Saying Almost Nothing Can Be Everything

3c0bfc70047cd9211fdfddb22528f6d3 300x2251 150x150 Saying Almost Nothing Can Be Everything

PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Terri Lynn Land.

Turning the tables on one’s opponent can also work in PR. That’s what Republican US Senate hopeful Terri Lynn Land of Michigan has done with her first campaign ad, a 30-second spot entitled “Really? that  pokes fun at her rival, Democratic Rep. Gary Peters.

Peters asserts that Land, a former secretary of state in Michigan, is part of a “war on women.” It’s an accusation in the vein of that old leading question “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Say “yes” and you cop to the transgression, but saying “no” implies it’s still going on — and trying to explain yourself just keeps the issue alive. In her ad, Land appears on screen and says Peters “want[s] you to believe I’m waging a war on women. Really? Think about that for a moment.” As campy music starts up, Land sips her coffee, shakes her head and checks her watch before the ad concludes with an overtone of her saying “I’m Terri Lynn Land and I approve this message because, as a woman, I might know a little more about women than Gary Peters.”

Simple and amusing, the ad hit its mark. “It seems to work,” The Daily Caller says. “It’s tough, but also fun.” The clever commercial also caught the attention of the big media guns like Time magazine, The Washington Post and National Public Radio. Talk about bang for your ad-buying buck.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Terri Lynn Land, a relative unknown whose ad put her on the national radar.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: It takes two to tango. When a damaging accusation is made, take a deep breath and try to figure out how to bat it down without directly engaging. Land’s execution was flawless. The gauntlet was thrown so she had to act, but she did so in a mocking way that makes her look smart and her opponent look aggressive and silly. It’s also a nice departure from the relentlessly negative political ads that permeate the airwaves. For Land, saying almost nothing said everything.

Elizabeth Warren: Champion of US’ Disappearing Middle Class

 Elizabeth Warren: Champion of US’ Disappearing Middle Class

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

You know your PR is on the “stun” setting when the question about the presidential election goes from whether Hillary Clinton will run to whether you’ll run with her. Welcome to Elizabeth Warren’s new world.

Warren, the Democratic Senator of Massachusetts who chaired the government oversight panel on the 2008 bailout, released her latest book, A Fighting Chance, this week. The book is part memoir of her childhood in rural Oklahoma, part commentary on the plight of America’s middle class. (An article in The New York Times about America’s middle class no longer being the richest in the world could not be better timed.) Warren’s plainspoken indictments of political and corporate actions that led up to the financial collapse will likely be read raptly by many a disenchanted American.

Now Warren’s is one of the names being bandied about for 2016. She says she has no intention of running for president herself, nor has Hillary Clinton committed to a run. But Warren is already taking another step in her role as champion of America’s ailing middle class.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Check the weather and step out accordingly. Since the economic collapse that still has the US (and the world) reeling, Americans have grown mistrustful of politicians and banks. Enter Warren, daughter of a janitor and a minimum-wage earner who became a Harvard law professor, who seems to speak the same fed-up language that average people do, basher of big banks and crusader for the little guy. The 2016 election is a while away, but Elizabeth Warren’s message is right on time.

US Health & Human Services Secretary Resigns

 US Health & Human Services Secretary Resigns

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Affordable Care Act. (Pictured: President Obama, former US Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius)

After a mortifying rollout, the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, is finally in place. Over 7 million Americans have signed up, a number higher than the original goal, and President Obama’s legacy – healthcare for all – seems underway. The act narrowly survived constant attack by Republicans, not to mention its own faulty website. However, one casualty that no amount of healthcare could fix was the reputation of US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and its effect on the ACA.

Obamacare was under Sebelius’s watch, and she largely took the fall, rightly or not, willingly or not, for the severely flawed rollout. It was Sebelius, facing an angry mob of senators, who had to admit that Healthcare.gov, the ACA website where most Americans were to sign up, had barely been tested before going live. Damage control appearances caused even more damage, especially an uncomfortable appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. All of it was fuel for Republicans determined to repeal the ACA.

