February 13, 2019
Arizona PR Scrutiny Reveals Good Reasons to Have a Plan in Place
Voters in Arizona, as well as some lawmakers and media representatives are currently asking the state charter board why it’s spending thousands of dollars each month on a single contractor for “ill-defined media relations” work.
According to reports, the state hired PR representation back in 2017, when it faced “critical media reports” relative to “financial self-dealing and mismanagement” in the Arizona charter sector. The PR professional at the heart of this matter responded to the media critique by saying:
“While I don’t speak for the Board, my recollection is that the Board and charter schools generally had become the subject of intense media focus back in 2017, including a significant number of negative stories…”
That explanation seems pretty simple and clear, but it didn’t silence the criticism. Fortunately for both the state and the PR representative, they had counter-narratives ready to push back against the criticism.
The state released a copy of the agreement signed by both the PR contractor and state representatives in charge of charter education. The detailed contract specifically listed the following services the PR contractor would provide, which “may include crisis communications, public relations consulting, strategy development, media training…”
The term “may include” here is important. This looks like it was an open-ended deal. The state was facing a potentially long-term PR crisis, and neither side had a clear idea of an end date, nor did the contractor know what may be required of him. Therefore, he offered a specific list of general work products that might be delivered. As long as he can provide evidence of delivering these products or the reasonable availability to do so when requested, it appears that he’s fulfilled his terms, at least based on a cursory reading of the facts.
For the state’s part, they needed to justify why the PR contractor was hired, as well as why he was retained to the present time. Charles Tack, the executive director of the state charter board in question, had a solid answer to this question: “As a small agency with limited resources, contracting with a professional allows the Board to obtain specialized services at a cost well below that which would be required to compensate a full-time employee with less experience…”
As a statement, this one has a fair amount of meat to it. First, reads as honest and self-aware. They don’t have the requisite skills to manage the potential firestorm that may erupt. So, they wisely went outside looking for a professional. Further, knowing the potential ongoing nature of this issue, they considered the idea of hiring a full-time employee, but ran the numbers and realized it would be less expensive, overall, to hire a contractor.
This, of course, will not silence all the critics, but, when it counted, both the state charter board and the PR pro had their proverbial ducks in a row. If they have a PR challenge now, imagine what it would have been if they had not anticipated these questions and planned accordingly.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations