It’s the leadership, stupid — not the media relations!

If you were awake during the 1996 presidential election, you know where I got the headline for this post. I got the idea for it from PR’s favorite blogging vixen, Strumpette.

Yeah, I’m giving “Amanda” some ink this week, but she’s earned it.

In yesterday’s post, Strumpette takes to task Matt Szabo, press secretary to LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Seems that Szabo tried to set some last-minute ground rules for an interview betweeen LA Times columnist Steve Lopez and the city’s transportation director. Szabo thought he had a deal; Lopez didn’t. You can read the complete column, but here’s the gist of it:

Questions about the Hummer would be off-limits. That’s what the mayor’s press secretary told me as we headed to a City Hall meeting with transportation chief Jaime de la Vega, whose vehicle of choice seems odd for a man in his position.

No way, I told Matt Szabo. How can I not ask about it?

What de la Vega drives is a private matter, argued Szabo.

No it isn’t, I told him. It’s now a public matter, and I don’t know how Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa can have any faith in a transit chief who drives a 2-ton monster in a city with notorious traffic and smog.

It’s like having a surgeon general who smokes unfiltered Camels while snacking on Cheetos.

hummer.jpgYou get the picture. The transportation director of America’s most polluted city gets to and from work in a gas-guzzling, hydrocarbon-spewing, Prius-flattening Hummer. OK, it’s the “small” Hummer, but it’s still the auto industry’s number-one symbol of overconsumption. And it’s driven by a guy charged with helping LA reduce traffic and smog. Cue the irony.

More importantly, it’s represents de la Vega’s failure to lead by example — his failure to walk the talk. Public relations can’t fix that, and Matt Szabo shouldn’t try to sweep it under the rug.

Strumpette’s post focuses on Szabo’s error, and it has way too much fun at the young man’s expense. It’s vintage Strumpette. The post asks, as only Amanda can, if Szabo has the balls to call out Lopez for violating the rules of engagement.

The PR industry is watching. C’mon Matt, the man has checked your cojones, what are you going to do?

Of course, Strumpette’s lesson isn’t about media relations and it certainly isn’t about Matt’s cojones. It’s about the abject hypocrisy of leadership — in this case, and way too many others.

You can’t spin your way outta this one. Not even in LA.

We see the same lesson play out in business almost daily. It’s the CEO who earns a 7-figure bonus for trimming costs while devastating the lives of thousands of employees, all in the name of “maximizing shareholder value.” It’s the global corporation that slashes healthcare for retirees then declares a record dividend. It’s the under-performing CEO who is shown the door and handed a 9-figure golden parachute on his way out.

Wonder why people don’t trust your clients and employers? It has little to do with ham-handed media relations guys like Matt Szabo. And it has nothing to do with aggressive journalists like Steve Lopez.

It has everything to do with the failure of leaders to lead.

Next time your bosses or your clients get bad headlines, invite them to look in the mirror — of their Hummers!


Post Script. I’m beginning to feel a kinship with Strumpette’s creators. After all, we both write blogs that contain PR lessons. I talk mostly to an audience of students and young professionals. Strumpette talks to a larger public.

Clearly, I worry a lot more about civility and tone than Strumpette. That’s in part because I’m not as good a writer as she is, but it’s also because I put my name on the banner at the top of this page every day. My readers know where I live. Not so with “Amanda.”

As I said Monday, I see Strumpette as great comic relief in a business that takes itself way too seriously. The writers’ decision to hide behind the veil of Amanda is theirs to make. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a laugh and occasionally learn a lesson.

Just so you know, I’ll continue to use the feminine pronoun when I refer to Strumpette, even though most folks are certain her writer or writers are men. I still prefer to think of her as the naughty girl in the bio. Please don’t take that away from me.

Update: In the future, I’ll also be careful how I spell Strumpette. It’s too easy to drop that “r” as it’s so damn close to the “t” on the old qwerty. It’s especially painful when the students you beat up over proofreading find your errors. Wish I could say it won’t happen again. Thank you, Jessica.


4 Responses to It’s the leadership, stupid — not the media relations!

  1. […] a blog posted by my PR Professor about Jamie De la Vega, the transportation director of LA, which toughsledding called it “America’s most polluted city.”  The guy drives a Hummer.  Personally […]

  2. E. Michael says:

    Prius-flattening….nice one.

  3. Nicole says:

    This is amazing, I’ve been waiting for so long for someone to just get up and speak the truth. I read this article in the paper and I was astonished. Thank you so much, I appreciate your courage and hope that you continue to speak your mind.

  4. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for dropping by, Nicole. But hey, if you can’t speak your mind in your own blog, where can you do it?

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