Sebelius, a former governor of Kansas who was once a contender for vice president in 2008, was a likely candidate for termination after the ACA rollout fiasco. The question is now whether the falling ax will do further harm to an already tarnished initiative.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Affordable Care Act.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know when to let sleeping dogs lie, especially when they’re vicious. Letting Sebelius go during the worst of the ACA’s rollout would have caused even more turmoil for Obamacare. Her resignation comes on a high note of above-goal enrollment; the best timing for a bad situation. Now Sylvia Mathews Burwell, formerly director of the Office of Management and Budget, suits up against Republicans bent on finding chinks in the armor of the ACA. It’s a tough job; just ask Kathleen Sebelius.

Absentee Senators Busted by Actor With a Cause

 Absentee Senators Busted by Actor With a Cause

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for actor Seth Rogen.

Actor Seth Rogen headed to Capitol Hill to take on a new role: that of advocate, urging elected officials to put more money toward research into Alzheimer’s disease. What happened after his testimony, however, was the real show stopper.

Rogen, known for playing goofy, bumbling characters in movies like The Hangover and Knocked Up, appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee. He and his wife, screenwriter and actress Lauren MIller, have been helping care for Miller’s mother since she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s dementia nearly nine years ago.

Rogen’s heartfelt statement probably would have been well-received, had there been anyone there to receive it. Sixteen of the 18 senators on the powerful committee, which allocates federal funding to government programs and which had invited to Rogen to appear, either didn’t show or actually walked out during the hearing.

The lack of attendance could have been a PR miss for Rogen. Instead, he turned it into a cause celebre. He called the absentee senators on the carpet, shaming them on Twitter by tweeting a photo of an empty hearing room and responding to one senator with “Why did you leave before my speech? Just curious,” before hitting the media circuit.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Rogen. In the end, Rogen got more attention for Alzheimer’s than if he’d played to a packed house.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Learn how to turn lemons into one mean lemonade. Washington  denizens are used to the tableaux of the empty committee room, but it clearly caught Rogen off guard. Perhaps his actor’s training allowed him to take a deep breath and figure out how to rescue the scene. Life in the public eye (and, for that matter, life in general) is full of surprises. Try to view a situation from all angles in order to figure out if a negative situation can be redirected. It’s a skill that can save, or even make, a PR opportunity.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

brewer veto 300x168 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer for saving her state from national condemnation by vetoing a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gay customers on religious grounds. True, the fiery Republican governor had little choice: Boycotts were threatened, companies said they would leave, and the National Football League reportedly considered moving next year’s Superbowl if the bill became law. But Arizona is socially conservative, and Brewer’s decision is not popular in many camps. In the end, she met with both sides before brandishing the veto stamp and issuing a no-nonsense statement: “Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value [but] so is no discrimination.”

pdeen The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Paula Deen, for comparing her effort to rebuild her battered reputation to NFL hopeful Michael Sam’s decision to come out as gay. Deen was fired from the Food Network last year for racial slurs revealed amid a lawsuit filed by a former employee. (The suit was dismissed.) In an interview, Deen said she fears that words like “embattled” or “disgraced” will always follow her. “It’s like that black football player who recently came out,” Deen told People. “He said, ‘I just want to be known as a football player. I don’t want to be known as a gay football player’.” Pity her much? With a recent private equity infusion of  $100 million, her path to redemption will hardly be a slog.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Alec Baldwin, for his article “I Give Up” in the latest issue of New York Magazine. Baldwin’s glib wrath is fired upon the paparazzi who hound him, Broadway co-star Shia LaBeouf, his producers at MSNBC, right-wing media, America, the world – release the Kraken! It’s not all negative; Baldwin makes sure to mention his charitable donations and the sensitivity training he’s undertaken. At the end, Baldwin says, “I’m done with it,” and then admits, “This is how I feel in February of 2014.” You can practically see this consummate performer smirking.

Yes, There Is Such a Thing As Bad PR

burkman 150x150 Yes, There Is Such a Thing As Bad PR

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Jack Burkman.

