June 27, 2008

Lessons Learned

Second place is nice but it’s not exactly I had in mind---and I guess I have to take the blame. My client Pacific Raceways finished a close number two in the selection process to become the interim operator of the former Spokane Raceway Park. Congratulations to Post Falls based Stateline Speedway who nipped us at the finish.

Here’s where I went wrong. I suggested to my client that a robust application should be submitted to the five member committee appointed to make a selection. Sound advice---as far as it went. We made a solid application and were clearly a front runner because PR is bigger, has more employees, has more racing days and has more experience. But I should have recognized that we had a disadvantage coming from Kent---that Cascade Curtain effect---and been more forceful in explaining to the client that we had to do a much better job than the local folks.

We made it to the interview stage but then I compounded my mistake by not communicating more clearly and persuasively that a stellar presentation was required. We had a plan to operate the track, answered all the questions quite well and were ready to get Spokane Motorsports Park back up and running. But I learned a few days later that the Stateline boys’ material and presentation looked better than ours---Stateline was rewarded for the extra effort.

A consultant’s job is to come up with ideas, recommend a course of action and, when necessary, insist that the client follow that advice. My friends would never accuse me of being a shrinking violet but I acquiesced too easily in this case.

Definitely a lesson learned. But at least I’ll know what not to do next time around.

June 20, 2008

Media Relations 101

Spokane County blew a great chance for some positive media coverage this week about its efforts to reopen Spokane Raceway Park. But the folks in charge of selecting an operator to get the dilapidated track up and running slammed into the wall when they decided to withhold what was clearly public information. It should have been an easy curve to negotiate.

The Spokesman Review’s Bill Morlin wanted to write a story about the groups interested in operating the track when the County finally gains control of the West Plains property. As a representative of Pacific Raceways, one of the outfits wishing to operate the track, I supported Morlin's efforts. There was no downside for Pacific Raceways to communicate our positive messages of keeping racing in the Inland Northwest and being part a plan to create a world-class family recreation facility on the 300 acres the County is buying.

The County initially declined to release the names saying it was trying to protect the privacy of the selection committee members and those of us vying to become the operator. I’m sorry---that doesn’t wash when you’re spending $4.5 million of taxpayers’ money; playing in the public arena means you’re open to scrutiny. The names were eventually released but the damage was done. A great story demonstrating how public money was being wisely spent turned into one that made it appear that the County was hiding something.

The shame is that story would not have been written if the County had been transparent. Decision makers either forgot or never learned among the basic rules of media relations: always give reporters as much information as possible at the outset. Doing so allows you to communicate your positive messages, establishes your credibility and doesn’t give a reporter any reason to believe you’re hiding something. Media relations are not tough---they just take a little extra thought and consideration about how you want to appear.

June 13, 2008

City Sustainabilty Effort Falls Short

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner has pretty much staked her administration’s entire reputation on the idea of sustainability. She has a director and a task force spending a $75,000 federal grant looking for ways to preserve our ecosystems and quality of life. My guess is that Verner is also using this to create an entire new bureaucracy---her legacy.

I see all of the City’s news releases so believe me when I say that more PR has been dumped into this effort than any of the Administration’s initiatives. Good idea as far as it goes but the Mayor may want to spend more time communicating her vision and expectations to city employees instead of pumping out news releases to a non-responsive local media.

Here’s what I mean: I wanted an adult beverage after finishing 18 at Indian Canyon recently when I saw the woman running the snack bar sitting on the deck puffing away on a cigarette. Strange, I thought smoking was forbidden within 25 feet of a door. I asked whether smoking was legal and she said “No, but we ignore the law so go ahead.” When I told her that I asked because I’m a non-smoker she indignantly sucked in another huge drag, blew it out through her nostrils and then flipped the butt over the railing toward the first tee. Classy.

But here’s the kicker. We finished our drinks and offered to put the empties into the recycling bin. “Doesn’t exist,” the same woman told us. “We don’t recycle here...we just toss ‘em.”

So much for sustainability.

These are only a couple of examples. But it seems that if this is how sustainability---and the law---are treated at the City’s premier golf course then it would be safe to assume that it’s being done with the Mayor’s blessing. If not then Verner has a problem.

Leaders can have the best intentions, excellent ideas, a ton of government money and public support. But unless they share their vision with the folks responsible for implementing the policy---employees---then the noble effort will be worth about what’s being spent on it. In this case $75,000 that will be gone by year’s end.

June 11, 2008

New Jail Already Has Opposition

No time’s being waste by those lining up against a new Spokane County jail. The $100 million dollar bond proposal isn’t even on the ballot yet and opposition has already surfaced. But it’s not the price tag---it’s the location.

The Spokane County Commissioners tabbed the downtown Courthouse campus as the best place for a proposed multi-story lockup and parking garage to replace the Geiger Correction Center which is losing its Spokane International Airport property lease in 2013. But the Commissioners failed to ask the surrounding neighborhoods and business owners whether another 1,000 inmates and the problems that such a facility spawn were in their best interests.

They used the state’s Essential Public Facilities system which is supposed to remove the politics from deciding where to build generally unsavory things such as jails. Ten sites were proposed; the downtown campus rated tops among three finalists. But the Commissioners did not have to select that one. Two other sites---county owned property off Tchsirey Road and private property near the Medical Lake exit on I-90 were also on the table.

That's where the communication between the decision makers and the public never started. Business owners, stakeholders and residents in the downtown and West Central neighborhoods were not included in the process. The Downtown Spokane Partnership, Kendall Yards and neighborhood groups say look at the area around the courthouse now---pretty much bail bond heaven with only a few struggling businesses. Imagine, they say, what it’ll be like when a detention facility about half the size of the 2,200 inmate Airway Heights Correction Center looms over the area: Not much of a chance for any sort of redevelopment along Boone Avenue, West Central could be doomed to remain among the poorer neighborhoods in the city and Kendall Yards would not be as attractive to residents or new businesses as it is now.

The Commissioners and Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich need all the help they can get to persuade voters to approve the most expensive public project in county history. And with some powerful forces taking aim at stopping the deal maybe the Commissioners and Sheriff should step back, hold off on putting this measure on the November ballot and begin communicating with the folks who can help instead of hurt their efforts.

June 5, 2008

Spokane River Running

OK…indulge me for a few minutes while I toot my own horn a bit and maybe even communicate some new information. I was recently asked to write a piece about the Spokane River for Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine. Good idea, I thought---the river’s interesting and I could always use the cash.
The title is a bit trite: A River Runs Through It: How Healthy is the Spokane River? Hope the rest of it is not but you be the judge.
And if you like that one I also wrote about Spokane’s affordable housing problem a while back.
See---I’m not just another pretty face.