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 Trustwave Spider Labs, for being credited with identifying a massive hacking operation of over two million social media account usernames and passwords stolen from Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, and other sites. Trustwave researchers found this latest cache after a massive attack on Adobe that left an astounding 38 million accounts vulnerable. “We don’t have evidence [the hackers] logged into these accounts, but they probably did,” said John Miller, a security research manager at Trustwave. The compromised companies notified users after Trustwave tipped them off. Kudos to the PR flaks who alerted the media that it was Trustwave, not the individual sites, that found evidence of the breaches.

googlevil The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Google, following disclosure that it funded political lobbying groups that helped force the recent US government shutdown. The “Don’t Be Evil” doers have, in fact, supported a number of right-wing organizations and are fairly transparent about it. Their contributions to Heritage Action, which actively pushed for the government shutdown, came to light in a report last week by a liberal non-profit. Google, like other big tech firms, has a strong libertartian, anti-tax streak and an active cash-backed lobbying effort in Washington that, like most, gets spread around to all sides. But it’s one thing to back both sides in a legitimate policy debate, and another entirely to fund what amounts to domestic political terrorism.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford for the most recent plot twist in the bizarre political theater playing out in Canada’s largest city. Ford’s latest disavowal is that he did not offer $5000 and a car to alleged drug dealers in exchange for a video of him smoking crack cocaine. “Number one, that’s an outright lie and number two, you can talk to my lawyers about it,” Ford said on a Washington DC-based radio program, to which he was invited to discuss football. This, of course, follows his denial-then-admission of smoking crack in the first place, and his denial that he orally pleasured a female staffer (“I’ve got more than enough to eat at home,” was his comment).  At this point, even football isn’t a safe topic for Rob Ford to speak about.

Congressman Hits All the Right Notes in Apology

radel Congressman Hits All the Right Notes in Apology

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for US Rep. Trey Radel.

The public mea culpa is an essential PR exercise.  The offender seeks to lessen the sting of a misdeed and engender sympathy not scorn. For the V.A.P. – Very Apologetic Person – it’s never too late to say you’re sorry.

The latest example comes from US Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL), charged Tuesday with cocaine possession after he allegedly purchased the drug from an undercover agent. The self-styled  “Hip Hop Conservative” is the first sitting congressman in 30 years to be arrested on a drug charge. He quickly pleaded guilty Thursday and was sentenced to probation.

Radel issued a statement immediately after his arrest. He blamed alcoholism, which led him “to an extremely irresponsible choice” to buy drugs. He invoked his wife and young son and vowed to get help “so I can be a better man for both of them.” Finally, he noted the “positive side” of his arrest, which offered him “an opportunity to seek treatment and counseling” and a chance to set “an example for other struggling with this disease.” If there’s a note he missed, we’re not aware of it.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Trey Radel, who wasted no time singing every verse of the mea culpa aria.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Respond quickly and own your misdeeds. Had Radel delayed, the initial news story might have dealt only with his arrest. A follow-up would present his apologia, keeping the story alive. He executed well, copping to a lesser offense of alcoholism rather than a problem with illegal drugs. He proffered his “husband and father” bona fides and turned his arrest into an opportunity – a role model for recovery. He also took a near-instant plea, closing his legal proceedings out neatly. Next step? Take a quiet turn in rehab and emerge with  a personal story of  redemption to earn leniency in the court of public opinion.

 

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

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Prince Harry, who will join a team of war veterans trekking to the South Pole to raise awareness for wounded soldiers. The 200-mile race for Walking With the Wounded features three teams comprised of military veterans and a celebrity; Harry is the only celeb who has served in combat. At a reception at Buckingham Palace, the prince introduced the team participants to Queen Elizabeth, addressing her as “Granny.” A charitable effort within character and down-to-earth charm have taken Harry further than the South Pole from the embarrassment of those nude Vegas photos and drunken escapades.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Bloomberg News, which found the journalistic shoe on the other foot courtesy of The New York Times. Quoting at least four employee sources, the Times alleged that Bloomberg intentionally killed provocative news stories about China because the organization feared retribution by the Chinese government. The story continues to percolate despite a vehement denial from Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief, whose refutation essentially claims the stories aren’t dead – they’re just sleeping. The well-sourced and detailed Times account gives an impression of veracity, while Winkler’s quasi repudiation rings hollow. Sometimes “no comment” is the right comment.

NSA The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO the National Security Agency, whose top lawyer told Congress this week the spy agency can’t determine how often it spies on Americans without spying on them more. Robert Litt, general counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy that it would be “very resource-intensive” for the NSA to identify the nationality of people whose data is collected indirectly – for example, the recipients of a surveillance target’s email. Doing so “would perversely require a greater invasion of that person’s privacy,” he said. That prompted Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota to observe: “Isn’t it a bad thing that the NSA doesn’t even have a rough sense of how many Americans have had their information collected under a law … that specifically prohibits targeting Americans?”

