‘Most Common Misconceptions’ List Details Ferguson Damage Control Strategy


The town of Ferguson, Missouri has obviously made quite a few headlines over the past two months.

We followed the story but avoided posting on it until it became a formal public relations matter: the town hired local firm Common Ground to handle its considerable media relations responsibilities and the story became — for some — an angle with which to pitch clients to media outlets hungry for more coverage.

In a late August post published on O’Dwyer’s blog, Denise Bentele of Common Ground confirmed that her agency was not the only one involved:

“The Devin James Group, a nationally certified Minority-owned firm, has been working with St. Louis County and the City of Ferguson as an independent liaison to handle the public relations and long-term needs”

Last night, a document titled “Most Common List of Misconceptions in Ferguson”, which was apparently released at a town hall meeting on Monday afternoon, made its way around Twitter, Facebook and the blog world, giving readers some insights into how the town is attempting to handle a wave of media attention that has yet to recede.

The full document is a talking points memo that’s worth a read for anyone with an interest in crisis communications.

We don’t know much about it, though James claims that it was not written by his firm — and it certainly reads as if it were intended to represent the collective views of city officials.

Some of the main claims contained within:

  • The city does not own the riot gear used during recent unrest (the implication being that it was provided by the National Guard)
  • The city does not have the power to fire or otherwise discipline the police officer involved in the shooting of Michael Brown until the related investigation is complete, but is also not “defending” him
  • The city and its police department were not responsible for various “Support Darren Wilson” groups that sprang up after Brown’s death
  • The police department has not used excessive force or unnecessarily arrested any civilians

Here are the two most relevant points from our perspective:

ferguson 13

This is a necessary, common-sense explanation of the work that the two firms in question have been performing for the city. The point below is less clear:

ferguson 8

Since we are not personally familiar with any aspects of this story beyond what we have encountered via media reports, our opinions would be irrelevant.

But we think most observers will agree that the city faces some significant challenges moving forward.

[Pic via AFP Photo / Scott Olson]

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.