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John McLoughlin is a veteran Capital Region journalist, now at NewsChannel 13. Reach him by email at JMcLoughlin@WNYT.com.

McLoughlin Take 2: Preparedness commercials to cost $350K

Friday, February 17, 2012
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I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. But the news that Albany County was holding a casting call this week for local “talent” to star in TV commercials having to do with emergency preparedness inspires a two-part reaction: YOU’RE DOIN’ WHAT? AND IT’S COSTING YOU WHAT TO DO THAT?

For those who missed all the fun, let me refresh. Albany County and a New York City production company held tryouts (“casting call” sounds more show-bizzy, doesn’t it?) at the old Crowne Plaza Hotel for nine people to be featured in three commercials costing $350,000 to produce and air on local television.

Dan McCoy, the newly elected county executive, warned in a press release that “Hurricane Irene caught many residents off guard.” Thus the need, said McCoy, for TV spots encouraging us to develop emergency plans and to make emergency kits. Imagine how much more orderly that evacuation of the animals might have been if Noah had done little TV warnings about what to do in the event of a Great Flood. (“Please, two by two, and no horseplay, except for the horses.”)

McCoy said Albany County had worked with the Siena College Research Institute way back in 2010 to produce a survey showing that only 17 percent of county residents are “highly prepared” for an emergency.

Really? I don’t know how to react to that. Should we be “highly shocked” that only 17 per cent are “highly prepared?” Or is that the number we should expect, given human nature’s tendency to be only “a little” or at best “somewhat prepared” for abstract threats.

The money — the $350,000 — is coming from the New York State Homeland Security grant program so I guess that as far as some Albany County folks are concerned, this whole thing is free, as in “somebody else is paying.” Incidentally, the $350,000 cost — some of it to buy air time — is not mentioned in the press release; you had to ask for this piece of information that any self-respecting public relations person would have included high up in the printed matter.

And why Albany County? I don’t recall sizable numbers of Albany County people clamoring for TV spots telling them to include Band-Aids and Duracells in their emergency supply kits. Albany County’s luck, they’ll do all the heavy lifting producing the ads, and it will be somebody from Schenectady County or worse yet, Tonawanda, whose life is saved. Mark my word.

Incidentally, the American Red Cross advertises first-aid kits costing from as little as three bucks all the way up to $39 if you’re some kind of preparedness freak.

Better yet, the Red Cross will give you for free a listing called “Anatomy of a First Aid Kit,” recommending that you get yourself an oral thermometer, five antibiotic ointment packets, two pairs of

non-latex gloves (size: large) and a whole bunch of other stuff you can probably acquire gradually as CVS or Rite-Aid advertise those weekly specials. As for so-called PSAs, or televised public service announcements, the Red Cross and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services both offer them over the Internet, either for free or for a nominal sum.

But that would take all the fun out of Albany County’s casting call, wouldn’t it? McCoy himself paid a visit to the auditions this week to recite a few lines and mug for the cameras.

And there’s one more thing that I found very strange about the casting call. I am not going to say what it is, but here’s the exact wording of the announcement and you tell me if you saw it the same way I did. It says the production company “will be casting an African American grandmother, mom and child (girl or boy, age 6-12); Latino mom, dad and child (girl or boy, age 6 to 12); Caucasian mom, dad and child (girl or boy, age 6-12).” Once again, maybe it’s just me.

(Postscript: Given that a chunk of the $350,000 — not sure how big a chunk— will be used to buy airtime over local TV stations, I am probably a dumb-dumb for even writing this column. Be certain that no one not related by blood ever mentioned the word “genius” in my direction.)

 
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