CHICAGO: Stung by media criticism after its PR plan for a children's welfare home was released to the media, a Chicago PR agency decided to make the entire controversial plan public.
The issue arose two weeks ago when some Chicago media outlets reported that they had received a copy of the 11-page plan, which reportedly encouraged the smearing of the organization's critics. "Conduct opposition research" was a phrase from the plan, which
was widely quoted in reports.
"This draft has been misinterpreted. They decided to focus on three words in the report," said Thom Serafin, CEO of Serafin & Associates, of media criticism of his firm's proposal. "Full disclosure is always best."
Although Serafin said the document was not originally intended to be public, given the media reports, he decided to post it on the firm's website.
Serafin's firm had prepared the draft proposal on July 23 for client Maryville Academy. The Catholic institution is Illinois' largest home for troubled and abused youth.
Some have been calling for changes at Maryville after reports of runaways, a suicide, and violence.
The Chicago Tribune on August 17 editorialized against Maryville's PR plan under
the headline "Children don't need spin control."
Serafin said the report's overall recommendation was for Maryville to use academy officials, alumni, and third parties to talk more about the good work the institution has done, although there was a section calling for a questioning of critics' motives.
He said that while others have mused that "opposition research" is shorthand for a smear campaign, he said it meant conducting research that would look at the state of child-welfare organizations across Illinois, put- ting Maryville's situation into context. But the phrase "was seized upon by opposition of this particular agency," he said.
After reviewing the situation, Maryville's board has decided that it will continue working with Serafin.