Rice for Vice? Condi Cancels Her Date with Mitt (Nicely)

 Rice for Vice? Condi Cancels Her Date with Mitt (Nicely)

The PR Verdict: “A” for Condoleeza Rice.

Condoleeza Rice for vice president? Maybe, just maybe . . . But then, NO. What started as a news item on the Mitt Romney-friendly website The Drudge Report  went quickly mainstream. Would Condi make the move? But two days later the general consensus was, “Let’s call the whole thing off.” Case closed.

Rice was always a long shot. If Romney’s PR problem is that he is considered too remote to galvanize the grassroots, then adding Condi Rice would have made a tough campaign even tougher. Besides, given that Romney has tried to steer clear of the Bush legacy, having a stalwart of the Bush years as the Number Two on the ticket would be walking into a host of problems.

Cynics have suggested that Rice was put in the headlines to take news editors minds’ off Romney’s tax filings and his leadership of Bain capital. As a PR strategy, this has merits. But no campaign can have brides publicly rejecting the ring. This had to be limited to a quick diversion. As for Condi, the PR dilemma was this: How do you decline a proposal without offending?

The PR Verdict: “A” for Condoleeza Rice turning down an unofficial vice presidential proposal politely. No one likes rejection, but this issue needed to be cut short before it gathered too much steam.

The PR Takeaway: Dating rules apply in PR. Condi took a leaf out of the old breakup book: It’s not you, it’s me. Publicly turning down the Republican Presidential candidate could seriously impair his campaign and make the next person who accepts look like an also-ran. Without commenting directly, her flaks reiterated her previous comments that she prefers policy over politics. Campaigning for public office is not for her, they said, while Condi herself was nowhere to be seen. With such an elegant TBNT (Thanks, But No Thanks), Romney felt no rejection, and the door remains wide open to a potential candidate. Would that more politicians could handle things so nicely . . .

Did Condoleeza Rice handle rejecting Romney well? Was the rumor of her being asked to consider the VP slot a PR diversion away from his tax issue? Tell us your PR Verdict!

Romney’s Offshore Accounts Wash Up Again

 Romneys Offshore Accounts Wash Up Again

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Mitt Romney.

Things are looking a little uncomfortable for Mitt Romney as chatter builds about his offshore tax dealings. Vanity Fair this month went into forensic details over Romney’s affairs, describing the “murky world of offshore finance, revealing loopholes that allow the very wealthy to skirt tax laws.”

While there is no smoking gun, it is clear that Romney’s financial advisers were disciples of tax minimization. Trouble is, no one likes to read about a presidential candidate with offshore accounts. As Newt Gingrich said repeatedly during his campaign, “I don’t know of any American president who has had a Swiss bank account.”

So far Team Romney has given a robust response: Romney’s affairs are in a blind trust and have been for some time. Romney is a smart businessman who doesn’t want to pay more tax than is necessary, but his team insists he pays the full whack of tax, according to U.S. rules, no matter where the assets are located. But is this enough to cut the chatter?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Romney’s handling of the issue so far. But what is the unanswered question that won’t go away?

The PR Takeaway: If a story won’t die, listen carefully for the question that is going unanswered. In this case, Romney’s campaign has done an impressive job in batting back the questions–they have disclosed some (certainly not all) of his tax records and details about his tax bill and trusts. The nagging issue continues to be; why was the money sent  offshore in the first place? Until Team Romney comes up with a convincing soundbite (if there is one), they should keep including the issue in their presidential debate rehearsals.

What do you think about Mitt Romney’s offshore accounts? Give us your PR Verdict, below!

 

 

 

 

 

Barclays CEO Admits He Was Dazzled by Diamond

 Barclays CEO Admits He Was Dazzled by Diamond

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Martin Taylor, former CEO of Barclays.

What to make of the recent mea culpa from Martin Taylor, the former CEO of Barclays? The Financial Times published his opinion piece, provocatively entitled  “I Too Fell for the Diamond Myth,” in which he describes his time as CEO of Barclays during the late 1990s.  Back then, Bob Diamond was running Barclays Capital, the investment banking arm, and reported to Taylor. Judging from the article, we can safely assume they don’t exchange holiday cards.

Taylor gives an insider’s view of boardroom dysfunction and a deliberate effort by traders within Barclays Capital to work around trading limits. The traders exposed the firm to massive risks by window dressing and reclassifying bets to get them past agreed internal controls. This was the late ’90s, after all.

