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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

City Council Decides to Terminate Its Outside PR Firm’s Contract

• Members Approve Creating an In-House Position


The Malibu City Council’s Communications-Public Relations Ad Hoc Committee told members this week they were recommending the current public relations firm not be hired next year and instead the council should create an in-house position, among other recommendations. The council concurred and directed the staff to come up with a job description for a “professional, experienced,” communications specialist.
The ad hoc panel is comprised of Councilmembers Lou La Monte and Laura Rosenthal, who were tasked by the full council with examining the communications strategies and plans for the city.
Rosenthal said a specialist or public information officer could help the city to better get its message out while at the same time exercising more control.
La Monte agreed, “We need to take control of our message.”
The subcommittee also advised that council members get more out into the community and attend all of the events, which could be tracked by an official municipal calendar.
The ad hoc council panel started in June and examined a wide array of issues.
The pair looked at other cities, including Santa Monica, Calabasas and West Hollywood in their efforts to investigate various communication policies and plans. The ad hoc panel also talked to residents, business owners, and media representatives, according to a power point presentation they made to the council.
One of the major recommendations to come out of the committee’s report is that the council not renew the contract of Fiona Hutton & Associates, which is due to expire this month.
La Monte and Rosenthal have emphasized that they wanted to look at all kinds of communications not just public relations.
During their presentation they talked about how they looked at emergency communications, public relations and the perception of Malibu by the county, state and world, then took a long, hard look at the city’s public information plan.
Some of the objectives the ad hoc panel said it hopes to accomplish are improved efficiency and cost savings for the city.
The Hutton contract was for $8000 per month, which could translate into a $96,000 annual salary for an in-house position.
City Manager Jim Thorsen said he did not issue the Request for Proposal originally sought by the city council for a public relations contract.
“I did not put out the RFP. I knew this was coming forward,” he said.
In describing the city’s communications challenges, the pair talked about geographical constraints of the city, the number of part-time residents, budgetary constraints and the fact there is no in-house staff. Another challenge is the “historic mistrust of government.”
La Monte and Rosenthal also insisted they could readily see the opportunities since there are inexpensive methods that can be employed using social media, the interests of the council and staff in getting the message out, a perception there is an openness to creative ideas which can lead to creating a funding plan and the fact that “Malibu can sell itself.”
The committee offered a laundry list of tools it wants to consider. They mentioned email based systems, social media, community leader outreach, media relations, promotion of commissions and committees, public service announcements, putting together a coordinated calendar, smart phone applications, expanded city television programming, mailers, newsletters, interactive websites, news releases and op ed pieces.
Both Councilmembers John Sibert and Pamela Conley Ulich were quick to point out they agreed on the need for a calendar.

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