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.

PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

obamacare logo  PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, whose supporters, including its namesake, had reason to celebrate Monday when enrollments pushed slightly past the original sign-up target of 7 million. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that target for initial sign-up period through March 31. Despite a horribly marred start and with withering opposition at every turn, the mandated healthcare program saw sign-ups somehow make their numbers. And while public opinion is still hardly enthusiastic, one poll did find for the first time that public support for the healthcare law surpassed opposition. Perhaps the rally will prompt lukewarm supporters to stop apologizing and start cheering.

  PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to General Motors’ chief executive Mary Barra, for a defense statement best summed up by “I don’t know.” As the head of GM faced a House subcommittee investigating what the car company knew and when regarding flaws that led to numerous deaths and injuries, Barra’s responses infuriated senators and the families of the deceased alike. PR is in freefall, and GM is still recalling millions of cars and facing possible criminal charges. In leaving Barra to claim ignorance or hang herself and her company, GM’s legal and PR teams register a complete fail.

  PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Britain’s Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, whose editorial boards told a parliamentary science committee they believe humans are negatively impacting global climate conditions. Really? That’s rather confusing considering, as the committee chairman put it, “some papers regularly give a platform to lobby groups or indeed conspiracy theorists – many not even qualified scientists – who pooh-pooh the evidence and attack UK climate scientists.” We are shocked, shocked, to find out that publications, looking to increase readership, might take one view in their papers while believing the exact opposite. Yawn.

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

hijabs The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the Overland High School girls soccer team in Aurora, CO, for a stirring show of solidarity. Last week, referees barred one Muslim player on the team, Samah Aidah, from playing with a hijab on her head, calling it “dangerous.” Never mind that FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, officially permits the practice – not to mention the US Constitution. For the next game, all of Samah’s teammates and coaches wore the traditional Islamic headscarf in support. A tweet by one of the girls with a picture of team, all in headscarves, sent the matter viral. Young people leading by example, again.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) TO Lady Gaga, who continues to have a bad hair year. She fired her longtime manager, and her latest album, ARTPOP, hasn’t sold nearly as well as her previous collection, Born This Way. Now, her Born This Way Foundation, which seeks to “foster a more accepting society,” is under fire. Tax reports for 2012 show that BTWF spent $1.85 million in legal fees, salaries, travel, philanthropic consulting, and $808,661 in “other” expenses. Actual donations? A mere $5000. An example of how celebrity foundations aren’t born bad, they’re made that way.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO newly annointed Federal Reserve Chief Janet Yellen, who tried (and failed) to avoid rattling financial markets by couching her comments at her first press conference. Oh Janet, have you not studied your predecessors’ previous faux pas? After saying “We will try as hard as we can not to be a source of instability here (regarding communications)”, Yellen promptly gave what investors interpreted as a potential timeframe for interest rate increases, and one earlier than they had expected. Was that the message Yellen meant to convey? Who knows — and it doesn’t matter. Stock markets fell, bond yields rose, and the world carries on. PR tip to the head of the Fed:  When it comes to interest rates, “no comment” is the best comment.

More Errors Than Answers in Missing Flight Mystery

 More Errors Than Answers in Missing Flight Mystery

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Malaysian government and Malaysia Airlines. (Pictured: Hishamuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s Minister of Transport.)

At press time, the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was nearing its second week. As time goes by it seems the Malaysian government knows less, rather than more – and what was thought to be known is corrected.

As a NewYorker.com article details, the few facts on hand are fluid. There is the timing of the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, first reported as being turned off 12 minutes before the final communique from the cockpit. Now authorities admit they don’t know when it was switched off. The direction of the plane before it fell off radar was also wrong, costing time and untold millions in wasted search efforts. And while the crew and even passengers were initially not suspected as part of the disappearance, all, especially the pilot and co-pilot, are under intense scrutiny.

Relatives waiting for news of their family members have progressed from shocked to angry, shouting at Malaysian officials at press conferences. Some have become so mistrustful of the information being given, or withheld, that they’ve threatened a hunger strike. Experts, unable to guess what might have happened (with one quiet exception) can only agree on one thing: the Malaysian government has, in trying to handle this situation alone, prolonged and even contributed to the mystery.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Malaysian government.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: In times of disaster, opt for complete transparency. Had Malaysia accepted offered help from the United States and other governments, there might have been at the very least a few more iron-clad answers. Even the US and Russia collaborated at the Olympics to thwart terrorist threats. At this point experts are coming to the conclusion that we may never know what happened to Flight 370. The only thing anyone can be sure of is that in situations such as this, being secretive never pays.

Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

mark zuckerberg Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had just about enough of the government meddling with his website and spying on his users. So last week he called a pal to complain – President Obama.

Zuck casually mentioned the call in a Facebook page post responding to the latest revelation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden (via activist journalist Glenn Greenwald). The story, which the NSA flatly denies, described how government computers masqueraded as Facebook servers to send malware that infected Facebook users’ machines in order to spy on them. The automated process meant the NSA could target millions of users.

In his post, Zuckerberg said he was “confused and frustrated” by the continuing reports of  government surveillance. “When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.”

