Officials Cry Foul Over LAX PR Spend

A photo on Los Angeles International Airport's 
Facebook page shows construction  progress at the
new Tom Bradley International Terminal.

Source: LAX

It seems once every few weeks, we come across a story about the public reacting negatively to a city-approved multimillion-dollar PR campaign.

Usually, the funds are invested in agency work (sometimes, however, it's an increase in in-house corporate communicators staff members), and when other officials or the public become wise, they point out that the money could have been better spent. 

The latest instance occurred in Los Angeles on Jan. 23, when two City Council members demanded to know why the city's airport commission approved almost $4 million in contracts for a public relations campaign—one being done by firms outside the city—to highlight the ongoing modernization of Los Angeles International Airport.

"I don't feel we should be spending about $4 million on public relations for the airport," Dennis Zine, a candidate for city controller, said during a news conference at City Hall, reports the Los Angeles Times. "But if the money is going to be spent, it should go to Los Angeles companies."

The airport commission awarded three-year contracts worth $3.9 million to agencies from Santa Monica, San Diego and Fountain Valley, reports the Times. They will be responsible for developing a public education campaign, buying advertising from media outlets and video productions respectively.

"Our board feels it is very important to inform the public about improvements at LAX that will affect them," said Mark Adams, government affairs director for Los Angeles World Airports. "We think these are defensible contracts that have a good purpose."

"This is about transparency," another candidate for city controller said. "Confidence in government is at an all-time low." 

It's a bit ironic—LAX hires PR agencies to be more open and transparent (albeit promotional) about their improvements, and then it is called out for not being transparent about the process. 

But regardless, PR itself may need a boost to its reputation. An informal poll on our Facebook page showed nearly 50 interesting misconceptions PR pros have heard about their field: 

  • Ragini Bhalla: “That PR means (only) writing a press release and boom, you're done. It's about creating and distributing unique content across multiple channels—all to build brand awareness, support sales/drive ROI and position as a thought leader in the space.

  • Laura Dolman: “That we're still just 'spin doctors' trying to deceive everyone.”

  • Newton Holt: “That we're all out to pull the wool over the public's eyes and make the despicable look palatable.”

What can be done to improve the reputation and positive awareness of the PR field? Share with us your thoughts. 

Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg