Engaging the public through strategic communications is a vital component of any strategy, in both the public and private sector. That is why the State of Michigan, the Governor, each state Department, the City of Flint, the business and community groups in Flint, the Mayor of Flint, and other organizations affected by the water crises needs someone to help define the narrative to communicate about the situation, to find the people and their stories to share, to run interference between the national media looking for a story and the people of Flint looking for answers, for solutions and for help.
They each need a public relations professional-- And the two firms that the Governor retained, Finn Partners and Mercury Public Affairs are both good firms to assist the Governor in developing the key messages and finding the right media to communicate what the Administration is doing to resolve this issue.
But the Governor needs more than just a PR firm that will coordinate the state’s response, the Governor needs a PR strategy to let people know that he is in charge, that he has a plan and that plan is moving forward. The Governor needs a PR strategy that informs key stakeholders as to what they can expect of him and the state to help them now and into the future. The Governor needs a PR plan to let the world know that Flint is open for business and is a great place to live + work + play despite the current situation. It is a city, like Detroit, that is resilient. Where grit can turn to glory and it will rise above the ashes found in the city’s infrastructure.
However, what the Governor is missing from his PR strategy is:
- A sense of urgency in disclosing, sharing and responding to information
- Transparency in what information they are using to makethe decisions affecting children and their families
- A way to engage the community
- Face-to-Face meetings
- Being more direct and upfront with the affected public
As I previously wrote, the Governor must be more engaged in the City of Flint and among the people who have been directly affected. He must be seen in the community, meeting with key stakeholders, eating lunch in local restaurants, shopping in local stores and touring various museums to let people know that Flint is still open for business.
While Kettering University tries to tell their students and their parents that their water is okay to drink, it is difficult to overcome the perception of what people already are thinking. As a result, the businesses and attractions in Flint, such as Kettering and the University of Michigan Flint, Mott Community College, Baker College, SloanLongway (which includes the Planetarium, Sloan Museum and Flint Institute of Art) in addition to restaurants found in Flint such as: White House Tavern, Table & Tap, Merge The Grainery, El Portero, The Flint Crepe Co. and others need to wage their own PR campaign to let people know that Flint is open for business. And their biggest customer should be the Governor and his staff.
While the firms retained by the Governor focus on coordinating the state’s response, the Governor needs a ground game and find a way to connect with the people who lost his trust.
The Governor needs to find a way to make a meaningful connection with the people of Flint and work hard at rebuilding that trust. He needs to confront every issue with direct and no nonsense action. He needs to be blunt and results-oriented.
At the same time the Governor works to restore relations with the people of Flint, he needs to ensure he is communicating with legislators and Members of Congress who can support the funding and resources necessary to help the community. He needs to bring the stakeholders together to make them part of the plan and use their network to get the necessary funding and support.
I believe The Way Forward, is to ENGAGE. Through strategic communications, strategic relationships and something valuable to share, the Governor should focus less on preserving his legacy and work hard at protecting the people of Flint and enhancing the reputation of the City and businesses in it, so that a town in Michigan, also known as Buick City, The Auto City or The Vehicle City can be know again as America’s Most Modern City.