Monday, November 12, 2007

Excessive Haste on $300,000 Stem Cell PR Contract

The California stem cell agency's plan to hire a public relations firm for $300,000 is a case of misplaced priorities.

It is quite clear that CIRM needs to move swiftly on its communications needs, particularly in light of the emphasis placed on public education by both its interim and incoming presidents.

But first CIRM needs to find a permanent chief communications officer. Otherwise, the agency will be signing a major contract without consulting the person who will have responsibility for overseeing it. Premature selection of a PR firm, in fact, could hinder the hiring of a top-notch person, who might look askance at the choice or at the management that chooses to take such precipitous action.

CIRM will be issuing the contract without what amounts to very necessary "peer review." And that is the kind of scrutiny that a skilled communications professional would give any prospective PR firm.

Some also question the need for a PR firm, period. One is John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, who argues for a minimalist approach.

Simpson, who is a practitioner of the fine art of PR, among other things, told the California Stem Cell Report in part (his full comments are carried in the item below),

"People who hire PR firms are more interested in image than in substance. The way you get good media relations is simple: Do good work in an open way and answer all questions candidly.

"CIRM needs a committed and knowledgeable communications officer and an assistant completely familiar with all CIRM and ICOC activities. With the current downsizing in the news business many such talented people are available."

However, we do not believe that CIRM can fulfill its major communications responsibilities with two persons. CIRM is limited by law to no more than 50 employees; it now has about 26. Given the limit, a good communications firm would be necessary to execute the agency's ambitious public education plans outlined in the strategic plan. Without outside help, it would require a personnel commitment that probably is beyond CIRM.

And the outside help should be picked under the direction of CIRM's own communications expert, which is what that person is hired to do..

CIRM has gone through two PR firms and two staff PR persons in its short history. The largest contract $378,000) went to Edelman PR and generated some dissatisfaction at CIRM, which is at least partial evidence that the agency needs expert help in picking a new firm.

Regardless, any contract will generate negative attention. Reporters and editors in the mainstream media have a jaundiced view of highly paid PR firms. Too often they fail to serve either their masters or the media well.

(Here is a link to the request for bids on the contract, which are due Nov. 30. The request says that the contract could be awarded prior to end of the year.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog