NYC is the undisputed mecca for the PR business. Forget image-conscious Hollywood or posh London. Those cities might be heavy hitters in the public relations industry, but there is nowhere on earth better equipped to build your brand than the Big Apple. Regardless of who’s selling and who’s buying, you can bet there’s a brain trust behind the transaction. And, if you’re paying, they better deliver.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has a problem on this score according to a front page New York Times feature this AM. While he has a staff full of advisors, de Blasio seems to prefer the company of “private” advisers like his friend John Del Cecato, a frequent guest both at city hall and the Gracie Mansion.
Publicly, de Blasio has repeatedly decried the undue influence of less than transparent political nonprofit groups, calling them “shadowy” and a “threat to our democracy.” Yet the mayor makes a practice of investing in private advisors and seeing them paid through donors or de Blasio affiliated political nonprofit organizations, primarily Campaign for One New York.
BerlinRosen – who we profiled yesterday – has worked with de Blasio since his inauguration in 2014, controlling, among other things, the communications strategy for Campaign for One York. Like Del Cecato, BerlinRosen principle, Jonathan Rosen is a close friend and confidant of the mayor. In about 18 months serving as unofficial adviser to the mayor, BerlinRosen was paid $490,000 by a nonprofit supporting de Blasio.
They were described as a “shadow cabinet that “exists solely to advance the administrations agenda.”
And they weren’t the only ones. AKPD Message and Media received more than $1.1 million to help with strategy, advertising and in securing TV ad time. Hilltop Public Solutions yet another PR firm “advising” the mayor earned $100,000 during de Blasio’s 2013 campaign and another $230,000 since his election, according to reports in the New York Times.
Clearly, the mayor doesn’t have an issue with “shadowy” nonprofit support when it benefits his image. His office, through campaign spokesmen, asserts these payments were appropriate.
Others might disagree … And there is at least some smoke where there may be fire. The Times reports Hilltop states it “did not lobby city government” … but some are calling that implausible, given the firm’s business relationship with upstart hotelier Airbnb and Fortis Property, currently redeveloping a hospital complex in Brooklyn. All of these – and other connections – may simply be a case of fortuitous relationships. But when you are trying to project a squeaky clean image, this sort of apparent conflict of interest creates a crisis PR goldmine the media can and will dig into with glee.
None of these facts, assertions or allegations do much to change New York’s PR image – Far from simple fear-mongering by conspiracy theorists and anti-government crusaders, average folks see good reasons to distrust the power brokers at the highest levels of business and politics.
Part of the job of de Blasio’s advisers, both on his staff and in private is to help their client earn the public trust and build on it. You can’t get everyone to like you, but there’s a big gap between putting someone up for sainthood and storming the Bastille. People with power and barrels full of ink are beginning to ask questions. Berlin, et. al., better have answers.