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City of Grand Rapids hires PR firm with a long history of involvement with GOP politics

July 27, 2017

Yesterday, in an article on MLive, it was announced that the City of Grand Rapids has hired the PR firm of Truscott Rossman to assist them with developing a better communications strategy. 

The City will spend $60,000 of taxpayer money for a 1-year contract with the largest PR firm in the state, Truscott Rossman. One of the reasons for bringing in the PR firm, according to the Mayor, was to help them develop a more comprehensive communications plan.

The MLive article gives an additional reason for bringing in Truscott Rossman:

“The city still has a $5,000 outstanding bill with Truscott Rossman from April, when the city hired them for emergency communications assistance. Guitar, the city’s spokesman, was on vacation when a video was released of police stopping five unarmed black youths at gunpoint as they were investigating the report of a gun, Guitar said.

The video and incident garnered national attention, and the city reached out to the public relations firm for help.”

In the PR world, this is a way of saying the PR firm was brought in to do damage control, especially since the video was a political embarrassment to the city.

The PR firm was started by John Truscott in 2001. Before that, Truscott was the Communications Director and Press Secretary for Governor John Engler. After the John Truscott Group was formed, they began working closely with numerous GOP campaigns in Michigan, most notably former Rep. Pete Hoekstra and the failed gubernatorial campaign of Dick DeVos in 2006.

The Truscott Group continued to be involved in various political campaigns. John Truscott was George W. Bush’s spokesperson in Michigan during the 2000 election and he was also part of the recount team in Florida. In addition, Truscott is the former chair of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce.

In 2011, the John Truscott Group and Kelly Rossman-McKinney were the number 1 & 2 PR firms in the state. The decision was made that same year to create one powerhouse PR firm, now known as Truscott Rossman. Truscott Rossman now claims to be a bi-partisan PR firm, since Rossman used to work closely with Democrats. However, in 2013, the political consulting resource, Campaigns & Elections, named Truscott a top Republican Party influencer in Michigan.

One of the services that the PR firm offers is their annual Michigan Legislators’ Guide to Lobbyists and Reporters. The Truscott Rossman Guide is highly valued by politicians, reporters and lobbyists alike.

The Lobbying Guide has definitely had an impact. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network reported that it was a record year for lobbyist spending in Michigan for 2016, with $39.9 million being spent by corporations and other associations working to influence state legislators.

People would do well to be skeptical of the City’s contract with Truscott Rossman. One important book the takes a critical look at the PR industry is, Toxic Sludge is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry. The authors of this book assert, that the PR industry “poisons the American democratic process by the nation’s professional spin doctors and exposes the bare-knuckled, invisible hand guiding and shaping public opinions.”

Edward Bernays, seen as the Grandfather of PR, was fond of saying this:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

We all should be wary of any part of the Public Relations industry, particularly one with a long history of working on behalf of some of the most powerful people in Michigan.

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