If you don’t know who Jack Burkman is, he didn’t get as much attention as he wanted. For the uninitiated, Jack Burkman is a Republican lobbyist who was so bothered by college athlete Michael Sam coming out that he’s drafting legislation banning gay athletes from the National Football League. A sample line from his statement: ”We are losing our decency as a nation. Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man. That’s a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country.”

Burkman’s “bill” becoming law is about as likely as Elton John announcing he’s straight. Only members of Congress can introduce legislation, and Burkman’s premise would seem to violate federal law. He claims to have supporters in Congress but none have rushed forward with hands raised.

But getting a law on the books isn’t really Burkman’s goal. Indeed, he’s basically admitted he just wants headlines, telling The Daily Beast that, “Of all the discussions that we’ve had, the legal (route) has been the last.” Rather, he said, he’s focusing on “substance” and “PR” to call attention to himself and his position. Can publicity stunts make their subjects look worse than they did pre-stunt? Observing Jack Burkman, the answer would appear to be yes.

THE PR VERDICT: F (Full Fiasco) for Jack Burkman, who got what he wanted on one level: now, more people know he is a bigoted crackpot.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: All news is not good news. Publicity stunts have always been an unpredictable animal; clever ones are lauded as canny marketing, such as the lead-up to The Blair Witch Project, which had moviegoers thinking they were seeing a real documentary. The ones that fail are also memorable, and not in a good way: Remember Richard Heene, the attention-seeker who claimed his son had floated away in a homemade balloon when the 5-year-old was hiding in a garage? He got jail time and fines. It seems safe to say Burkman’s bid falls in the latter category.

 

Toronto Mayor’s Reality Show

 Toronto Mayors Reality Show

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Some Canadians were tweeting that last week’s Toronto city council hearings were the best reality show on television, but most aren’t laughing. Further revelations about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford‘s admitted purchase and use of illegal drugs are shocking, but not as much as his refusal to resign.

Time was any good PR advisor would have told the mayor to step down after just one of the many offenses he’s admitted to: being caught on videotape smocking crack cocaine. Being caught on videotape threatening to kill someone. His explanation for that: “I was extremely, extremely inebriated.” Telling a cadre of reporters that he had bought and used drugs. Admitting same during live televised hearings. Still, Ford clings to his mayoral seat, despite mobs of his constituents chanting “Resign!” outside his office.

With the help of PRs, politicians who have fallen from grace can construct careful comeback trails. And there is a precedent for Ford’s case. Marion Barry, the Mayor of Washington, DC, was videotaped smoking crack in 1990, served six months in prison, and was re-elected mayor in 1994. However, Ford is missing a key component of this example: in order to make a comeback, one must first go away.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Between a fall from grace and bouncing back, one must admit defeat. Though Marion Barry’s act of contrition – a prison sentence – was involuntary, he had it in hand to show he’d reformed. But no amount of PR can save Ford’s train wreck. He has taken the first step of saying he has some sort of rehab team on his case, but now would be the time to resign and take care of business in private. The last thing he or Toronto needs is for his recovery to become the next episode of this reality show.

Health Exchange Site Needs Intensive Care

Healthcare Exchanges Health Exchange Site Needs Intensive Care

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Healthcare.gov’s rocky rollout.

Among the great gifts US Congressional Republicans gave to President Obama in their 16-day quixotic government shutdown was deep cover for the abysmal rollout of Healthcare.gov, the website where uninsured Americans can (and must) sign up for health insurance. The federal government site is the go-to for the 6-in-10 uninsured consumers who live in states that, for political reasons, refused to set up their own healthcare exchanges.

Regardless of where one stands on Obamacare, the rollout has been a slow-motion disaster plagued by technical glitches, politics, restrictive government contracting requirements – there’s a long list. And now that  the foundering ship of state has been righted and set back on course, attention is shifting to the implementation problems, and criticism is crossing party lines.

