What Kelly Blazek’s cyberbullying tells us about policymaking in Cleveland

kelly blazek twitter profile

Kelly Blazek’s now-defunct Twitter profile (courtesy of the Cleveland Scene).

**Update (7:52pm): Apparently Ms. Blazek apologized in a statement to Cleveland.com while I was offline. I hope she learns from this episode, is humbled by it, and works to make herself a better, more considerate human being. I can only imagine this will haunt her for a while. Now that this is over, hopefully we can back to focusing on issues that actually matter tomorrow.**

For those of you who (luckily) don’t know who Kelly Blazek is, let me give you a quick primer. Ms. Blazek is a “senior communications executive with nearly three decades of experience in global diversified industrials, professional services, PR agencies and economic development nonprofits” and the principal partner of Gemba Communications.

Among other things that she lists as accomplishments, she notes that she “earned her Six Sigma Green Belt” and is “a frequent speaker on creating a gamechanger resume, interviewing, maximizing LinkedIn during a job search and boosting one’s professional presence.” Whatever that means.

Anyways, in addition to being a self-described superstar communications expert, she also hosts a Yahoo Group/email listserv for approximately 7,300 people that aggregates job openings “in the marketing, PR, events, fundraising, non-profit management, media, journalism and graphics industry.” For the nominal fee of $150, she will deign to send out an email with your job posting to this listserv; it is surely a worthwhile investment.

Now, because she is a busy and important professional, Ms. Blazek has established a firm set of rules to be included on her listserv. Every email includes the following disclaimer:

kelly blazek dislaimer

From the February 10, 2014 Cleveland Job Bank email.

She has clearly built up quite a following, and she even won the 2013 “Communicator of the Year” award from the Cleveland Chapter of of the International Association of Business Communicators.

Yet, despite her public persona as a communications expert, Kelly Blazek does not always communicate in the most, shall we say, appropriate way. When a young job seeker who was moving back to Cleveland tried to connect with her on LinkedIn, she received this in reply:

blazek email

Courtesy of the email recipient, @PettieBettie

Lest you think this email was something of an aberration and does not reflect Ms. Blazek’s character, writ large, there are several other instances which, taken together, begin to present a clear pattern.

Interestingly, despite supposedly being a crisis communications consultant, Ms. Blazek has chosen to reply to this controversy with complete radio silence. She shut down her Twitter account (which, as she notes, has 2500+ followers) and closed her personal blog, opting to house it under a new name, at least for the time being.

A few other outlets have examined how this episode may affect Ms. Blazek professionally. But I would argue there are larger issues at play here. First, we should judge people based not upon how much power or prestige they have, but, rather, upon how they treat those with less power. As Immanuel Kant wrote in Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals:

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.

By deviating so grievously from this dictum, Ms. Blazek’s actions were not simply unprofessional; they were immoral.

But, regardless of her actions, Kelly Blazek is not the only person at fault here. We must also point the finger at the people in power throughout Northeast Ohio who have built her up to the point where she holds herself in such esteem that she believes she can – and should – behave this way.

For some reason, a large (and seemingly increasing) number of well-connected people throughout Greater Cleveland have chosen to place all of their faith in the hands of self-appointed marketing and communications professionals to resurrect the region. We continue to pay these individuals ever larger salaries and provide them with increasing amounts of taxpayer money so that we can live under the delusion that all this region needs to grow and thrive once more is to change our PR campaigns, not our policies.

This viewpoint frequently graces the pages of The Plain Dealer, where writers spill ink over the details of these new marketing campaigns, rather than focusing on more important issues. Somehow the debate over whether or not Cleveland “rocks” or is a “plum” matters more than our insanely high infant mortality rates, our 1960s-era transportation policies, or the air pollution that routinely sends poor black and brown children to the ER with asthma attacks.

Those with the most significant platforms breathlessly hype ever project or concept as the “next big thing” that will save us, regardless of how expensive, impractical, pointless, or destructive they may be.

As a result, we end up undervaluing people with real policy expertise and fresh ideas that people in much of the rest of the country would value. You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a job bank like Kelly Blazek’s could exist and, it appears, even thrive in Northeast Ohio’s economic ecosystem, yet we have nothing comparable for public health, environmental issues, alternative transportation, affordable housing, etc.

We have purposefully and intentionally decided, as a region, that we would rather pay people to repackage crappy ideas than think critically and develop good ones. That’s not to say that there aren’t good, hardworking, intelligent people focusing on these issues; there are. But the fact that we don’t know their names and tend to undervalue their work is no accident.

