From as early as the summer of 2013, Lake Mille Lacs began to experience a decline in the walleye population. The situation did not improve; causing the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to act on that desperation in March. This action included banning residents from keeping walleye, and then from using live bait. But after discussions with the public and other officials, the DNR decided to lift the live-bait ban.
The DNR made the decision after speaking to the local Advisory, which aired opposition from other committee members and the public against the live-bait ban. People voiced concerns about the fact that many fishermen did not know how to use artificial bait. According to Advisory Committee Co-Chair Dean Hanson, “We’re alienating a very large group of fishermen who may never come back.”
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The PR Concern
Hanson also showed concern about how the DNR’s actions may drag the committee into a PR mess. In fact, the group exchanged several published emails discussing the coming media attention and how they planned to handle it. One of their primary concerns involved DNR’s portrayal of their hand in the decision and the reversal.
As a result, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr reassured the committee members that they would not receive any blame. He said, “The DNR is hearing that anglers are accepting of the catch-and-release aspect of the walleye season, but members of the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee heard clear concerns about the live bait restriction, as did the DNR.”
A Better Approach
Though PR is a popular staple in politics, too many officials wait until after the storm gathers to employ PR tactics. Had the DNR paid closer attention to public interests, they would not find themselves in this position.
A big part of PR involves keeping your ear to the ground and understanding the needs of the market you serve. Had the DNR done this, they would better anticipate the opposition from colleagues and locals regarding the decision to ban live-baiting.
The second way the DNR could have employed PR tactics to their advantage involved internal communications. By better communication with important stakeholders, like the Advisory Committee, the DNR would ensure everyone was on the same page. Instead, their decision further fractured the relationship between the two groups; causing one to become distrustful of the other.
Still, DNR’s reactive approach to public relations showed its ability to bounce back. It spoke with the shareholders about their concerns and took full responsibility for its actions. It also released the discussions leading up to that point for the sake of remaining transparent. These are all great PR practices, but no reactive strategy trumps a proactive approach.
PR’s main role in politics is boosting a politician’s image when election time comes around. However, more government officials and organizations need to invest in PR specialists or adopt practices, which help to improve communications in the day-to-day operations.
This helps ensure the public understands decisions made which affect them and decreases the likelihood of messes caused by poor communication.