New Orleans to Hire PR Firm With Focus on Katrina Evacuees

Getting his message out is worth $100,000 to New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin.

That's how much the administration plans to spend for a marketing firm after five proposals are whittled down to one, Nagin spokeswoman Ceeon Quiett said.

Getting the word out about the state of the city's recovery is beyond the capacity of her office, which has an annual budget of about $620,000 and a staff of six, Quiett said.

"Our primary mission is media relations," Quiett said of her agency. "We're looking for outside help to help us fine-tune our message and communicate that message to our citizens in other cities. A significant part of our population is still gone. And looking at our needs for strategic communication, this is something we absolutely, positively have to have."

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If the costs allow, the Nagin administration is hoping to reach up to five evacuee hubs: Houston; Dallas; Atlanta; Jackson, Miss.; and Mobile, Ala.

Quiett said evaluation of the five bids — two from local companies and three from large out-of-town firms — is ongoing. She hopes to narrow the list to three finalists, which will be interviewed by administration staffers and a community representative before a winner is chosen in a few weeks.

The information the city is looking to distribute runs the gamut from the number of potholes, traffic signals and street lights that have been repaired to how many flooded-out structures have been torn down or tagged for demolition to the status of air service at Louis Armstrong International Airport.

Since the storm, the city has posted sporadic and often vague information about the recovery on its Web site, prompting an outcry for more detailed updates from residents, including those who participated in the process to create the Unified New Orleans Plan.

Quiett said the consultant also will be asked to set up satellite centers to help evacuees navigate the maze of housing, education, employment and utility issues involved in returning to the city.

In New Orleans, the consultant's top priority will be keeping residents who are back home abreast of the city's long-range plan to pump more than $1 billion into 17 neighborhood recovery zones. None of that money is yet in hand.

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