In remarks Monday, Obama hit the “no excuse” soundtrack for the technical problems and vowed a quick and substantive fix, but repairs could take weeks. The administration has highlighted the volume of site traffic (overwhelming) and successful registrations (respectable) but is still playing off its back foot amid rising calls for someone’s head – perhaps even that of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sibelius. A quick fix is mandatory.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) to the Obama administration, for not responding fast or loud enough to address Obamacare’s web-based woes.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Own the conversation on your product or service. Admirers of the nimble, shoot-and-move communications strategy of Obama’s presidential campaigns surely wish the same could be seen in how his administration has addressed the healthcare rollout glitches. Obama & Co. need to redirect the conversation. They’ve taken the first step with Obama’s “mad as hell” mea culpa. Now it’s time to find and promote successes, get ahead of the critics, provide a date for when things will be fixed – and prepare for someone to take the fall.  

 

Senate Wonder Women Save the Nation

 Senate Wonder Women Save the Nation

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to the sisterhood of the Senate. (From left, Rev. Jim Wallis with Sens. Ayotte, Murkowski, and Collins.)

As hard as it is to give anyone credit in the embarrassing spectacle that is the US government shutdown, a group of female senators including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), who crafted the framework of a compromise, deserve their day in the sun.

The shutdown entered its third week after Congress failed to pass a spending bill that would restore shuttered government services. Tensions increased as a deadline permitting the US to borrow money to pay its obligations loomed.

As factions within Congress continued wage war, women came to the rescue. Led by  Sen. Collins, a group of six of the Senate’s 20 female senators united to produce a compromise to break the impasse. The agreement served as the foundation of a proposal endorsed by bipartisan leaders in the Senate, prompting their male colleagues to almost begrudgingly acknowledge that the times, they are a’changing. As veteran Sen. John McCain put it, “Leadership, I must fully admit, was provided primarily by the women in the Senate.”

The women could have rejected the notion that their reproductive equipment played a role in the compromise, perhaps even been insulted by the suggestion. Instead, Collins and the other senators embraced their feminine attributes. “I find that, with all due deference to our male colleagues, women’s styles tend to be more collaborative,” she told ABC News. Indeed, Collins and her crew have positioned themselves nicely as a group that gets things done and, potentially, a force to be reckoned with on future issues.

THE PR VERDICT:  “A” (PR Perfect) to the sisterhood of the Senate.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Play up your strengths – and keep playing them up. This unusual alliance captured the media’s attention; once the press was focused on them, the senators kept the headlines coming by elaborating on the qualities that helped them achieve their goals. Promoting the attributes of one sex over another is a tricky business, but the senators played their hand nicely. Brava, ladies!

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the International Association to Save Tyre, a charitable organization that came up with a most innovative fundraiser: a raffle to win a Picasso. Sotheby’s Paris will host the drawing, in which one lucky ticket holder will win Picasso’s “Man With Opera Hat,” a cubist illustration valued at $1 million dollars. Tickets are available online, worldwide, for $135/€100. After the publicity the raffle received, it’s a cinch the ceiling of 50,000 available tickets will be met, bringing in a raft of donations and awareness in this artfully crafted fundraiser.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who committed an uncharacteristic PR misstep this week. Christie told The Record, a NJ newspaper, that a “low-level manager” at NJ Transit was responsible for deciding to move more than 300 trains to a facility that wound up flooding during Hurricane Sandy last year, causing more than $100 million in damage. The governor suggested that the manager went rogue and didn’t properly vet his decision within the transportation agency. The call-out alone would have been bad enough, but it turns out that The Record has emails showing that this poor unfortunate’s decision was, indeed, approved by more than a dozen supervisors, including the agency director. Bad intel and poor form, governor.

kochs The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers

THE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Charles and David Koch, for denying any role in the anti-Obamacare government shutdown but not disavowing the Republican-led effort. The conservative billionaire brothers, who bankroll numerous right-wing causes, figured prominently in a Sunday New York Times article  that traced how Koch-funded conservative groups and politicians plotted the shutdown strategy to block the Affordable Care Act. On Wednesday, in a blanket letter to US Senators, the Kochs said although they oppose Obamacare, they had “not taken a position” on the shutdown strategy nor lobbied Congress to defund the program. So in other words, they’re not to blame for a shutdown, which they have no opinion on, anyway.

 

 

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