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Brock: Board avoids duties by learning how to avoid media

Harvey Brock

Two words that have never found association in my vocabulary are lunch and learn.

Maybe it started in grade school when I figured out lunch was an escape from learning. Lunch time was devoted to gobbling down my PB&J as quickly as possible so I could hit the kickball circuit on the playground.

These days, I gobble down my tuna salad with the same haste so I can inspect the inside of my eyelids for a few minutes before returning to work.

I'm not a board member of the Southwest Water Authority, but it might have been worth giving up 15 minutes of noon shuteye to attend the media relations lunch and learn presented to its board Tuesday by Hughes & Stuart Marketing Strategies out of Colorado, paid for by SWA.

The flyer given to attendees said the two helpful topics to discuss were "Avoiding Media Manipulation and Learn How the Game is Played."

Farther down their flyer were three tips:

-- Discover the forbidden words and transitional phrases that, when taken out of context, are the most harmful.

-- Learn when your key messages can be stated, no matter what the action item or discussion entails, to proactively build positive press and gain an understanding that just because something is legal, doesn't mean it can pass the media's sniff test of transparency.

-- And finally and the most important tip: When it comes to the media, there really are no rules.

I'm a news guy and obviously biased, so I'll leave it up to the taxpayers and customers of SWA to decide if it is a good use of funds to pay a media relations firm out of Colorado to train board members that no matter what the SWA's actions are, their response should appear positive in the next day's news.

Hughes & Stuart Marketing Strategies isn't paying its bills solely on SWA alone. Providing media relations training for countless non-profits, schools, counties and universities is very big business. So much in fact that I'm thinking of starting my own consulting firm called "Credibility Plus."

My alternative message to clients would be to stock your board with members not afraid to speak their minds, review questions and offer suggestions to improve the performance of the entities they serve and under no circumstance should a business owned by a board member benefit financially based on the success of the entities they serve.

Accepting no one is perfect and bad things happen to all of us, my lunch and learn tips would be rather than paying a public relations firm, consult an attorney or meet in a conference room to craft a positive spin and public response, the best way to garner support from the public is simply to tell the absolute truth, no matter how embarrassing and even if it shows up on the headlines of tomorrow's front page.

Years in the newspaper business has taught me that people have a knack for reading between the lines and knowing if and when folks are telling the truth or protecting their backsides.

I open for business today and wish to offer my services to any entity wanting an alternative and radical approach to media relations.

Please forgive me if I don't spend too much time waiting by the phone for calls.

Brock is the publisher of The Dickinson Press.