All Americans want their tax dollars to be well spent; we’re on the same page on that. We might disagree on exactly what that means, whether it’s spending on national defense or housing the poor, for example, but ultimately we don’t want it to be wasted. Therefore, a new report should make everyone scratch their heads trying to figure out who the heck signs off on these expenditures.
In a few days, the Observer will release the PR Power List, our annual ranking of the 50 most influential public relations firms in the country. It’s a comprehensive and thoughtful list that takes us all year to prepare and we come at the industry from every angle. But one thing we haven’t considered is a bizarre fact revealed by a stunning new document: the second-largest PR in the world is the United States government.
“THE DEPARTMENT OF SELF-PROMOTION: How Federal Agency PR Spending Advances Their Interests Rather Than The Public Interest” takes a scholarly but very readable look at federal spending on public relations during the years 2007 – 2014 and reveals some amazing examples of what the government is doing to enhance its rep, and how lavishly it’s spending to do so.
The federal government spent $4.34 billion on public relations over the last seven years. That would make the US Government the 2nd largest public relations firm in the world, based on number of PR employees, according to the list that industry bible O’Dwyers compiles. That’s second only to the PR colossus Edelman.
A deeper dig reveals some government spending outrages of the “$600 hammer” and variety. For example, the Omnicom-owned firm Ketchum billed the government $88/hour ($15,298/month) for the services of an “intern.” Ketchum also bills out its ‘video content producer’ for $273.67 an hour, which comes to $569,234 a year.
Meanwhile, the firm Booz Allen Hamilton (charmingly misspelled in the report as Boos Allen) billed $91,107 a month for the ‘Executive Manager’ they deployed to look after ad contracts. He was supported by “four more positions at over $400 per hour, and six positions at over $300 per hour.”
$88 per hour for an intern? Holy Shrimp on a Treadmill! We hope that was the highest paid intern in the entire nation at that rate. Somehow, however, we suspect the intern saw little to none of that.
The question is, just what was purchased? Well, over $17 million was spent on a customer satisfaction survey for the Internal Revenue Service, which found that they had a 90 percent approval rate. Of course, a lot of times the questions on these surveys don’t give you a place to tell anyone what you really think. That must be the case here since it’s hard to fine anyone who actually likes the IRS. They probably didn’t talk to anyone wanting a Freedom of Information Act request filled, for example.
Other agencies to make use of PR firms to the tune of millions include the VA to the tune of $38.4 million, which is clearly money well spent considering where the VA is at right now.
A certain amount of PR makes sense for government agencies. The Centers for Disease Control, for example, have a vested interest in getting certain types of information out to help prevent disease. However, this report lists money spent in addition to internal PR departments at the agencies.
Of course, we can trust the government not to spend money on stupid stuff, right? Whoops, guess not.
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