw4r7z Says:

    “Downtown” is dangerous? I’ve lived downtown for two years and never witnessed any violence. Are you confusing downtown and OTR? I know they across the street from each other with no fences to divide them., but all hours I’ve never walked more than a block in the evenings without seeing a police officer on foot, horseback or bicycle mounted. Could you supply us with the stats on CBD violence? I saw a story in the Enquirer a couple weeks ago and it looked like CBD violence was significantly lower than surrounding neighborhoods.


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