Will Christie’s One-Horse Race Lead to Washington?

 Will Christies One Horse Race Lead to Washington?

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Chris Christie.

Does style trump substance? That was the key question in the race for governor of New Jersey. With Chris Christie and Barbara Buono facing off for the coveted seat, name recognition alone was going to tip the scales in this race.

One needn’t be a resident of New Jersey to know Christie. He’s the man who spoke mostly about himself in a speech meant to introduce Mitt Romney to the Republican National Convention as their candidate for president. He was the Republican who crossed party lines by giving a warm welcome, and thanks, to President Obama in the days after Superstorm Sandy. He’s also the official who opposed same-sex marriage in New Jersey, though he quietly dropped a promise to fight it in the Supreme Court.

But did Christie ever really have an opponent? Christie made a memorable stand during Sandy and has kept a high profile since, staying on brand as a straight shooter, poking fun at himself on Letterman and undergoing weight loss surgery as he dealt with media criticism over his appearance. Christie has done it all publicly, with a PR plan that has made everyone think this was a one-horse race.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Chris Christie, returned as governor of New Jersey and possibly a future in Washington DC.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Stand out from the pack, and stay there. At a time when approval of government and its elected officials is at an all-time low, Christie differentiates himself fearlessly. He ranges from being a man of the people to being a brash trash-talker, but everyone knows his name. This is no accident. Find a way to step apart from the pack and then do what it takes to make sure yours is the only name remembered.

Obama Administration’s Epic Tech Fails

 Obama Administrations Epic Tech Fails

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Obama administration’s technical advisors. (Pictured: NSA leaker Edward Snowden)

Earlier this week, President Obama had to call French President Francois Hollande and explain, if he could, why the US was spying on the phone records of over 70 million French citizens. The issue was brought to light by former US National Security Administration contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed NSA secrets to several news agencies months ago. Now more than ever, it is imperative that President Obama’s technical administration locate the fugitive tech expert. Not just to save face; they could actually use his help.

Aside from being unable to locate Snowden, a man of Bourne-movie level abilities to erase every trace of his movements, the Obama administration has lost credibility over the technical glitches on Healthcare.gov, the main portal to signing up for mandatory Obamacare. Yesterday, another gaffe: a Twitter feed that has been revealing embarrassing inside information about foreign policy for the past two years was traced back to Jofi Joseph, an official in the White House’s National Security Staff. #howembarrassing.

Americans have grown uncomfortably accustomed to government failures. A lack of regulations allowed the collapse of the economy. Bipartisanship led to a shutdown. Now the website to register for healthcare doesn’t work, prompting the president to record a video encouraging people to sign up “the old fashioned way,” via phone or in person. Presumably, this video was made around the time of the  call to the French president about the tech guy the CIA can’t find, and before the Twitter revelation.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Obama administration’s technical advisors.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: If you want to do your best, surround yourself with the best. America is not exactly short on technical excellence, yet the president’s cabinet signed off on using ten-year-old technology for Healthcare.gov. The military stands by the accuracy of its drones, yet the US can’t find one guy who’s talked to several major international newspapers, or another guy dissing the White House from inside the White House. The PR solution would be obtaining the best and the brightest to fix the glitches and increase security. Maybe Snowden could provide a reference.

Former US VP Cheney Opens Up in “Heart”

 Former US VP Cheney Opens Up in Heart

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) to former US Vice President Dick Cheney.

How do you revamp the image of someone accused of being heartless? Show that he has a heart – literally. Former US Vice President Dick Cheney’s new book, Heart: An American Medical Odyssey, was published this week. Cheney, who served for eight years under President George W. Bush, kicked off the media on CBS’ 60 Minutes and continued on to the major morning shows.

Cheney is something of a cardiac miracle: he’s suffered five heart attacks and has had surgery to place stents, a pacemaker, and a pump. Finally, in 2012, he had a heart transplant.He waited 20 months for a new heart, nearly double the waiting time of most transplant recipients. No special treatment there.

The book has also provides interesting tidbits about Cheney’s tenure in the Bush White House. For one, his health history prompted him to sign a resignation letter in advance should he ever be alive but incapacitated. His cardiologist also had Cheney’s pacemaker altered so it couldn’t be hacked by a would-be assassin.

But the book serves another purpose. In the twilight of their lives, politicians have been known to contemplate their legacies. Heart shows that the now 72-year-old Cheney, whose nicknames include Darth Cheney and the Dark Lord, is, indeed, human – flesh and blood, just like the rest of us. At least, that’s what the book says.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) to former US Vice President Dick Cheney. Nobody wants to go into that good night known as Dr. Evil.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: (Almost) no one is beyond redemption. When public figures open up about personal struggles or admit to fears, it can often blur the edges of a sharp character or reputation. Perhaps it’s through a memoir (safe but labor intensive) or on Oprah’s couch (riskier, but with a wider audience). In that sense, Cheney is lucky: His bad ticker has given him rich material to mine for such an effort. But can one book soften so many years of harsh criticism? That’s a tall order, and not one for the faint of heart.

