What’s the PR formula to get action from an unresponsive bureaucracy? In Yekaterinburg, Russia, the answer is a few cans of spray paint and a video camera.

Potholes are familiar sites in this city of nearly 1.4 million people located about a 1,000 miles east of Moscow. Common, too, is a lack of action by government officials to address the problem.  After running several stories about the pothole plague with no action from city leaders, staff from the news website Ura.ru took their case to the streets.

With the help of a talented graffiti artist, the website turned three appalling potholes into portraits of the governor, the mayor and the vice mayor.  Gaping holes in the pavement were used as the ugly open mouths of the elected leaders.

What happened next?  Click here and see.

With the faces of city leaders surrounding potholes, someone in city government immediately put a road crew on the job. The workers, however, didn’t show up with asphalt to patch the holes.  Just paint to cover the portraits.  Unfortunately for them, a hidden video camera caught them in the act and shared that video online, too.  That finally brought action and the potholes were repaired the next morning.

The bigger impact of this outstanding example of digitally powered PR goes beyond the fact that three potholes were filled.  It’s a story that documents the growing influence of online video.  Investigative journalism didn’t prod government to action. Just grainy video that caught government leaders red-handed doing something underhanded. After that, the sharing power of online media did the rest.

Yekaterinburg may be Russia’s fourth largest city, but it is by no means a household name.  Now, the city is gaining fame around the world. Ura.ru’s online video is spreading rapidly on YouTube.  When I first visited the link a week ago, it had only a few hundred views.  Today, it is over 130,000.

If city leaders were motivated by caricatures in the street to quickly fill a few potholes, imagine what they’ll do with people chuckling worldwide at their embarrassing behavior.  It should be smoother sailing on the streets of Yekaterinburg soon.

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