**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:
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:
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.