Ferguson Desperately Needs Some Good PR

I am sure that everyone reading this knows what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri; that a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed an unarmed black teen, Michael Brown. I am also sure that everyone has their own opinions and views on this issue, and in this post I will endeavor to remain neutral regarding the larger issue at hand, and concentrate my focus on where public relations fits in. Ferguson is back in the national, and international, spotlight because last week, on Monday night, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced that the police officer in question would not be indicted. Since that announcement, protests of all kinds have been taking place nationwide, from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles. Highways have been blocked, malls boycotted, and even a few players on the St. Louis Rams got involved. Some believe that some of this could have been avoided, or mitigated, if the announcement of the grand jury’s decision had been handled better.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch

The announcement was made just after 8:30 p.m. on Monday, November 24, and immediately sparked protests and riots all night long, leading to the destruction of multiple properties around Ferguson. During his announcement, St. Louis County Prosecutor McCulloch made some questionable comments, such as saying the jury ‘gave up their lives’ while making the decision, and blaming the 24-hours news cycle and media for much of the unrest. According to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, the decision on when to announce was McCulloch’s alone. He should have consulted with somebody, anybody, preferably a PR professional. The timing allowed protesters ample time to set up and get in place, and it is much harder for the police to do their job at night versus during the day. He should have made the announcement early in the morning, ideally before most people are awake, thereby giving police a full day to control any riots. Plus, I think that people are less likely to loot and burn down buildings in broad daylight. Outside of Ferguson, major cities saw protests nationwide, here in Philadelphia protesters marched from City Hall up Broad Street to Temple University. Maybe if McCulloch had announced the decision in a more positive way, without blaming the media, there would have been less of a firestorm of riots and backlash.

Police line during Ferguson riots

From a public relations perspective, I would start by saying that Robert McCulloch is not the ideal spokesperson; he’s white. Furthermore, it seems that no one was allowed or able to vet anything he said. Blaming the media and the news never ends well, but he did it anyway. Well-known and respected media figures, as well as social media users everywhere, immediately attacked the idea that media was responsible for Michael Brown’s death. That comment likely turned people away from supporting the decision, only adding more fuel to the fire. The situation in Ferguson is so bad that even other countries are commenting on it, China and Russia frequently receive criticism and condemnation for human rights abuses from the U.S., now they are pointing to Ferguson as a testament to ‘American hypocrisy.’ Ferguson desperately needs some good PR.

This post was authored by Faiz Mandviwalla, a junior at Temple University and the Director of Finance for PRowl Public Relations. Follow Faiz on Twitter here, @faizmand

What do you think about the way Ferguson officials have handled the situation? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!

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