Russia subsequently defaulted, and the markets went into freefall. Describing Barclays’ experience as “worse than most,” Taylor says the “failure to respect the internal control system” precipitated the fire sale of key assets. Traders were dismissed, and Diamond maintained that he had known nothing. Diamond offered to resign, but Taylor, concluding that the business was still in its infancy, said his direct report should stay. Taylor concludes by saying, “I deserve blame for being among the first to succumb to the myth of Diamond’s indispensability.” Ouch!

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Martin Taylor. After more than a decade, he has come clean with some insight. Trouble is, we’re still missing some basic information.

The PR Takeaway: Personal reflection wins people over, but ignoring key questions undoes the gain. If Bob Diamond wasn’t asked to leave, was he at least given a zero bonus for the year? Was anything else done to send home the message that the CEO running the business had bottom line responsibility? Without a full explanation, it’s hard to get past the sneaking suspicion that Taylor’s mea culpa might have been more of an effort to rewrite history than a more profound and insightful contribution.

Is Taylor’s article an explanation, or an excuse? Give us your PR Verdict!

Bieber Quote: Abort! Abort!

tumblr lgryigv3ab1qd9cy2o1 500 300x271 Bieber Quote: Abort! Abort!

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Justin Bieber and his publicist.

Does anyone care what teenage heart-throb Justin Bieber thinks about abortion? Who knew he even had an opinion? An incendiary quote provides a cautionary tale as to why a PR flak should sit in on most interviews.

Last week, Rolling Stone published an excerpt of its cover story with the teenage singer. As excerpts go, it was certainly the raciest part of an otherwise dull interview. Bieber was asked how he feels about abortion. He said he was against it. The interviewer then asked if Bieber believed in terminating pregnancies in cases of rape. Bieber was quoted as saying, “Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason.” Cue cyber outrage.

As the Internet burned with the quote, and the indictment pictured above, Rolling Stone then amended the comment–presumably following pressure from Bieber’s PR–adding a previously omitted sentence. The boy wonder from Ontario apparently said, “Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don’t know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.” (Italics ours to show addition.) Not much better, still problematic. Next time, how about avoiding the topic altogether?

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Justin Bieber and his publicist. No need to answer a difficult, controversial question. Either take a pass or let the PR flak take the heat.

The PR Takeaway: Count on being ambushed in interviews, especially by potentially unfriendly media outlets. Unless Bieber genuinely wants to campaign on the incendiary issue of abortion, coach him on how to politely decline to answer the question. If the interviewer presses, it’s up to the PR Flak to bring the conversation back on track and on brand. While undoubtedly annoying to the journalist, it’s certainly easier than clearing up the later inevitable cyber mess.

Did Rolling Stone have a right to edit Bieber’s comment to make it more controversial, or should Bieber’s publicity team have coached him to avoid topics like these? Give us your PR Verdict, below.

Putting the Church Into Scientology

scientologists celebrities 15 300x205 Putting the Church Into Scientology

The PR Verdict: F (Full Fiasco) for Scientology’s PR. Something isn’t working.

The Church of Scientology is girding its loins. After a week of disastrous press scrutiny following the TomKat divorce announcement, the organization looks set for further unsympathetic coverage. What role did Scientology play in the breakdown of the celebrity marriage? Who knows? But what is clear is that for non believers there is almost universal mis-trust when it comes to the Church founded by Ron Hubbard.

Rupert Murdoch caused a fuss last week when he Tweeted that the religion is a “very weird cult,” adding that there is “Something creepy, maybe even evil, about these people.” An Internet backlash was immediate, but the problem was that those hitting back were almost exclusively Scientologists. What about friends and sympathetic supporters?

On Friday, news outlets detailed a memo allegedly distributed by the Church of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs that urges members to monitor the Internet for hostile statements about the Church and report them; hardly a strategy to win the hearts and minds of non-believers. With all their celebrity and influential contacts, wouldn’t the wiser, more sustainable PR strategy be to get non-believers defending the cause?

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Scientology’s PR. Something isn’t working, despite their high number of celebrity followers.

The PR Takeaway: Act and sound like you are at one with your name. The PR problem of the Church of Scientology is that it so rarely, from a PR perspective, behaves like a church. Where are the selfless acts of charity and good will that characterize the work of many other churches and religious orders? In tone and profile, the Church of Scientology sounds more like an aggressive corporation protecting brand and market share rather than a church. Why not be a little….well, church-ier?  It could be the strategy shift needed as the TomKat divorce places the organization back in the headlines.

