Mayor de Blasio Offers Case Study in Communications ‘Missteps’


Despite winning a landslide victory in which BerlinRosen Public Affairs played an outsized but largely unsung role, New York mayor Bill de Blasio has had a rough first 100 days. While most of the winter’s biggest challenges were not of his making (lots and lots and lots of snow), he has clearly realized that his team faces some shortcomings in the communications department.

This week’s New York Times interview, for example, gives us solid hints about the origin of the de Blasio administration’s “public relations headache.”

Here’s the first red flag: in response to a question about his notorious lack of punctuality, he quipped:

“George W. Bush was punctual. Unfortunately, he left the nation in worse shape than how he found it.”

Bzzt. Lack of relevance. As the Times reporter attempted to delve into his disagreements with Governor Andrew Cuomo, he said:

“Nice try. I’m answering your question, and I’m sorry if it doesn’t fit the particular answer you want.”

Several reports noted that the administration looks to “retool its communications team“, and he told the Times that he “had instructed his aides to be clearer and more agile in developing the administration’s message.”

Treating all media as adversaries, however, will not help spread that message.

The most visible results of this rebranding effort are Thursday’s 100-day-anniversary speech and a forthcoming TV spot laying out de Blasio’s (uneven) successes in expanding public pre-kindergarten programs.

The speech “mentioned the word ‘progressive’ about 20 times” in order to clarify the mayor’s point, which has been lost amidst scuffles with the local press about horse-drawn carriages and charter schools.

While the project makes for a compelling narrative, the mayor does not appear to have learned the lesson that highly visible public figures almost never benefit from being combative with the local press.

The next 100 days should be interesting.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.