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Public Affairs

Cities Worldwide Address Urban Issues Using Digital Technology

New Yorkers have often heard about Mayor Michael Bloomberg traveling domestically and overseas to meet with city leaders to compare notes on urban innovation projects. On Monday during the first day of Internet Week, representatives from a dozen cities around the globe, including New York, convened on the Mayor’s home turf.

The officials appeared at the symposium to describe their initiatives for improving their residents’ lives using digital technology. These represent quality of life and business issues rather than the most pressing urban problems. Each speaker was allotted only ninety seconds, so here’s a brief snapshot:

New York City: Last year the Big Apple launched its Made in NY website to promote local entrepreneurship. Since then they’ve expanded the effort with increased access to workspaces, partnerships with academic institutions as well as other programs and competitions to assist startups.

Boston: launched its Street Bump app, a citizen enabled sensing device for potholes. This project was introduced following extensive road construction, including the Big Dig tunnel project that lasted several years and took its toll on locals’ automobiles.

Philadelphia: The PHL program is a social enterprise partnership with funding from Michael Bloomberg. The civic challenge asks entrepreneurs to identify, select and pilot new programs that solve a host of local issues.

Chicago: Mayor Emmanuel’s ‘Broadband Challenge’ is aimed at improving the city’s fiber network by offering free wi-fi and low cost connectivity. The process even involved updating the sewer network infrastructure.

Quebec City: The Canadian city has its own social network and also has the capability for residents to send personal text messages to help with snow removal. That way they don’t ended up stranded in their cars during snowstorms.

Ottawa: The Canadian city encourages citizen engagement and government transparency. Through an open source website, the public has access to all data. The Apps4 Ottawa open data contest rewards developers who create the most valuable uses and visualizations of the open source data.

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NYC Faces Backlash for PSAs ‘Shaming’ Teen Parents

We think you’ll agree that everyone wants to reduce teen pregnancy rates. But some citizens and advocacy organizations aren’t too happy with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s Human Resources Administration‘s latest attempt to dissuade teens from becoming parents with a bold new PSA campaign that seems to leverage the power of shame.

The campaign consists of posters like the one to the left that pair photos of distraught infants with harrowing facts like “90% of teen parents don’t marry each other”. Each poster encourages viewers to text HRA to learn more and offers “games” that allow users to follow pregnant teenage couples and answer questions like “my GF is pregnant! Prom is coming up and she’s not going, should I stay in or go to prom? Reply ‘promyes’ or ‘promno’”. It’s a sort of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure for the at-risk teenage set. User engagement, calls to action–seems like it could make for effective advocacy PR.

Planned Parenthood is not amused, however.

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FEMA Needs Some Help With Its Newest PR Campaign

FEMA Note to ambitious PR firms with experience developing PSAs “designed to inspire change”: This week The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, let everyone know that it would like a little help creating campaigns that actually serve the public instead of passing into the digital ether unnoticed like so many white-bread press releases.

The problem stems from the fact that the agency’s current campaign, with the super-creative name “Ready“, just doesn’t have the right amount of zip, or zing, or pizazz that the public demands of its government relations initiatives! It’s also a little scary!

FEMA specifically wants a firm experienced in pushing the message via social media; we have to say we’re a little impressed by the agency’s extensive multimedia Facebook page and Al Roker‘s willingness to make fun of himself for the public good. The winning bidder, which “must be adept at managing communications across interactive websites, social media, blogging, texting, gaming, grass roots marketing, social experimenting and other means”, could receive as many as four year-long contracts with the agency.

Do you think you have what it takes to remind the public that FEMA is actually a very useful organization, not a One World Government cabal best judged on the PR disaster that was Hurricane Katrina? Submit your questions and ideas by next Tuesday!

Are PR ‘Press Trips’ and Events Things of the Past?

The BeatlesToday we came across a very interesting post from PSFK founder Piers Fawkes, who believes that PR firms need to abandon the concept of the “press trip”. Why? Because the practice of paying for reporters to travel in the hopes that they will offer positive coverage of a client is no longer sustainable–and Fawkes writes that “public relations executives are impeding media by failing to understand” that the modern digital newsroom requires journalists to publish every day instead of chasing stories about clients.

We have a few questions, the first of which is: Why haven’t we been invited on press trips? (Just kidding.) Seriously, though: How often does your firm send reporters on trips? Is the investment worth the return? Should PR teams stop expecting the media to come to them and start knocking on more doors? Will the press conference itself become irrelevant?

 

PRSA Defends Industry in LAX PR Contract Dispute

Los Angeles International AirportLast week brought news of some significant challenges within the Los Angeles wing of the public relations world–and industry groups have begun to take sides.

Los Angeles World Airports, a group that owns and operates three major transport hubs including Los Angeles International/LAX, recently awarded approximately $4 million in contracts to Southern California PR/media firms charged with highlighting the LAX’s ongoing modernization efforts and promoting Los Angeles as a tourist destination. Last week, two politically ambitious members of the city council questioned the value of the investment and demanded a review by the full council (which has the power to overturn contracts awarded by city organizations).

