Monday 1 June 2015

How to avoid negative PR

At the end of the day after doing all those difficult decisions, and when the ostriches came home to roost, Kevin Madge did for words what Roundup does to vegetation, and so one of the great ironies of his stint as leader of Carmarthenshire County Council was that he was a very accomplished user of the council's spin and PR machine.

Shortly after becoming leader, he spent two whole days closeted with the manager of the press office, and what we got was a marriage made in heaven.

Of course, it did not all start with Kevin Madge because Mark and Meryl had spent years building up the council's spin machine and bullying the local press, but all that work bore fruit in the reign of King Kev, including:
  • Blacklisting the South Wales Guardian for a mildly critical piece about roadworks.
  • An unprecedented series of attacks on the Wales Audit Office of which the North Korean Ministry of Information would have been proud.
  • An anonymous attack on opposition budget proposals in the pages of the Carmarthen Journal.
  • The infamous Sainsbury's press release claiming that Jonathan Edwards MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM had sabotaged a planned supermarket development. That one earned Kev a ticking off by the Ombudsman for Public Services.
  • Claims that it would cost more to produce an annual A4 council information sheet than it does to produce the council's all-colour 40-odd page propaganda sheet six times a year (now scaled back to just 4 editions).
  • Endless press releases and photo opportunities featuring Kev and others wearing hard hats under banner headlines announcing that £x millions of pounds had been invested in this or that.
Meryl Gravell has never missed an opportunity for self-promotion either, and recently popped up at Glangwili Mansion, a luxury 5-star bed and breakfast establishment which she had given £10,000 to build a barbecue hut, so that guests would not have to leave the grounds in the evening and spend money on meals in other local establishments.

The old-fashioned idea that tourism should benefit the wider local economy is obviously, well, old-fashioned.

Glangwili Mansion sets out to cater for a better class of visitor, and so the closest most locals will get to it is the website, featuring Southfork-style photographs of the glamorous owners and a helicopter on the lawn. And all written in breathless, superlative English with not a word about the Welsh language or any suggestion that Wales is anything other than a slightly more hilly version of Hertfordshire.

As for Mark James, no other council chief executive in Wales ever had anything like the cultivated media exposure he has enjoyed - not even Bryn Parry-Jones who was a shy and retiring wallflower by comparison.

The Plaid group on the council has frequently been critical of the way in which the press office operated and the huge waste involved, and the press office has been noticeably quieter of late.

Carmarthenshire nevertheless maintains one of the largest press and PR operations in Wales, and is far better resourced than any of the local papers, and yet its output is tiny by comparison with what a single hack on a local rag is expected to churn out.

For the most part, its daily quota recently has been a handful of stories announcing that someone has been fined for dog fouling, while someone else has been fined for dropping a fag end, with a couple of local interest stories about local businesses thrown in, including one on Caws Teifi Cheese, which the press office helpfully tells us is based in Ceredigion, Wales - as opposed to Ceredigion in Sussex, presumably.

Just about all of these stories will appear as space fillers in local papers, so why we need a council "Newsroom" with its own online presence and a printed "newspaper" is a question which needs to be addressed by the new administration.

Carmarthenshire News is now produced in collaboration with other public sector bodies, such as Hywel Dda Health Board, Coleg Sir Gâr and Trinity St. Davids, all of which are under serious financial pressure. How Coleg Sir Gâr can justify spending money on this publication while having to cut staff and courses is something they might like to explain to students and staff.

But back to PR. Labour-led Kirklees Council in Yorkshire (that's in England, press office readers) recently found itself making headlines in the national press for firing 30 park keepers while maintaining a 40-strong PR department.

That's the sort of PR that PR staff are employed to prevent hitting the headlines.

Here is one council service the public would happily see cut.


Anonymous said...

I must admit I was wondering why public money was given to a private business and when I saw Meryls photograph in the paper with the owner of the hotel outside the sort of wooden Wendy House I checked the website.

It is an imaging sort of B and B charging quite a lit of money on rent a room. They don't do evening meals.

What conditions are placed on the grant and really how much value does the tax payer get out of this deal.

To be honest his seems blooming ridiculous and I hope this grant is a rare exception. Please don't ell me it's a common occurrence.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @18:43
Wouldn't be a bit surprised.

Anonymous said...

P.R. Is that to Prevent Ridicule?

Tessa said...

P.R. - Protecting Rumps?

Anonymous said...

Where was the taxman