The City of Ferguson has hired the PR agency Common Ground Public Relations to help its communication department deal with the ongoing turmoil. But the hiring has already raised some troubling questions about the decision.
The agency, based in a St. Louis suburb, appears to be staffed entirely by white people, according to the photographs of staff members on the agency’s website.
“We're just handling media queries and that's all I can really say right now," senior account executive Nina Kult told TPM.
In the wake of the racial tensions that have engulfed Ferguson following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, the city might have considered expanding its PR tent to bring in more diverse communications agencies, maybe even a black-owned PR firm. Isn't a broader perspective exactly what the people who run Ferguson need?
If Common Ground really has only white folks on its team, it begs the question whether the city recognizes the severity of the situation (the Missouri National Guard was called in Monday to help quell what has been nightly outbursts of violence in Ferguson).
The decision is a stark reminder that, in many cases, even PR needs PR. "The cobbler’s children have no shoes" has long been a legitimate knock on the PR business. And here’s a perfect example.
Common Ground may not have been in a position to turn down the business from the City of Ferguson. But the agency can be proactive and bring in PR partners that, taken together, would better reflect the demographic makeup of Ferguson and have more credibility with the public (not to mention the global media outlets that have descended on the town).
Otherwise, hiring Common Ground may just add to the nagging sense that the official response has been tone deaf. The name of the agency alone may not go very far in reducing the turmoil.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1