The Whole Johnstown Story
The following is a reprint of a column from the December 17, 2007 issue of the Johnstown Tribune Democrat:
Tell the ‘Whole’ Johnstown Story
As a Johnstown native, I am often frustrated with the perception people from outside the region have of my hometown. Usually, they are ill informed and know very little about the area’s positive attributes. The most common response I hear is something to the effect: “Oh, yeah, the place with the floods.” Others talk about the economic challenges of the region. Sometimes, the movie Slap Shot is mentioned.
I’m sure I appear defensive when I ask: ‘Have you been to Johnstown lately or ever?’ I tell them about the downtown, a more vibrant central business and retail district than similar sized cities in Pennsylvania, UPJ’s beautiful campus, Point Stadium, the War Memorial and the Chiefs, St. Francis University, the quality healthcare available, and of course, the people and their work ethic. If I have time I even mention some of the locally ‘famous’ dining spots such as Rizzo’s, Coney Island or Santo’s Pizza. They often walk away shaking their heads, probably thinking: “Geez, I’ll never bring up Johnstown in front of that guy again.”
Recently, the subject of Johnstown came up in a client meeting. One of the participants brought up national media stories focusing on Congressman Murtha and earmarks benefiting the region.
In a story titled, How Lawmaker Rebuilt Hometown on Earmarks, The Wall Street Journal included a ‘John’s Town’ map highlighting where specific earmarks were granted by location and a ‘Leaders of the Pork’ list with Congressman Murtha as the top ‘earmarker’ of funds steered toward a congressional district.
In the same story, Concurrent Technologies Corp., the National Drug Intelligence Center and MTS Technologies were mentioned in a paragraph describing how “Johnstown’s good fortune has come at the expense of taxpayers everywhere else.”
CBS News.com had a story focusing on John Murtha’s Kingdom of Pork. The Washington Post ran stories that mentioned Commonwealth Research and its parent, CTC, while The Washington Times story, Murtha Shows Appetite for Pork, described ‘the largess of Rep. John P. Murtha.’
I began to think: Will this be added to the list of what people think about when Johnstown is mentioned? Floods, Economic Hard Times, Slap Shot and Earmarks?
Maybe…but then again, maybe not…
From a PR perspective, yes, the earmark related stories bring Johnstown into the national media spotlight in a controversial manner. But, that’s only part of the story.
First, most research indicates people throughout the country have confidence in and like their congressional representatives. Logic would dictate that many of these same constituents understand their representative’s role is twofold: Help the country and help their district.
As a result, some of the backlash on the issue will be perceived as partisan politics. Another segment might view the situation negatively but consider it more of a systemic problem than specific to one congressman. Others could look at the situation as evidence of a personal character flaw. And, within the Congressman’s district, some voters will be o.k. with it or think: “If the money has to go somewhere, why not here?”
While the coverage could potentially create negative perceptions of the region, an opportunity exists to tell the other side of the story through the fundamentals of Public Relations:
Craft the message to creatively tell the true story…about the region…about your company…about you…
“CTC has been named to the Best Places to Work in PA list seven years in a row.”
Be clear and succinct…
“Our region’s leaders have worked together to develop strategies that will continue to create jobs unrelated to federal earmarks.”
Be Yourself…You are the message…
“I’m not going to apologize for working hard for the people in my district.”
Make Your Message Memorable
“At NDIC, our efforts play an integral role in the nation’s war on drugs.”
Treat the media with respect and as a conduit to reach your target audience…
Speak their language, respond quickly and provide brief, yet meaningful quotes.
No Comment Makes No Sense…
What do you think when you read or hear a ‘No Comment?’ We have been trained to assume the worst.
Johnstown is a special place. Let’s make sure people know about the good things happening in the region by telling the ‘Whole Johnstown Story’ through positive PR.