In all the disarray occurring in the virtually bankrupt city of Harrisburg, Pa., the state's capital, this question sums up the confusion: "Would you rather have a fireman or a spokesman?" asks City Councilman Brad Koplinski. The right answer, clearly, is "Both." Setting Mayor Linda Thompson's communication director against police and firemen — information vs. safety — is a false dichotomy. Both skillsets are necessary for a city to function effectively. Municipal PR directors everywhere (and firemen and policemen, too) should be rallying to Harrisburg spokesman Robert Philbin, who's continuing to work without pay.
A good PR director — we're not rating Philbin here, but neither did City Council in rejecting the mayor's budget — spots issues, clarifies options, spikes misinformation, enables communication to clarify priorities, functions as a point person with the media, takes heat and helps a city function effectively. He or she doesn't simply keep the news media happy, though that's part of effectiveness.
Can you imagine a city without a spokesperson? Might as well imagine a fire engine without gas in its tank.
Photo: Harrisburg spokesperson Robert Philbin.
Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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