COSTA MESA — Sometimes the news just seems stranger than fiction. That is the case of the story of how the City of Costa Mesa improved the “Transparency Grade” for their website. The full story is sufficiently documented over at the OC Weekly Navel Gazing blog and in the Daily Pilot. But in a nutshell, there is this non-profit group that has this wiki website that grades cities, states and other municipalities on the transparency of their websites. All start out with a default grade of F until the entity has someone, anyone, enter some information by editing their page. The process is public and identifiable if you know where to look.
Bill Lobdell, the $3,000 a week consultant with no PR experience hired under a no-bid contract to handle PR for the City’s move towards “transparency,” found out about the site, made a few corrections and “POOF” an A+ Grade materialized. So proud of his accomplishment, Lobdell sent the unsuspecting media a press release touting the grade as an example of how transparent the City is.
The problem is that this grade was less of an accomplishment than a restaurant passing their inspection by the health department. His announcement of the A+ grade was like a restaurant issuing a press release to say how great it is for getting an A+ award on their health inspection.
It can be argued that a PR persons job is to highlight positive news about their client and communicate that information to the media. In this case Lobdell did his job well. What he failed to do was inform the media, and public, what his role was in the creation of that “award.” That is a basic PR 101 failure, a mistake that a summer intern would make, not a PR professional. May I suggest to Lobdell that he enroll in such a class to tighten up his skill set. Maybe there are some entry-level classes at UCI or Orange Coast College that he could take?
But I guess that is what you get when you grant a no-bid contract to someone with no experience to handle your PR.