The Board of Commissioners of Nashville’s Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency is looking into the possibility that McNeely Piggott & Fox, may have billed them excessively for a campaign for the Music City Convention Center. At a board meeting yesterday, MDHA’s Executive Director Phil Ryan iterated he believes the agency followed the correct procedures in dealing with the PR firm, but questions have arisen as to these policies and some invoices. If there is every a subject any PR firm wants to avoid, it is over billing and any hint of impropriety.
The McNeely Pigott & Fox contract originally had a cap of $75,000, but MDHA got rid of the limitation and subsequently the PR invoices have sky rocketed to over $450,000. According to the news from Nashville, in one instance alone, MDHA was billed $3500 for the PR firm’s representatives attending one City Council meeting. Metro’s finance director Rich Riebling also stated they were unaware that MP&F kept the clock running at a rate of $285 per hour every time the had communication with the PR firm.
In the aftermath of all the speculation MDHA may well lose the Convention Center project (left), as a resolution was presented last week to create a nine member board to oversee the project from now on. According to other sources in the area, MP&F’s funds have been temporarily cut off until some kind of understanding can be reached.
One writer termed their spending habits on the project; “spending the city’s money like frat boys with a blank check.” MP&F was hired to simply inform the public about the Convention Center, not to inundate Twitter and world wide social media with news of the local center.
We probably should have looked into localized PR’s use of social media and networking before, as it appears some companies are hammering the Web home as a conduit for communication faster than we thought. I must say we have often felt guilty for charging $90 an hour for advising on something we know so well. Perhaps we have underestimated our worth given that this company is billing at over $200, they must be berry berry good.
The story gets more and more seedy as one delves into it, with allegations arising that MP&F has basically been charging the city for lobbying the city. I know that sounds rather nebulous and unimaginable, but the invoices reveal charges for MP&F being present at meetings where the city council was apparently being lobbied by MP&F? The story will obviously have a dramatic conclusion as just about everyone in Nashville is on top of it now.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the who affair is that the mayor and other officials actually seem to expect everyone to believe they were somehow unaware of the extensive charges for services. For this writer, I cannot believe a city official would be idiotic enough to use the “I did not know” excuse when the taxpayer’s money is concerned. That is a little like saying; “Hey don’t shoot me, I am only stupid not crooked!” As for MP&F, they are one of the largest firms in the US, and perhaps the most notable in Tennessee. All I have to say for them is, “They must be sweating bullets by this time.” But, as several have said, “bad PR is good for other PR companies.” However, I am not sure bad PR is good for any of us. Another last note, the founders of this PR company look like a “who’s who” of powerful industry people in Tennessee, so if bullets are gonna fly, someone besides the top dogs is going to take the heat. Just some homespun southern politics from my partner.