Ultimately, we will need to come together as a region and rethink our priorities. Because when you put policymaking authority in the hands of marketing professionals, you end up with terrible public policy, regardless of the spin.

  • Lots to think about here. Thanks for taking the time to walk a reader through the issues.

    Without wanting to make apologies for someone’s bad behavior, I will note there is a psychological phenomenon called “snapping” in which a person, pushed over the edge by stress, lashes out at the next perceived slight to the values of their universe. Is it possible that’s what happened here?

    After reading the reply to the unfortunate Chicago job seeker, I can see why people are offended by it. On the other hand, this incident should not result in an Internet fueled “pile on” like the mistaken identification via an online forum of suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. Maybe it is time, or soon enough, to give it a rest and move on.

    • Tim

      First, I’m not sure if I should be offended or not over that Boston Marathon bombing comment. To compare what I wrote to falsely accusing someone of being a terrorist is reducto ad absurdum.

      Would that I could believe Ms. Blazek merely snapped. But if you read the post, you’ll see that all the evidence suggests that she has an established habit of abusing her position of relative power to bully and condescend to those in a lower station who come to her for help. One would imagine that, as a crisis communications specialist, she would come out and apologize immediately if this was a one off incident. Her complete silence reads a lot more like a scammer who got caught red handed and wanted to move on to the next town.

      I also appreciate the idea that she does this job bank as a hobby and gets annoyed by people wasting her time on it. But as a communications professional, she has made this a central piece of her personal brand. To pretend that we can separate it from her work or that she has not seen renumeration for it is a logical leap I am not willing to make.

      Secondly, trust me, I had no desire to write this or to lose much of my day to this sideshow. I actually asked a friend to tell me not to write anything about this; needless to say, he wasn’t helpful.

      The only reason I wrote about this topic is because I see it as emblematic of many of the larger issues facing our region. The idea that an established professional would treat young adults seeking her assistance like gnats to be swatted suggests that she either has such a high opinion of herself that she wouldn’t dare be bothered with the little people or that she sees them as competition to be dealt with.

      As I wrote at Rust Wire, I have been amazed by how parochial and dismissive a large number of professionals have been since I moved back, particularly to female friends. We seem to be more interested in eating our young than expanding the job market. Cannibalism is not the sign of growth and health, it’s the sign of a dying region.

      • My regrets if you were offended, even a bit, by the Boston remark. I see a dismaying trend in some “viral situations” for people, not you in this case, to “pile on” an emerging issue. Also, I did not intend for you to draw a conclusion that I thought you “falsely” accused Ms. Blezak.

        Clearly, she did two things in her message that sent shock waves across the Twitterverse, First, her uncharitable response to a young person trying to make their way in a career, and in Cleveland, was delivered with a vigor bordering on personal enmity despite the obvious fact Blezak never met or heard from her email correspondent in Chicago prior to this incident. This suggests some kind of a psychological short circuit, however transient, is at work. That’s just a guess.

        Second, you are correct that if Cleveland is to be revived, it needs to be seen as attractive to young people in all types of work environments. Stomping on their aspirations like T-Rex on Bambi is bad for business and for the city. Just the opposite is needed.

        I have seen messages on the Yahoo web page from Ms. Blazek which mirror the one that made the rounds today,. For those not forewarned of her policies, and how she communicates them, the email comes with all the shock of a December dip in Lake Erie.

        It is incongruous that Ms. Blezak has on one hand been recognized by her peers in the communications industry for stellar accomplishments, and on the other in one fell swoop took a bruising fall from grace by the dint of a single email.

        I agree that she could still respond to the situation with an apology and a pledge to do better along with reaching out to the job seeker in Chicago..

        We can’t know what she is thinking. I do hope she finds a way to recover her composure.

        • Tim

          Dan, no hard feelings and thanks for clarifying. Your points are well taken. I’ll note that she has since apologized publicly and seemed remorseful, though I have no idea what’s in her heart. I agree that internet shaming is a double-edged sword that can hurt people who don’t deserve it, but it is also good to see people stand up for themselves when they feel as though they’ve been bullied. Hopefully people learn from this incident. And hopefully we can all turn to more important issues now.

    • smh

      This isn’t a situation where a person snapped. More of these e-mails have surfaced and they take place over a time span of nearly five years. Judging from Ms. Blazek’s e-mails, she demonstrates an arrogance and condescending tone that is more than likely, permanently ingrained in her personality. My sympathy goes out to those who have to deal with her on a daily basis.

      • That’s the sad part of this story, and that is there are reports of there being a pattern of these kinds of communications to job hunters. The second story in the Plain Dealer http://bit.ly/1bSSQ9Q makes this painfully clear.