The White House confirmed the conversation took place but offered nothing more, and nothing will really come of it. Zuck and his tech pals are in the right, of course, but powerless to do anything other than complain – loudly and visibly.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Zuckerberg, who, if immobilized, at least needs to show he’s good and steamed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Talk the walk. In this matter, there seems to be little else that Facebook and other Tech Titans can do, at least publicly. With each new damning revelation, the public trust in sites like Facebook dies a little more, and that directly and dramatically affects the bottom line. When Snowden’s leaks first hit the press, the implication was that Facebook et al were complicit in the spying. That taint has never quite dissipated from the  seemingly interminable storyline. Zuck reached out in an necessary symbolic gesture with his phone call to the President – but it probably ended with, “Thanks, Obama.”

 

 

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.

 

Apple, Major Corporations Take Stand Against AZ Bill

 Apple, Major Corporations Take Stand Against AZ Bill

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Apple, American Airlines, Marriott, and the NFL.

Taking sides on religious issues was previously considered a bad idea for corporations. Better to remain neutral, lest someone – meaning, potential customers with buying dollars – be offended. Those days are over as of this week, when Apple, American Airlines, the Marriott hotel corporation, and the National Football League sent a message to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer: Veto Senate Bill 1062 or suffer economic consequences.

The now-infamous bill legalizes the right of business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians on religious grounds. Gov. Brewer, a conservative, has said she is “undecided” on whether to sign the bill into law.

Her decision may be assisted by threat of corporate boycott. Phoenix, AZ, is host to next year’s SuperBowl, and major corporations are making their non-neutral stance clear. Brewer may want to listen to Apple in particular: the tech giant planned to bring sapphire production to the state, which would have major economic impact – as would its loss. While no official statement came from Apple, Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, summed up the new corporate stance when he wrote to Brewer, “Our economy thrives best when the doors of commerce are open to all.”

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Apple, American Airlines, Marriott, the NFL, and corporations that take a stand against discrimination.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: It’s not always about the bottom line, even when it’s about the bottom line. Discrimination is wrong, period; about that, no one can argue. Even three of the senators who voted for SB 1062 are now urging Gov. Brewer to veto it. Companies never want to alienate customers, but at certain points, the only thing to do is take a strong stance. Sure, the lynchpin here is money. But in past times companies might have been content to say they were “gathering information,” or say nothing at all. Some may still be doing that, but the ones that speak up are the ones that stand out.

Arizona Governor May Win Battle but Lose PR War

Jan Brewer 150x150 Arizona Governor May Win Battle but Lose PR War

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

America is sending decidedly mixed messages to its LGBT citizens. This past weekend’s headlines included clothing chain Banana Republic unveiling an ad campaign with interior designer Nate Berkus and his fiancé Jeremiah Brent. The Brooklyn Nets signed Jason Collins, who becomes the National Basketball League’s first openly gay player. To balance out the notion of acceptance, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer remained undecided on whether to sign a bill allowing businesses to deny service to gay and lesbian customers on the grounds of their religious beliefs.

Whichever way Gov. Brewer decides will cost her. A former small business owner known for her conservative views, she told CNN, “I think anybody that owns a business can choose who they work with or who they don’t work with. But,” she hedged, “I don’t know that it needs to be statutory.” While refusal to sign the bill may anger her religious constituency, signing it would have repercussions as the worlds of advertising and sports accept – and capitalize – upon the LGBT community. As Arizona prepares to host next year’s SuperBowl, companies were already informing the state that it would be dropped as a potential investment location, should the bill pass.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: It’s better to lose the battle and win the war. Brewer, a conservative, may personally align with the bill. But in signing it into law, her state will be identified with discrimination. Tourism will suffer. Arizona will become the target of protests. The businesses so intent on maintaining their religious beliefs by refusing service to gays and lesbians may find themselves with less business overall. SuperBowl advertisers may shrink from the potential for negative publicity via association. In the end, letting go of the bill may be a lose-win situation.

SF Mayor Revises Facts to Fit Friends

edlee SF Mayor Revises Facts to Fit Friends

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is trying to broker peace in his city between the haves and the have-mores – that is, between the middle class and the Next Notch Up. Many of the latter group hail from the tech industry, whose financial and political support helped Lee win office in 2011. Judging from recent published remarks, the mayor might need to recalibrate his socioeconomic bearings to keep his impartial referee’s cap.

Interviewed in Time on how tech wealth has fueled divisions and resentments among residents, Lee conceded that his city might have “missed some steps” in tending to its middle class – and then made a misstep of his own. “We might have a broader range of defining the middle class,” Lee told Time. “I’m talking maybe $80,000 to $150,000.”

That range, as it turns out, is wildly off. As local news outlets reported, census data list median salary in the city at $74,000 as recently as 2012. (It’s about $61,000 for California and $53,000 for the nation.) Upwardly revising the number also rebrands the middle class to embrace the tech block to whom Lee is beholden. Et voila! What middle-class exodus? What’s more, our six-figure friends need government help!

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, for floating a tone-deaf talking point seemingly crafted by a tech sector lobbyist.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Build a ring-fence around your credibility. This is especially true for would-be mediators. The middle ground is the hardest to defend and the slightest tip of the scales one way or the other compromises one’s impartiality and hence effectiveness at bridging gaps. Lee’s infraction of this rule is seemingly minor, but San Francisco is tightly bound, constrained geographically (by water) and politically (by tradition). Like the city’s endemic earthquakes, even small political ripples can do damage and escalate rapidly to major catastrophe. Keep your friends close, indeed – but your facts closer.