January 13, 2009

No Planning for Spokane City Bond Issue

When a multi-million dollar bond issue is placed on a ballot there are usually constituents ready to persuade voters that spending that kind of cash is a good idea. Not so with the City of Spokane’s $19.5 million dollar proposal you’ll see on March 10th.

The City’s calling it a capital improvement measure that is vital to public safety. Storing criminal evidence, euthanizing wayward pets, providing judges nicer offices and building a better police shooting range are nice ideas. But there’s been zero ground work laid that might persuade the needed 60% majority that these four things out rank the City's other needs.
Here’s what $19.5 million buys: A new police department evidence building, a new municipal court building, a new animal shelter and a new law enforcement firing range. See the problem? A campaign centered on crime, courts, cops and euthanizing wayward cats and canines is a tough sell. This bond issue has no natural support beyond the City Council and the Mayor who historically only campaign for their own re-election.

Voters also don't really know whether these projects are even necessary because the City has no strategic capital spending plan. This means we have no idea what else might be needed or how these four multi-million dollar items rank in priority. It's almost as if they've been picked out of thin air. City Councilman Mike Allen has been pleading with his colleagues for more than a year to create a strategic capital improvement plan before putting anything else on the ballot. Allen believes, correctly, that deciding what projects the City needs and then prioritizing them will at least give voters a reason to consider saying yes---especially in the current economic client. But his pleas have been ignored.

Bond issues are tough to begin with let alone when they're thrown to voters with no campaign plan, no fund raising strategy and no messages that resonate with voters. And did I mention that School District 81 is running a $28 million bond issue that same day?

It’s a good thing I’ve never written fiction because I’m not clever enough to make up this stuff.

January 5, 2009

Something New

I really had to stop and think for a bit when my friend Mark Keas of MDI Marketing asked me a couple of weeks ago whether I’d be interested in playing a reporter on a TV commercial for a local car dealer. Don’t misunderstand: I have no problems with commercials---they paid my salary for about 30 years. And while I gladly took the loot the ads provided I didn’t have to worry about whether they were clever, effective, ethical or actually worked. That was always someone else’s problem. But I quickly concluded that taking a chance and trusting another professional’s judgment was the right thing to do. So now the microphone---a rather large one at that---is in the other hand.

Was it a tough decision? No. I’ve seen Mark’s work, his client is reputable and I was familiar with the production crew. It really came down to whether a former news guy was ready to step back in front of the camera but on another side of the business. I was also curious to see what it was like pitching a product instead of just reporting on one. I’ve been out of the news business for two years now and the spot was not pretending to be part of any identifiable newscast so I had no ethical dilemma. And selling something instead of just talking about it?

The comments have been generally positive---the lighting was good, we had a well written script, the crew was easy to work with, Mark’s idea was clever and the editing was superb. I even had one person say he bought a car because of the commercial. So I’d definitely like to shoot another spot if the client and the agency are happy.

But all through this I’ve kept in mind what my old EWU Professor Howard Hopf said on numerous occasions: “It ain’t creative unless it sells!”

So my question is: Are we creative?