Their issue? The contracts were “awarded without discussion by the Board of Airport Commissioners last week to companies that are not based in Los Angeles”. Of course the firms in question aren’t particularly happy about the possibility that they could lose these crucial contracts.

The Public Relations Society of America‘s Los Angeles chapter made its position clear over the weekend by stepping into the fray and writing a letter to the city council officially supporting the three firms involved–and the PR business at large.

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The Dream Is Over: San Francisco Bans Public Nudity

Photo via Associated Press This week in Local Government Relations: The times, they are a’ changin’–or are they? Just as the Seattle Police Department learned to love its citizens’ newfound embrace of a certain forbidden substance, the City of San Francisco‘s Board of Supervisors made an effort to curb the endless love-in by banning public nudity via a razor-thin 5-4 vote.

Has the decision divided Bay Area residents? Of course it has. Did dozens of advocates immediately stop in their tracks and strip down in protest? Of course they did.

As we learn more, we’re a little surprised by the depth of the City of Love’s long-term “live and let live” relationship with those who have no problem letting it all hang out. According to various reports, city dwellers will no longer have the right to “[lounge] nude in the city’s plazas, [parade] up and down city streets sans pants, or [ride] subways and buses bare-bottomed”. Wait, you mean they could do that before?!?! Apparently Rice-a-Roni wasn’t the only San Francisco treat!

City Supervisor Scott Weiner (tee hee) introduced the ordinance in what seemed like an attempt to counter complaints from local business owners about a surge in “habitual nudists” flaunting their flesh in the city’s infamous Castro district–but he noted, to opponents’ surprise, that “The dominant demographic expressing concern is gay men”. Based on the close vote and the immediate public outcry, we’d say the city has a bit of a public relations problem on its hands–and we anticipate weeks of futile protests punctuated by gratuitous flashing sprees.

Public nudity remains legal in the state of California as long as it isn’t deemed “lewd or offensive”, though we’d say that wording allows for a bit of a slippery slope…and we wonder how the act of dropping one’s drawers constitutes “free speech”. The fact that “…preschoolers can still go bare, women can still go topless and public nudity will continue to be allowed at events permitted by the city” also diminishes the power of the protesters’ point, doesn’t it?

A final note to the City of New York and the MTA: thank you for not letting people ride the train nude. Improv Everywhere‘s “No Pants Subway Ride” already shows us more than enough skin. Read more

Do We Really ‘All Love Teachers?’ (No, We Don’t.)

When it comes to the 2012 presidential debates, we have to agree with Lindsay Lohan for the first and hopefully last time: we’re “so relieved that it’s over.”

Both candidates showed up to last night’s event armed with zingers and insults, but moderator Bob Schieffer may have scored the evening’s best line when he expressed his frustration with domestic policy squabbles by asserting that “I think we all love teachers.

Do we, though?

Ask a teacher whether the public truly appreciates the work they do and you might get a different answer. (Hint: the average American teacher’s job satisfaction level is lower today than at any point over the last 20 years.)

Based on recent events, we’d say the teaching profession has something of a PR problem—especially when its members form groups and dare to make (gasp!) collective demands. For example, The 44th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools found that, while a vast majority of Americans still say they have “trust and confidence” in the men and women who teach our children, we remain deeply divided on individual issues–and many of us think that teachers have too much power.

Based on the popularity of aggressive charter school advocates like Michelle Rhee and films like Waiting for Superman and Won’t Back Down that convey strong anti-union messages, we’d say Americans don’t love or trust public schoolteachers much at all.

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President Uses Twitter, Breathes Oxygen Like Other Humans

In case you wondered how the world’s most visible face interacts with the followers of his office’s official Twitter feed, the White House has released this in-no-way-heavy-hitting video documenting a few moments in the life of @WhiteHouse. While we can’t pretend to be terribly impressed, we will admit that the President is a bit more…intimate than many other prominent tweeters.

No word on whether the intern/PR rep/spambot who usually mans the feed will ever get his or her moment in the sun.

Senators Launch an Investigation Into the White House’s PR, Advertising Activities

Today is the deadline for 11 government agencies to submit information about contracts they have with PR and advertising firms to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management.

Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and Republican Sen. Rob Portman (OH) have launched an investigation into how the White House has spent federal dollars on PR and advertising. Leaders of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Housing and Urban Development, and the Departments of Energy and Labor were among the agency heads who received the request for details. They’ve been asked for information going back to October 2008.

According to Roll Call, there is precedent for this sort of investigation but the the two Senators here “concede that what the administration is doing likely is legal.” Makes sense right?

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SOPA, PIPA Bills Postponed Because Everyone Hates Them

TGIF world! The SOPA and PIPA bills have been put on hold because legislators say they want a do-over.

“It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who also serves as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Damn it, foreigners!

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