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Spreading the mayor's good news



The O-Town News is more than the mayor's personal newspaper. The new bimonthly publication, which appeared last week in 90,000 mailboxes in Orlando, is the latest sign of a comprehensive communications strategy conceived by Mayor Glenda Hood's staff. In addition to the newspaper, which will cost $96,000 a year to print and mail, the plan calls for a steady stream of press releases, a press kit, stories on Hood's favorite programs, a video, a full-blown Internet site, speeches and television coverage. In other words, a public-relations blitz. "We're not out there trying to create a spin," insists Joe Mittiga, one of two Hood assistants coordinating the plan. If not, then why is the plan designed to "create communications vehicles that maintain regular communications with important audiences" and "pro-actively communicate the achievements of Orlando City Government"? Already under the plan, the city has standardized its letterhead, replacing various designs sported by different departments with a single design featuring a spiffed-up logo. This fits with the plan's direction that all public information from City Hall first be approved by the mayor's office: "Department heads/bureau chiefs must notify Mayor's communications staff when creating new public information vehicles." In coming months, Hood's staff plans to pump up the city's site on the World Wide Web — Material from The O-Town News, press releases and other sources will be used on the web site. In this way, Hood's office plans to keep residents abreast of favorable city affairs using various multimedia channels. "We don't have a system by which we can communicate with our customers," says Mittiga. To illustrate, Mittiga recalled problems informing citizens of changes in garbage-collection schedules. Notices were sent out in the mail. Local media gave press releases "very small play. We ended up with a lot of garbage on the street," Mittiga says. "We needed to have a vehicle ready for ready and credible information." But credibility is in the eye of the beholder. While recognizing the endless variety of media opportunities, Mittiga says the city needed to design its own consistent plan for delivering information to residents, separate from established media channels. "Your customers aren't the same as our customers," he says. True, but residents differ from customers. Customers are sold products. Residents are provided services. Yet Mittiga's misnomer is understandable, particularly considering the slant of the first issue of The O-Town News. The feature story concerns one of Hood's favorite projects, a visual preference survey ("Unreal sense of place," May 29) and solicits comment on the sales tax which Hood and other officials are trying to sell to voters. And, like it or not, residents are picking up the tab.

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