By Rich Figel
Lately, it seems like local public relations people need, well... better PR to undo the damage caused by bad PR efforts. Of course, I'm referring to the UH "Wonder Blunder" and subsequent mishandling of the sports AD situation, and the ongoing rail PR fiasco. Since I have had personal dealings with people involved with both, it's been difficult for me to refrain from going off on rants about either of those issues or how the consequences will have a negative impact on jobs and our economy. Perception is everything in today's short attention span society, and right or wrong, knee-jerk reactions are dictating the direction Hawaii is going in -- backwards, unfortunately.
Yesterday, I had to deliver my new Career Changers TV episode for September to the OC16 offices in Mililani. As I left my home in Kailua, I saw a huge anti-rail banner alongside a bunch of other political campaign signs. It said, "RAIL WON'T STOP HERE!" So the rationale is if we don't directly benefit from something, why should we support it with our tax dollars? I guess the people who hung the banner didn't get the unintended irony of where they put their message: it was right next to Kalaheo High School. You know, my wife and I don't have kids, but we've never grumbled about our taxes paying for public education of YOUR children -- who are growing up in an increasingly selfish, me-first society.
Anyhow, the banner ticked me off, and as I was driving on H-3 to my destination, I thought about all the people who tried to stop that from being built -- largely on the same grounds rail is being opposed: too expensive, it won't benefit "me" directly, it will destroy the pristine views and disturb Native Hawaiian burial grounds, which are sacred (unless it's land that is being developed for retail shopping centers or hotel resort properties). Many of the same people who fought H-3 are probably now using it on a regular basis. The only thing opponents accomplished was they drove the costs up, making attorneys richer in the process. Now the same thing is happening with rail.
For the past 27 years I've lived here, I've been saying it's crazy there is no rail system in Honolulu. Even people who say they oppose it today, tell me they agree it should have been built 20-30 years ago when it would have been far cheaper to acquire the land and build the basic infrastructure. Yet they don't see by their own logic that if we don't do it now, they'll be saying the SAME THING 20-30 years later because our population isn't going to magically stop growing.
But I digress. What I really wanted to write about is how bad PR doomed the project from the start because the people in charge don't seem to understand the "public" and "relations" part of public relations. I've worked with consummate PR professionals who know there's a difference between making the community part of the process, and simply sending out carefully-worded press releases that were vetted by higher ups. I think one of the reasons rail -- and the UH -- has so badly botched their attempts at PR is because they think it's as easy as hiring a former TV news person or newspaper reporter to handle the media. No, it's not. Good PR firms go out into the community first and listen to their customers' needs and wants. It takes real planning and strategy to find common ground BEFORE things go wrong. Bad PR is based on crisis management and blame-shifting after the fact. Good PR requires creative, long-term thinking. Bad PR is reactionary and slapping band-aids on problems. Good PR presents choices. Bad PR says "take it or leave it."
Thanks to the H-3, it "only" took me about an hour to get to Mililani. That's during non-peak times. If I drove 75 mph like nearly everyone else, I could have made it to OC16 faster, but I have been chastised in this blog for complaining about being ticketed for speeding so I've slowed down a bit. Commuters from West Oahu don't have the luxury of choosing their drive times like I do though. My wife has worked with people who live on that side, and it's "normal" to hear how it takes them 2-3 hours to get to work or return home whenever there's an accident. You can't tell me this kind of continual daily stress doesn't take a physical and mental toll on those people or their families. It is literally taking years off their lives. Moreover, car culture itself is killing us -- obesity, lack of exercise, reliance on cars transporting us everywhere, is destroying our quality of life.
Coming back on H-1 and H-2 is always a white-knuckle driving experience for me... especially when I reach the major merge sections where there are 12 lanes (more possibly -- who can count them all?) of cars and trucks barreling along these massive stretches of asphalt and concrete... and as I furtively glance from side to side at this expanse of wall-to-wall vehicles, spewing tons of exhaust into the air we all breathe, I can't help but laugh at the people who say an elevated rail system will be a visual blight on our island paradise. Really?
In case they haven't noticed, that version of Hawaii no longer exists. I saw a funny illustration of how the elevated rail system would "obstruct" views of the ocean in Downtown Honolulu. Ha! You wouldn't even see it if you stood on any side street in that area because buildings already block that view. Same for Waikiki and most of the island. And this brings me to my next point related to Good PR versus Bad PR: Perception is based on the vision that is presented -- and sold. Yes, it's about selling. Advertising. Marketing. More importantly, it's story telling. There's an art to it, and the folks who work in government and at the UH have not been very good at it. Which is sad because they both have some great stories to tell that could benefit the people of Hawaii, if only we got to hear more about the positive upside they have to offer. Instead, all we get are negative headlines and apologies. Sigh.
The new Career Changers TV episode features positive, uplifting stories about the Startup Hawaii conference, a Burmese pop-up dinner that ties into a program to help human trafficking victims in Hawaii, and career opportunities in the Criminal Justice field (talk about putting a positive spin on bad news!). For daily viewing times, visit www.CareerChangers.TV. You can also watch segments from past and current shows on the CCTV YouTube Channel.