Thursday, June 03, 2010

CIRM Seeking $210,000 in PR Help

If you are looking for a job in PR involving a cutting edge enterprise immersed in academia, science, business and government/politics, there is a possibility at the $3 billion California stem cell agency.

The agency has posted an RFP for a “communications outreach coordinator” along with an RFP for a “public communications services” contract.

The contracts are part of a communications effort at CIRM that runs in the neighborhood of $1 million a year.

The new coordinator position is for 11 months at $85,000. The job calls for the individual to promote “a deeper and more sophisticated public awareness of stem cell research and therapy and new funding paradigms for medical research.”

The $125,000-a-year services contract calls for the winning firm to work with CIRM PR staff to “build a foundation of support for the future by creating and cementing relationships with thought leaders and patient advocates, providing proof of the value of CIRM to the state, developing creative ways to demonstrate progress in a field while also setting realistic expectations.”

The contract has been held by Fleishman-Hilliard. CIRM communications chief Don Gibbons said in an email,
“It was always the plan to rebid this every two years. I have encouraged FH to apply for this round. I hope to receive a robust and interesting set of applications.”
Deadline for applications is June 14.


  1. Anonymous3:16 PM

    Wow. The Communications Chief wants a "robust...set of applications" for this 11-month Public Relations job (why not just get real crazy and make it a year?). How many people are needed to do this job???? Astounding...but only in California, with citizens' taxes, that is!

  2. Dave,

    This an absurd waste of taxpayer dollars.

    -- John M. Simpson
    Stem Cell Project Director
    Consumer Watchdog

  3. We are posting the following from Don Gibbons, CIRM's chief communications officer, at his request:
    "You are playing fast and loose with the facts again. The last time you threw out the million dollar figure you described it as for public relations. At least this time you call it communications, because the bulk of the budget is not going to traditional PR. The first time you used the figure I was not in San Francisco and did not have the facts at hand. You had an oh-by-the-way line buried in the first post stating some of the contracts you were adding up might be two-year totals. The prior contracts to the ones cited here were both two-year totals. So, that alone puts your figure off by $200,000. The largest sum in your total is staff salaries, and the largest amount below the cited contracts is for web services. The bulk of staff time and web services goes to our mandated transparency requirements. To get to this total you also have to add in my high school education projects, which most would not call PR."

    (Gibbons reports difficulty in posting comments directly to this blog. If you are having problems with comments, please let us know at

  4. All Cheese -- Re Don Gibbons' comment, we could have come up with a justifiably larger number for CIRM's PR/communications efforts than the roughly $1 million we estimated. We did not include the $200,000 that CIRM is spending this month for an international stem cell conference. Nor did we include the $50,000 that CIRM plans to give away to pay persons to attend the convention and then peddle its stem cell message. (See ) More could potentially be added but cobbling together a truly precise number is made difficult by the agency's lack of transparency and accounting practices that obscure rather than reveal.

    Gibbons also attempts to distinguish between PR and communications, a meaningless differentiation for most of the public. Obviously, certain kinds of communications are not PR and vice versa. But for most non-PR professionals, it is all really the same thing. To make a mundane comparison, it is all cheese. Some is cheddar. Some is American. Some is limburger. But it is all cheese.

    Putting aside the size of the CIRM PR effort, we think communicating with the public (including all the various constituencies) is an extremely important function at CIRM, as it should be at all government agencies and businesses. An enterprise can have a great product or service but unless the story is told effectively, the enterprise's efforts can go for naught. The key to a successful PR/communications plan is – first – to have a product worthy of praise. Then, measurable and realistic goals need to be carefully set and regularly re-evaluated. Measurement is critical. Too often PR sinks into feel-good mush. It also tends to seize on the latest PR gimmickry and technology without a realistic assessment of whether the gee-whiz stuff genuinely advances the mission.

    Finally, a successful PR effort needs support and involvement at the highest level – meaning that the senior PR executive is part of the inner circle, someone who can tell the top brass that what they are proposing is dubious, if not worse. Too often, organizations muddle up their PR with micro-management by the top executives, who have no real grasp of what needs to be done and ultimately wind up wasting time and money, sometimes in efforts that damage an enterprise's credibility and PR efforts.

  5. Anonymous8:48 PM

    CIRM should, absolutely, be able to publish documents which clearly distinguish one year totals from two-year totals. No one or more public employees should have to be in San Francisco or elsewhere in order for another to definitively determine what proposed or actual expenditures are in a given line item of a public entity's budget. No journalist, reporter, lay person or citizen should have to get to the point of debating what's in, or out of, each line item of a budget in order to get at the heart of the over-arching matter of where, how much, and with whom the public's money is proposed to be (or has already been) spent. After all, we are talking about budgeting here. There should instead be a companion document which sets forth all of the proposed (or actual) providers of goods or services and their corresponding dollar amounts (or estimates), by budget line item. This companion document is commonly referred to as Budget Assumptions. I absolutely like the cheese analogy. As to the nuances of Public Relations versus Communications, this reader might add that one could easily view them as "six of one and a half dozen of another." If there is, indeed, a material distinction to be made between these two types of activities/expenses, then there should be (and, ummm, I think you'll guess what I'm about to write here)....*two* line items in CIRM's budget and detailed assumptions as to which expenses and their amounts (or proposed expenses and their proposed amounts) belong in which of the referenced two budget line items. No one should have to "cobble" together numbers in order to engage a public entity in thoughtful debate about the work of, for, and funded by, the citizens of the State of California.

  6. The following is posted at the request of Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for CIRM:
    "The recent change in governance policy to start reporting contract amounts in annualized amounts is intended to address this very issue. Also, despite the snide comment about an 11-month contract, this is to put the communications contracts on a schedule that matches with the CIRM fiscal year. Both changes should make it easy for either of us to add up an annual budget."


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