What do you give a public employee who already has everything?
How about "positive buzz"?
According to a document published by the Seattle Times on Saturday, the city of Seattle paid Brand.com $5,000 in December 2013 to manage the online reputation of the publicly owned electrical utility City Light; the city had a pair of contracts with the company authorizing as much as $47,500 in spending on image grooming.
The city was already paying Jorge Carrasco, City Light's CEO, $245,000 per year, but they lumped his personal search results into the media campaign.
The Seattle skyline is shown on the eve of the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers NFC Championship game, Jan. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo)
According to the city's contract with Brand.com, the media company would “target search results that come up when searching for his [Carrasco’s] name alone, but only insofar as they are directly connected to Seattle City Light’s online reputation.”
What exactly was Brand.com doing for the public utility?
The firm was "blanketing search results with positive content," a tactic more typically employed by a private company to "create a positive buzz around the company as well as suppress any negatives associated with the company or executives at the company."
The firm also placed puff pieces on various websites, including a story on the Huffington Post that touted Carrasco as a "green expert" and lavished praise on City Light.
According to city representatives, Seattle has only paid $17,500 total to Brand.com for the promotion of City Light and Carrasco, and the city doesn't plan to shell out any more.
The campaign seems to have been a dud.
"It’s not clear what negative stories City Light executives were trying to squash—or whether the utility got any lasting results for its money," the Seattle Times noted. "Google search results for City Light last week were dominated by news and criticism of Carrasco’s proposed raise."
The city council approved a move to boost Carrasco's salary to $305,000 earlier this month; the raise will be retroactive to January, a city spokesperson told the Seattle Times, because of course it will.
(H/T: Ars Technica)
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