L.A.’s DWP – How NOT to Handle the Media

Erik Bernstein crisis communications, crisis management, Crisis Prevention, crisis public relations, Crisis Response, Erik Bernstein, Jonathan Bernstein, media crisis management, media relations, PR, public relations, reputation management Leave a Comment

Communicating with media is a crucial crisis management skill

Once upon a time, the thing to do when you came under scrutiny was batten down the hatches and avoid discussing the matter altogether.

We’ve long since moved past that school of thought, but unfortunately many organizations insist on doing things the old way. Take Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power which, when faced with questions from the L.A. Times regarding the whereabouts of $40 million in ratepayer money funneled to two nonprofit groups tasked with improving union relations, decided clamming up was the best option.

First, the paper attempted to speak to DWP Business Manager Brian D’Arcy, who certainly seems like the right man to ask given he both represents the DWP and serves on the boards overseeing the nonprofit in question. The Times’ Jack Dolan describes what followed:

D’Arcy did not respond to requests for comment. An attorney for the union declined a request for records related to the nonprofits, arguing that the union is not subject to the requirements of the state Public Records Act.

The theme continued as the Times dug further in search of someone who would answer its questions:

The institutes’ offices are located at a DWP facility in Sun Valley. But the utility’s official spokesman, Joe Ramallo, declined a request to help arrange a tour. “I don’t represent either entity,” he said, “Nor do I speak on their behalf.”

Ramallo directed a reporter to an electrical workers union website, which listed names and phone numbers for administrators at the nonprofits. Dan Scorza, a Joint Training Institute administrator who was paid $212,236 in 2012 according to DWP records, said, “We provide services for the department. I’m not sure what else I can say to you.” He referred questions back to Ramallo at the DWP.

A man who answered a phone listed for another institute employee, Joint Labor Management Administrator Jon Pokorski, who records show was paid $171,361 in 2012, hung up when a reporter identified himself. Voice messages left for two other employees were not returned.

On Thursday afternoon, Ramallo, the DWP spokesman, said the nonprofits play an important role in advising the agency on training and the industry’s best safety practices, but could not provide more specific information about what the organizations have accomplished.

Already, without reading any other segment of the Times article, what is your gut telling you about the whole scenario? If you said “guilty as charged,” well, we agree. Nothing screams “we’re hiding something!” like a complete refusal to discuss a situation.

Outright refusing to respond to media inquiries and bouncing reporters around like you run a bad call center are huuuuuge crisis management no-nos. Not only will you tick them off and push them to look further for dirty laundry, but you also risk innuendo or rumor being reported as fact.

If the DWP continues to play ostrich, we wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Times gets more aggressive with its investigation, launching ambush interviews on C-Suiters or seeking comment from rank-and-file employees who might be more willing to spill the beans.

Bottom line, avoiding conversation about what your organization’s doing to is a ticking time bomb, and when it goes off things are bound to get messy.

The BCM Blogging Team

Leave a Reply