CERN-fusion: Big Bang Announcement Fizzles

godparticle CERN fusion: Big Bang Announcement Fizzles

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for CERN and the God particle.

How do you explain a scientific breakthrough in a soundbite, let alone the creation of the universe? That must be the daily problem faced by the PR flak at CERN, the Geneva-based European Nuclear Research Facility. Scientists investigating the creation of the universe hit the front pages this week with a new discovery; top prize to anyone who could put it into a Tweet.

Physicists at CERN said Wednesday they have discovered a new subatomic particle which bears remarkable similarity to the Higgs boson. Apparently this gives a potential clue as to why elementary particles have mass… Still with us?

A CERN spokesman told the media, “The results are preliminary, but the five-sigma signal at around 125 GeV we’re seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle.” Another scientist chimed in, “We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of five sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV.”  In spite of these “clarifications” the media found a way to describe the discovery–the “God particle” became the shorthand.  But does anyone understand what it means?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for CERN and the PR surrounding its discovery. While it rates top marks for global coverage and for getting key messages and data included, it’s only a “C” because we still have no idea what actually happened or what any of it means.

The PR Takeaway: When in doubt that anyone will understand your announcement, talk about benefits and not content. This is one example where the subject matter is truly too daunting for any PR flak with a clipboard and red pen. A couple of soundbites might have been useful to explain what this could mean in its practical application, if there is one. Failing that, what is the question that can now be answered but which could not be answered a week ago? That might be the tweet CERN was looking for.

Could CERN have come up with a better way to relate their discovery? Do you know what the discovery means? Give us your PR Verdict, below.

Anderson Cooper: PR Perfect

 Anderson Cooper: PR Perfect

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Anderson Cooper and his PR regarding his coming out.

So Anderson Cooper, CNN’s biggest “name” anchor, has confirmed he is gay. Cooper hit the headlines earlier this week with his e-mail correspondence to journalist and blogger  Andrew Sullivan, which included the unequivocal message, “The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be.” The phrase was reprinted endlessly over the next three days. The media wondered if anyone was shocked or scandalized. The definitive response: No.

From a PR point of view, this was handled perfectly. Cooper had never publicly indicated if he was–or wasn’t. That changed when a recent feature in Entertainment Weekly examined how celebrities handle coming out. Andrew Sullivan approached Cooper for comment, and Cooper’s response made headlines.

Cooper crafted a number of well-worded, thoughtful paragraphs explaining his reasons for coming out now and his previous reticence. He sent them to Sullivan who republished it in full, with Cooper’s permission. Next step: Cooper was unavailable for any interviews due to being on assignment. The void was filled with praise and endorsements from friends and colleagues. Nicely handled.

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Anderson Cooper and his PR regarding his coming out.  Simple message, no details, well expressed, STOP.

The PR Takeaway: This was an elegant PR exercise. Closeted celebrities, take note: Keep the message and the delivery simple. Make your point clearly. Say what you have to say and make sure it is unedited (therefore, stay away  from lengthy sit-down TV interviews). Place it with a friendly media source, and then be unavailable. Nothing more to add. Nothing more to explain. And, in Cooper’s case, get back to saving the world.

Will Anderson Cooper’s self-outing have any repercussions? Should he have come out, or kept himself out of the limelight? Give us your PR Verdict!

Bob Diamond: Was It Something I Said?

BobDiamondresignation 300x194 Bob Diamond: Was It Something I Said?

The PR Verdict:”F” (Full Fiasco) for Bob Diamond, resigning CEO of Barclays.

One down and another just gone. Monday morning saw the resignation of Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius, following news of the Libor rate scandal. “The buck stops here” Agius said.  Exit stage right.  Oddly enough, his number two, CEO Bob Diamond, remained standing. By Tuesday, Diamond’s resignation had been accepted.

Up until then, Diamond apparently felt the buck didn’t really stop with him. While suitably contrite, with public apologies and regrets that made it clear that rate fixing failed to meet Barclays’ standards, there was no hint of a resignation. Hell no! Dismissing any suggestion that he was about to lose his position, Diamond told the media he wasn’t going anywhere. Two days later, he was out of a job.

Diamond’s headstrong comments over the weekend pushed forward the likelihood of a resignation. After all, if the Chairman had resigned, why didn’t the CEO, who is in charge of day-to-day business? Given that Diamond has previously fought PR clouds over his compensation and autocratic style, this unlucky third strike was bound to have him preparing the cardboard box for his belongings.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Bob Diamond. Telling the media and staff he had no intention of leaving his post wasn’t his call. An oddly cavalier declaration when his Chairman had decided to take his public lumps.

