It’s For…the Children! (and other bad PR practices)

There are some PR tactics that are still widely used even though they are counter-productive.

One of them was on display in today’s LA Times story about attempts by former LA Mayor Richard Riordan — among others — to amend the legislation that would allow current Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to have more of a say in the operations of the LA Unified School District.

Riordan’s endorsement and support are crucial to Villaraigosa. He’s the mayor’s wingman on the right, and his link to Gov. Schwarzenegger. Also, Riordan has a long record of involvement in education and LAUSD specifically, whereas Villaraigosa’s involvement is of more recent vintage. The change Riordan wants is technical, but significant.

But Villaraigosa, for reasons the Times doesn’t satisfactorily examine, opposes Riordan’s change. (My guess is that it’s part of the deal he cut with the teachers’ union.) But the mayor doesn’t want to confront the ex-mayor directly. So he sidesteps him, sending forth his spokeswoman to say this:

“We have not accepted that amendment,” mayoral spokeswoman Janelle Erickson said.

“We need to shift the focus away from legislative maneuvering and put it back to the classroom,” she added. “This is really the best chance at reforming the schools that Los Angeles has seen in decades, and we must not lose sight of that.”

Gag me!

Does the mayor’s office really think that all rational discussion ends if you invoke “the classroom?” Do they really think Riordan will slap his palm to his head and say, “Damn it, you’re right, Antonio. What was I thinking? All those big fancy words in that legislation — they’re unimportant! What’s important is the classroom. Thank you for setting me straight.”

If you’re a PR person, know this: When you resort to a weepy invocation of “the children” in a serious policy discussion, it makes me think you’re trying to distract me from something you don’t want me to find out.

(Now, if only reporters would start thinking the same way.)

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