You can fight city hall and win (with the help of the news media)

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Bulawayo City Hall
Can you fight City Hall and win? Yes, with effective news media management.

In the past few postings, I’ve relayed the somewhat cryptic story of a media/public relations success involving a business owner and municipal officials over building code violations. The best stories, of course, often go unreported or under-reported and confidentiality issues mean that names and details here need to be kept under wraps, at least for now.

The story, however, provides a worthy case study for anyone wishing to understand the importance of effective news media management.

This issue occurred in a major city. (The direct city population is greater than 500,000 — the metropolitan area has more than two million people.)

Within days of the issue arising — which would have resulted in the business facing an immediate close-shop order — the business owner had a meeting at City Hall. He reported to me the results of that meeting last night:

The City admitted in the media they were caught off guard by the press and the reaction and told me they had done a poor job of communication.

They said they had learned a lesson from this. They said they had heard from the City Manager (who answers to the Mayor) something to the effect of maxim the story go away. They were quite agreeable to almost anything we proposed in the meeting.

At a couple of points, they wanted to know how the media story would be spun. I assured them I would thank the hard-working City staff for their concern for safety and their ability to work to a satisfactory resolution. I also told them I would mention our appreciation for the concern of the Mayor and Council.

In fact, I emailed the mayor and council the eve before  the meeting, told them I was looking forward to a productive meeting and was hoping to thank the City staff and dedicated mayor and council for finding a solution to the press post-meeting.

In other words, the business owner had achieved so much media recognition and public pressure that the city’s Chief Building Official received instructions to make “the story go away.”  As a bonus, I doubt the publicity will harm the business owner’s current client relationships and it may provide a boost in attracting new business.

Although your situation will be different, I think any business owner can achieve similar media/public communications successes, with some careful planning (and effective crisis management) but this requires the AEC business to look beyond the standard and superficial “stories” that businesses like to share/report. (To be newsworthy, the story must be news.)

By year’s end I will compile examples and case study reviews about what to do, and what not, to achieve media success. Again, let me know if you have examples of media relations successes (or if you dare, failures) by emailing buckshon@constructionmarketingideas.com. (I’ll respect your confidences, of course.)

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