Using a PR firm when in the middle of a crisis is not uncommon, but when it comes to spending public funds, it needs to be handled in a way that allows the public to understand and agree with the decision to do so. If an agency is spending over $100K for outside PR and legal consultants when they have internal agencies to handle that type of work, and when the agencies are also in the process of cutting services, closing offices, and laying off staff, then there’s going to be an uproar. Reflect on that before hiring outside help and look at better ways to approach the situation instead of stirring up another hornet’s nest to try to cure the problems of the initial situation.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) got word recently that their government agencies spent $129K over a three-month period on a combination of labor law legal specialists (McInnes Cooper Law Firm) and a PR consultant (Cathy Dornan) — all while layoffs and cuts in service were happening. Not a good approach, and all to negotiate the labor contracts with public employees. The agencies were paying out $350 per hour for help for these services.
How Could It Have Been Handled Better?
Well, when there already are PR people in an organization, let them do their job. They’re already being paid, and the public isn’t going to be concerned over that, especially if it means more people get to keep their jobs.
If specialized help is needed, try to work out a deal for an hourly rate, and only use them for a training session or two with the current staff. That provides more bang for the buck – the bill for special services is lower and current employees have a chance to improve their knowledge and skills.
If legal help is needed, a similar arrangement might be made. Usually, government entities have access to in-house attorneys, though they may not specialize in the area of law currently needed. They certainly can do a lot of the work out of their offices and bring in outside counsel on a consulting basis here and there, instead of having them there for all negotiation chatter, and then billing for any documentation that’s prepared. In-house staff can do the documentation, filling out forms and filing any necessary documents at their regular pay level, instead of paying them as well as any paralegal, administrative help, and attorney research time.
Sometimes experts are needed, but the amount of time and energy is far less that what agencies end up paying simply because they don’t think about the long-term consequences once the public learns of the expense. When outside help is required, make the information available to the public immediately, as well as what has been done to minimize costs.