Please pass the public relations deodorant

Public relations is as much an art form as it is a science. And that art form is certainly facing some daunting challenges these days.

Let’s start with the Obama administration and the war in Libya. What is the mission? To prevent a slaughtering of innocent lives? To remove Moammar Gadhafi as the dictator? Yes and yes, we are told.

But how will the no-fly zone prevent Gadhafi from killing his political opponents on the ground? And how will the no-fly zone force him out of office? How long are we willing to play this game without results? Furthermore, who or what would take control of Libya if Gadhafi does leave town?

The Obama administration’s early public relations messages about the war have fallen woefully short and sometimes have been contradictory.

Next, let’s look at the National Football League. Historically, the NFL has been the ultimate corporate PR machine.

However, that is but a distant memory at this moment in time. Can you say tone-deaf? At a time when our country is fighting wars on three fronts, trying to recover from a recession, staring at record government debts and becoming increasingly divided over the collective bargaining rights for teachers and nurses, the NFL wants us to care about millionaire players fighting with billionaire owners over a mountain of loot?

John Greenburg, sports historian and author of "The Grand Old Man: Amos Alonzo Stagg," says he is not optimistic that an April 6 court hearing will bring the NFL any closer to an agreement with the players union, which was locked out by the owners in March.

"This is a divorce, essentially," Greenburg said. "A nasty one. It could end professional football as we know it."
Greenburg says that there’s a "very good chance" that there won’t be any pro football in 2011.

"You have to realize that the NFL isn’t just a sport, it’s an entertainment giant," Greenburg says. "It’s a multi-billion dollar business. Neither side wants to feel like it lost, when the money is this steep."

Of course, Wisconsin is not immune to disingenuity. Take the bill to eliminate the requirement that Milwaukee firefighters and police officers reside within the city. The suburban supporters for the bill can make the PR case that the requirement denies the freedoms of the employees to live where they want to live. But why didn’t the legislature go after the same residency requirements in other Wisconsin cities? Why was Milwaukee singled out?

The anti-Milwaukee sentiment going on in the Capitol these days has never been more toxic. Or hurtful.

In Madison, as Supreme Court Judge David Prosser prepares for the April 5 election, he’s got his own little public relations crisis. He’s trying to convince voters that he is a moderate, contemplative judge. That’s not an easy task after he called Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a “total bitch” and threatened to “destroy” her.

Prosser did himself no PR favors when he mentioned at a debate that a Facebook poster had stated, "Stop the turd, vote Kloppenburg." Prosser then asked aloud, “Now, am I the turd?"

Sir, that’s a question best left unasked in a public setting. Trust me.

Finally, we have a proposal by the Milwaukee County Board’s Public Works & Transit Committee to increase fees on private parking lot vendors and local hotels that provide courtesy vehicles to travelers. This is nothing more than a fee being imposed on the private sector because the county is losing revenues in its own airport parking structure to private vendors across Howell Avenue who are shuttling their customers to the airport gates.

In the coming weeks and months, we’re going to see a lot of new public fees for services from our counties, municipalities and schools, as they deal with the severe cuts in shared revenues from the state. Politicians will brag about holding down our taxes, but it’s a shell game, because we’ll be forced to pay more in fees for many basic services.

The problem is, our wallets can’t tell the difference.


Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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