The BRA’s pre-buttal

By Bruce Mohl

David Guarino, in a blog post on MS&L Boston’s PR Finish Line, praises the Boston Redevelopment Authority for releasing what he calls a pre-buttal to last week’s investigative reports on the agency by CommonWealth magazine and Fox 25 Undercover. 

The reports focused on an unusual fee imposed by the agency on certain real estate sales and the overrepresentation of city employees in a BRA affordable housing program. To see the reports, go here and here.

On the day the magazine was being delivered to subscribers but before Fox could air its first broadcast, the BRA issued a press release to its Twitter network laying out its own defense. The BRA press release for the most part stuck to the facts, albeit a one-sided version of them. But it was annoying to me, my colleague Jack Sullivan, and Fox reporter Mike Beaudet that BRA officials went public even before seeing Beaudet’s piece.

Guarino thought the BRA’s move was risky, but savvy and effective because it helped contain the damage. “So while the reporters sure didn’t like it and my guess is the long knives will come out from Sullivan, Mohl, and Beaudet again for the BRA, the strategy of getting ahead of this story – literally and figuratively – seems like it paid off,” Guarino wrote. “Will it work in every case? Certainly not. But the planned, deliberate pre-buttal can, in fact, be a darn good tool in your crisis communications arsenal.”

Guarino’s post highlights one of my biggest concerns about public relations: The industry’s preoccupation with fallout and not facts.

CommonWealth and Fox highlighted in a thorough and balanced fashion a BRA fee of dubious legality and an affordable housing program where city workers seemed to be well represented. CommonWealth even reported how the BRA fee was sloppily administered.

Instead of dealing with the issues raised by the stories, the BRA apparently sought to blunt the impact of the reports with its pre-buttal. But even as the BRA was issuing its pre-emptive strike, its director, John Palmieri, was leaving me a phone message indicating the reports were right on target.

“I thought it was a fair piece,” Palmieri said after reading the CommonWealth report. “I know you guys worked hard to get it right.”

His only quibble was my description of him as tall and soft-spoken. “I’m not that tall,” he said.

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine.

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