We needle the flaks but need them too

Public relations gets a bad rap, especially from journalists, who liken PR to another two-letter acronym for what comes out of the hind end of a male bovine.
Journalists and PR professionals are like feuding siblings. We journalists disparage PR agents as “flaks” or “spin doctors” and complain that they’re trying to cover up and mislead while we’re trying to get to the bottom of things and expose the facts.
They get frustrated with us — sometimes rightfully so — because we appear to be looking for dirt or setting up the “gotcha” moment.
Many PR writers cut their teeth at newspapers, and many journalists have spent time on “the dark side” before coming back to the greener pastures of less pay and worse hours.
The relationship between PR and journalism is symbiotic. They need us to get the information about their businesses or organizations into the paper or onto the broadcast. We need them to feed us the facts that only they have access to, or to make our jobs easier by writing our stories for us.
Much of what you read in the paper, especially a small-town weekly, is PR copy that’s been cut, expanded or massaged (or not) by your neighborhood newspaper staff. We don’t have the time or the bodies to dig up all the stories that are relevant to our readers, so we rely on flaks from businesses, non-profits, and state agencies like the DNR.
I bring all this up because of an item you may have seen in last week’s paper: The PR firm Goff Public (formerly Goff and Howard) is no longer working for the Mille Lacs Band.
On the positive side, the Band will see significant savings by ending the relationship. In a blog post I wrote in 2009, I noted that the Band’s two-year contract with Goff and Howard was $1,713,333.
But with the savings comes a loss of Goff Public’s expertise. Goff provided an essential service to the Band for 22 years during a period of intense change due to the launch of two casinos, the ongoing development of the Band government, and the intense legal battles over treaty rights and reservation boundaries.
To the chagrin of some in the Mille Lacs community, Goff’s PR efforts served the Band well in the court of public opinion.
I’ve known some of the agents at Goff for many years and have nothing but respect and affection for them. Yes, they got paid for it, but they served the tribal community with energy, kindness and professionalism.
I sometimes felt Goff did a disservice to the Band by glossing over the negatives in the reservation community and insulating the tribal government from us journalists, the wider community, and even Band members.
If all you’ve read about the Mille Lacs Band is what came out of Goff, you’d get the impression that the reservation is a cross between Mayberry and Walnut Grove, not a complex community with some serious and intractable problems.
It will be interesting to see where the Band goes from here in terms of public relations — whether they hire a new firm, do it themselves, or simply quit doing PR (which is probably impossible).
Another benefit that’s come from the Band’s 22-year relationship with Goff is that the pros have trained Band members in the PR business. The Band now has the expertise to do PR internally, saving money while bringing jobs to the community.
And that’s not spin. That’s a story good enough to make a flak’s heart flutter.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.
The column was published in the Mille Lacs Messenger on Oct. 10, 2012.


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