The City of Seattle paid $17,500 to Brand.com to enhance the "online reputation" of City Light, its public utility, and Chief Executive Officer Jorge Carrasco, asking them to "lessen the prevalence of any negative or less-relevant stories" in search results for the utility or the CEO, who was the highest-paid public employee in the city, with a salary of $245,000.
It's not clear what sort of bad news about Carrasco or City Light Brand.com was trying to push off the front page of Google results, but their promised methodology included placing favorable paid articles with the Huffington Post and Examiner.com, as well as "doctorate level content" written by "influential bloggers."
The Huffington Post says that it was unaware if Damon Banks, the writer who published a favorable piece about Carrasco and his utility, was being paid by Brand.com, but if he was, they'd no longer accept work from him. Banks did not reply to a request for comment from the Seattle Times.
Here's the action plan [PDF] that the city and Brand.com drew up for City Light and Carrasco's online reputation polishing.
City Light's chief of staff, Sephir Hamilton, signed the contract with Brand.com in October, and extended it in February. The two contracts together authorized $47,500 for services through the end of this year. But a City Light spokesman said the city had paid only $17,500 to date and did not plan to spend more.
City Light declined requests to interview Carrasco or Hamilton.
In a statement through a spokesman, utility executives defended the Brand.com contract, saying City Light's online reputation mattered when it came to attracting talent.
"Our executives feel strongly that this was an appropriate outlet for getting our message out," said the spokesman, Scott Thomsen.
Thomsen said the decision to hire Brand.com was made to strengthen City Light's reputation as it rolled out an advertising campaign boasting it is the nation's greenest utility.
City Light hires online results firm to polish its CEO's image [Jim Brunner/Seattle Times]
(via Ars Technica)