A Message Watered Down

Timing is everything.  Especially when it comes to public relations.  Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa chose today–when we’ve had almost 2 inches of rain in the past week, with more to come this weekend–to announce “severe water-use restrictions” in the Metropolitan Water District.  The Mayor urged residents to take shorter showers and reduce lawn watering to avert a severe water crisis.

Not that his news isn’t dire. Reservoir levels in the area are at their lowest levels since the 1976-79 drought.  Residents face rationing and shortages like no other time in history. But Mayor Villaraigosa chose to deliver this message on one of the rainiest days of the year.  From inside City Hall.

One of the first concepts I learned in Journalism 350 is that “Perception is reality.”  It’s wet in Los Angeles today.  Very wet.  Our lawns and streets are flooded, and the snow level is so low you can see it cap the foothills from downtown high-rises.  Making an announcement about a drought on a rainy day from inside a city building makes about as much sense as former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain talking about budget cuts while redecorating his office .

The vote on Villaraigosa’s water rationing plan is weeks off. Could his “people” not have rescheduled his announcement to a hot, dry day at, say, the Southwest Museum Cactus Garden?  If drought is imminent, there ought to be a warm day soon enough.  Is anyone going to believe him–or better yet–turn off the water while brushing their teeth tonight–in the midst of “StormWatch 09!!!!!!!!!”?

Because you can never fully control a public message, you should always command the environment in which you are making a statement.  Villaraigosa’s press people blew this one.  Never, ever let the situation control you, which they did.

And never talk about droughts on a rainy day.

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