So you’ve fantasized about becoming a PR rep for a movie star, or perhaps some big-shot politician. That's power; think about it. No humiliating yourself. No slinging outright bogus news pitches to egg-on-the-tie reporters. No, instead, the media would be beating a path to your door, pleading for your attention and consideration. “Today Show? Have them hold. Entertainment Weekly? Take a message. Business Week? Marcy, tell ‘em I’ll get back to them after my 2 o’clock facial. Oh, and by the way, tell them the ground rule: absolutely no questions about that nasty little incident in Tijuana. I am serious... or they’re dead to me... DEAD!”
Well, one similarly confident flack in Los Angeles thought he was livin' la vita loca. Matt Szabo is director of communications for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Unfortunately, he recently had his cojones checked.
LA Times columnist, Steve Lopez, wanted to interview Jaime de la Vega, the mayor’s advisor on transportation. Lopez went through Szabo to set up the interview. Matt insisted on one ground rule: Don’t ask de la Vega about his car. So happens, the mayor’s advisor on transportation tools around smog-choaked LA in a major gas-guzzling smog machine. de la Vega drives a Hummer no less, the very car that has come to symbolize indifference to energy conservation and global warming. Anyway, Szabo insisted that de la Vega’s vehicle was “a matter of privacy.” Lopez assuaged his grief, “hey, sure, whatever;” And the interview was set.
What's with the Hummer? I asked as soon as we were seated in de la Vega's office.
De la Vega gave me a cold stare, his lips sealed. Then he looked at Szabo, who said we were there to talk transportation.
I asked about de la Vega's background and he dropped the mummy act, telling me he'd gotten a master's in urban planning from UCLA. He was also Mayor Dick Riordan's traffic chief and a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board.
So you'd think he'd know better.
I just can't get past it, I told de la Vega. A Hummer?
And then I noticed a quote on his wall from Rosa Parks.
"Every person must live their lives as a model for others."
I read the quote to de la Vega, who clammed up again.
"Should we all drive Hummers?" I asked.
Szabo, meanwhile, looked like he might have some kind of a breakdown. Matt argued that de la Vega's vehicle is not the largest in the Hummer line. "It's smaller than a Yukon," he said.
Smaller than a Yukon, indeed. Szabo had been gored and could now hit high notes he'd never even dreamt of before.
OPEN CHALLENGE TO PR SZABOS EVERYWHERE
So, a reporter has the audacity to ignore the “ground rules.”
The BIG question is "what would any flack worth his salt do?" Would you freeze out the Los Angeles Times? Stop answering their calls? Ban their reporters from your boss’ press conferences? That’s if you had one functioning testicle. Here, how ‘bout sending the building inspectors over that rat-trap on Spring Street? Ah, surely they’ll find something. Might be time for some street maintenance – right in front of the employee parking lot, too. Hey, your boss has friends in organized labor, say no more.
The PR industry is watching. C'mon Matt, the man has checked your cojones, what are you going to do?
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