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.  

 

Shutdown, Tragedy, Looming Default: Welcome to Washington

 Shutdown, Tragedy, Looming Default: Welcome to Washington

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the United States government.

The fictional town of Sunnydale was the site of the Hellmouth in the popular TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but it’s starting to feel like the true location of the portal to Hades is Washington, DC. Look at the events of the past week alone. First, the government shut down. A few days later, a delusional woman went on an automotive rampage near the Capitol and was shot and killed by Capitol police – who were receiving no pay at the time due to the shutdown. Earlier this week, a man self-immolated on the Washington Mall, motives unknown. And next week, should Congress fail to come to terms, America will hit its debt ceiling and go into default. End times, or what?

The game of high-stakes poker between Congress and President Obama saw much sweat on the Republican side and no blinking from the Oval Office. As of yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner said “I’m not drawing any lines in the sand” about budget issues – a far softer message than was broadcast merely one day ago.

Meanwhile, Congress and the government in general are coming under increasing pressure to get past this problem. Citizens are shouting at their representatives. Petitions to put Congressional paychecks on the same freeze as those of government workers are gaining signatures. And the stock market is flattening as a result of the impending default. How deeply will Washington peer into this abyss?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the United States government. They would have earned an “F,” but we’re saving that for next week.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Remember who you’re fighting for. While Democrats say they’re trying to give Americans affordable health care, and Republicans are saying Americans don’t want it, both sides are receiving substantial paychecks, unlike some of their constituents. The longer the standoff, the more Americans become united – in their increasing ire at their own elected officials. Seems likely that, come voting time, Congresspeople will have hell to pay.

In Congressional Poker Game, Americans Lose

 In Congressional Poker Game, Americans Lose

The PR Verdict: (“F” (Full Fiasco) for Congressional Republicans.

As midnight approached on Monday evening, an end came to the high-stakes poker game the United States Congress has been playing. Specifically, Republicans threatened a government shutdown if President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act wasn’t rolled back for a year, and the President and Congressional Democrats said no. The clock struck twelve, and the United States government shut down for the first time in 17 years.

Government workers received emails telling them not to show up at their jobs and tourists visiting national parks and museums now find signs like the one on Washington DC’s Air and Space Museum: “Sorry for the Inconvenience.” Ironically while most of the government is closed, one thing that remains open is enrollment in the Affordable Care Act.

At the heart of the battle are the Tea-publicans, members of the Republican Tea Party like Sen. Ted Cruz, and Speaker of the House John Boehner, They are sticking to their guns claiming this bad medicine is good for the country. “This may hurt but it’s good for you”  is the PR pitch. A hard sell?

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Ful Fiasco) for Republican members of Congress.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Short term harm only works if there is long term good . It’s difficult to say you’re working for constituents while causing them harm unless you can offer a rainbow at the end. As this contest escalates, the welfare of the public is increasingly lost. Political brinkmanship is what the debate has become and Republicans will need to claw back the PR fallout. As Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said, “Republicans are likely to get the blame”  and its not clear how this “will benefit us more.” Without a clear and happy rainbow at the end, the PR damage looks set to continue.

Senator Cruz’s 21 Hours of Fame

 Senator Cruzs 21 Hours of Fame

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) to Sen. Ted Cruz.

In the US, the “filibuster” is a tactic undertaken by senators to stall a vote on important legislation. In the hands of Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), not only is a filibuster not a filibuster, it’s also an unwise PR move.

US Senate rules allow any senator to hold up the chamber’s agenda by expounding on any topic for as long as that senator can stand and speak. This week, Senator Cruz launched a 21-hour speech in the hopes of “de-funding” President Obama’s national health care reform law. The surprise? After ending his monologue, during which he read from Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham and did Darth Vader impressions, he voted, along with the rest of the Senate, to move on.

To his PR credit, as a freshman representing the conservative Tea Party, Cruz has shaken things up in the typically rigid US Senate, but as many pundits pointed out, the “pseudobuster” was pointless because the law cannot be undone this way. Senate Republican leaders refused to endorse Cruz’s soliloquy against Obamacare and all that was left was the Senator’s dented credibility.

THE PR VERDICT:  “D” (PR Problematic) for Sen. Ted Cruz, who looked like he neither knew what he was getting into, nor how to get out of it.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Changing mid gear looks foolish. As in most places, getting things done in the US Senate requires cooperation and ultimately Cruz will need GOP leaders’ help to be effective as a legislator and to get re-elected. Fine and well to make the headlines but even upstarts have to work within some kind of framework to be successful. No man is an island and for Cruz, he just learnt a PR lesson the hard way.