PR Takeaway: Is it the role of a CEO to decide if he should keep his job or not?  Remember, each person is only a guest in his or her position, and the invitation can be pulled at any time. Better to have deferred the issue to the Board and say that the matter of continued service was a decision for them. Diamond unwittingly gave everyone from the UK Prime Minister on down the opportunity to cry foul. With little incentive for powerful stakeholders to come out in support of Diamond’s tenure, his remaining days were nothing more than a countdown to the inevitable.

Should Agius and Diamond have resigned simultaneously? Would that have been the better PR tactic? Give us your PR Verdict below.

We will be back July 5 with a new PRV. Happy July 4 to all our readers

 

Katie Holmes’s Stealth Divorce Bombshell

 Katie Holmess Stealth Divorce Bombshell

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Katie Holmes and her stealth divorce bomb.

TomKat–Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes–are now officially over. Just like that. The surprising announcement that Holmes had started divorce proceedings seemed to catch her actor husband Cruise off guard. The filing was made on Thursday afternoon; the media went crazy on Friday. What happens now?

Speculation has already begun as to the cause of the marriage breakdown. Whispers of Holmes’s resistance to Cruise’s Scientology pals abound, as does the sneaking suspicion that the marriage was, from the start, a five-year contractual understanding. Other media speculate that Cruise’s alleged ambiguous sexuality is the genesis of the crisis, with one New York tabloid sarcastically commenting, “Holmes will keep the house while Cruise keeps the closet.”

Was the split expected? The gossip magazines had not speculated about Cruise’s third marriage in any meaningful way (despite ongoing low-level chatter). Cruise showed up alone at the recent premieres of his latest film Rock of Ages with no significant adverse comment. With the media off guard, the time for Holmes to file was now. At least on the PR front, this was minimally damaging, given the couple’s notoriety.

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for  Katie Holmes, whose divorce strategy is like a precision bomb. Taking the media by surprise means that phase one of the divorce agenda is owned by Homes, hands down.

The PR Takeaway:  Quick precision bombing has its advantages. Making a sudden filing before the weekend, while not making substantive comments keeps the scandal level relatively low. Holmes followed the template of her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s own divorce from second wife Nicole Kidman: no comment, no explanation–the PR exercise equivalent to ripping the band aid off quickly. No one ever really got to the bottom of the Kidman/Cruise divorce in part because it seemed so unexpected. The explanations this time around might be just as elusive.

Will Katie Holmes’s sudden, stealth divorce bomb shatter the media’s speculative attack? Give us your PR Verdict, below.

Hey ! Did you see that the Financial Times (Alphaville) republished our PRV on Barclays? Take a look: http://ftalphaville.ft.com/blog/2012/06/29/1065981/barclays-pr-rating-d/

How Sorry Are You, Barclays?

 How Sorry Are You, Barclays?

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Barclays. (Pictured: Barclays CEO Bob Diamond)

Isn’t it nice to know that Barclays PLC and its subsidiaries have agreed to pay more than $450 million to settle charges that it attempted to manipulate key global interest rates? The announcement of the largest-ever fine was accompanied by much huffing and puffing about market integrity. Everyone agrees; terrible business. Why, even Bob Diamond, Barclays CEO, and his three chief lieutenants waived their bonuses in recognition of the seriousness of the issue.

Barclays said all the right things on the day. It humbly acknowledged the actions “fell well short of the standards to which Barclays aspires.” This was a mea culpa, albeit somewhat measured, given that the Department of Justice is continuing with its criminal probe. This could get uglier, no doubt.

But was that it? Was there a lost paragraph to the announcement? Yes, investigations are continuing, yes other firms are involved, and yes, Barclays has been assisting every regulator it possibly can. Fair enough, but the key question remained unanswered in Barclays’ formal statement. Has ANYONE lost their job or been suspended? Has there been a clearing of the decks?

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Barclays for avoiding disclosure of the most important piece of news: Is anyone’s head going to roll?

PR Takeaway: One way to draw a line over bad behavior is to draw a line over bad employees. If the bank is committed to turning a new page in ethics, why not update stakeholders about who was, or will be, fired? Even if previously disclosed, say it again. Waiving a bonus counts for something, but making it clear to inside and outside stakeholders that certain behaviors will not be tolerated goes further. This was an odd omission in a statement that went to lengths to make it clear that these issues won’t happen again.

Did Barclays go far enough by apologising and waiving bonuses, or should heads have rolled? Give us your PR Verdict, below.