The following guest post was written by Joe DiSano, the principal of DiSano Strategies, a Lansing-based political consulting, lobbying, and public relations firm. DiSano can be reached at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @joedisano.
I’m on record that I’m not Rick Snyder’s biggest fan. I’m a Democratic consultant. He’s the Republican governor. You know the drill.
But if the governor were my client, I’d tell him that he needs a new PR strategy pronto.
He has badly fumbled the Flint water crisis. Snyder has blamed state bureaucrats and the feds, when his entire brand is that he’s a “tough nerd” who gets results. His PR team should have told him to take full responsibility – no ifs, ands or buts. People would have respected that approach, even if they’re still rightfully angry.
Snyder and his media team have also repeatedly lashed out at Democrats and activists. As a PR professional, I would have put the kibosh on that. Look, when there’s a huge crisis, your enemies are going to score points off you. That’s politics. You can’t take the eye off the ball and keep responding to them. Otherwise, you look like you care more about your political future than the people of Flint.
I’m a dad and so is Snyder. I’m sure he genuinely cares about kids suffering from lead poisoning. He did get pretty emotional at his State of the State address. But he’s repeatedly talked about how criticism hurts his feelings and played the victim, like telling WILX-TV that “People want to have me shot.” His PR team should have stopped that weeks ago.
So Snyder needs to clean house. Everyone in his state media office needs to go. This isn’t personal. It’s a necessary decision that Snyder has to make to right the ship and regain trust. It will send a powerful signal to the public and exhausted reporters who have been covering the Flint crisis that the governor is taking a new and more open approach.
Snyder has also hired two outside PR firms, Mercury Public Affairs and Bill Nowling of Finn Partners. These contracts need to end immediately. They haven’t gotten results. The governor’s interview on CNN last week was a disaster. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights.
It’s a bad look that Snyder is devoting so much time and so many resources to remaking his image. No one sees these hires as being about helping Flint. And it doesn’t help him that the firms are being paid from private funds. That just feeds criticism about his lack of transparency, something that’s dogged him for his entire time as governor.
Nobody, except Donald Trump, likes firing people. I’m sure this would be a wrenching decision for the governor. But he needs a PR team that can help him respond with empathy and openness. He needs professionals who can steer him back to his “no credit, no blame” motto and focus on results.
Now’s the time for Snyder to be bold and decisive. The people of Flint – and Michigan – are waiting.
UPDATE: After reading the Columbia Journalism Review’s story on how Gov. Rick Snyder’s communications office blackballed Michigan Radio for its reporting of the Flint water crisis, I think that perfectly underscores my column’s point.