What does it mean when a public lobbying firm says that a key objective is to “isolate and expose extremists”? Public records recently obtained from Southwestern College offer a rare peek into the strategies of Focuscom, a San Diego–based marketing company.
After winning voter approval in 2008 for Proposition R, a $389 million construction/reconstruction bond, Southwestern College embarked on an ambitious corner-lot construction project replete with fountains, conference rooms, a food court, and a new building for administrators.
But, during the past year, the college has also suffered from negative publicity related to class cuts, professor suspensions, violations of First Amendment rights for students, and, finally, in January of 2010, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges placed the college on probation. Southwestern’s administration appears to be worried about whether financially strapped taxpayers are going to continue to approve their ambitious building agenda.
On March 9 of this year, Nicholas Alioto, Southwestern’s vice president of financial affairs, signed a letter of agreement with Dan Hom, president of Focuscom Inc., for a Proposition R public outreach plan. The 11-page plan pitches the need for services in this way: “Despite overwhelming approval of Prop R (71 percent), any controversy surrounding the development of this site could be detrimental to other projects in the proceeding phases of development.” (The corner lot is the first of three phases.)
Focuscom’s key goals are: “Maintain momentum that led to approval; isolate and expose extremists; identify, cultivate and engage diverse supports; manage the media.”
Regarding strategy, the plan will “direct ‘simple and unfiltered’ messages to target [the] public.” The strategy continues, “By focusing on vision and values, we can avoid detailed public debate regarding specific land use issues and avoid getting caught in the minutia launched by our opponents…. By staying 'out of the weeds' and focusing on the broader vision and values, we can begin to establish/reinforce trust and confidence in SWC College as the local leader in land use decisions.”
According to the game plan, the public can expect to be engaged by this Prop R outreach on Facebook and via Twitter, YouTube, newsletters, coffee klatches, and more. Hom’s plan promises that newspaper stories will be pitched, op-ed pieces will be written, and letters to editors with “Names culled from supporters lists will be used (with permission) to draft and submit letters to the Editors." Focuscom will even provide blog management and polling.
There is some contradiction as to who is paying for the Prop R outreach. An email query answered by Southwestern chief of communications Chris Bender said that the cost of the program was $100,000 and that Seville Company, the group that manages the bond program, was paying for the services. However, the letter approving the contract with Dan Hom is on Southwestern stationery and is signed by Southwestern’s vice president Alioto. It reads, “As we discussed, I am approving this 1,000 hour plan.”
Photo: Dan Hom