Joan Juliet Passes the Buck on Vogue

 Joan Juliet Passes the Buck on Vogue

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Joan Juliet Buck.

Pity poor Joan Juliet Buck, Vogue stalwart and roving editor, who has come under intense scrutiny following her now infamous Vogue article on Asma Assad, wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad. Written and published shortly before civil war broke out, Buck’s glowing profile, entitled “A Rose in the Desert,”  now looks impossibly ill judged. History will remember Asma as the consort of a ruthless dictator, and Vogue as being on the wrong side of the story.

But now Buck is fighting back. Sick and tired of having her name ridiculed as the author of the ultimate PR puff piece, she has broken her silence and given her version of how the article came about. It seems her editors at Vogue  misinterpreted the Arab spring as a storm in a teacup, as did the rest of the world. Buck’s explanation makes compelling reading. Published on The DailyBeast with an accompanying broadcast interview, Buck portrays herself as a writer uneasy with what she has been tasked to do but who went on regardless.

The blame, it seems, lies in equal parts. Buck is very clear that politics and foreign relations were not her area of expertise. She writes that she visited Syria “and understood nothing.” Though not entirely seduced by her hosts and wary of phone taps and hacks into her laptop, she was more concerned with filing her story than exploring simmering discontent. Buck paid the price, with Vogue severing relations with her after more than twenty years.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) to Joan Juliet Buck for an insightful and fascinating read. She lets the facts speak for themselves. No one is covered in glory.

The PR Takeaway: In matters of setting the record straight, focus less on blame and more on letting facts speak for themselves. Buck has endured substantial personal and professional ridicule since her article was published. Her version of events is a thrilling read. She portions little blame but makes the point that it’s easy to be wise after the event. The Assads were visited by Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Sting, Angelina and Brad, and Francis Ford Coppola during their PR push. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; Buck’s reputation may not be so damaged after all.

 

Vogue’s Syrian Faux Pas

 Vogues Syrian Faux Pas

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Anna Wintour and Vogue.

The high priestess of fashion has (finally) spoken. After what seemed like months, Anna Wintour, Editor of American Vogue, uttered her first words of explanation about the fashion bible’s notoriously glowing profile about Asma Assad, wife of the Syrian dictator. Hailed as the modern face of reform in the Arab World, Assad was described by Vogue as “the “freshest and most magnetic of first ladies . . . a rose in the desert.” Not long after publication, the Syrian tanks started rolling and government-sanctioned executions of dissenters began.

Vogue writer Joan Juliet Buck initially seemed embarrassed to have written the article but was later oddly unrepentant.  When questioned about the piece, her startling reply was that Asma Assad  was “extremely thin and very well dressed, and therefore qualified to be in Vogue.”

Ice Queen Wintour finally caved in to a rumbling chorus from pressure groups asking what Vogue could have been thinking?  Issuing a full statement on Sunday, she said in part, “Like many at the time, we were hopeful that the Assad regime would be open to a more progressive society…  We deplore the actions of the Assad regime in the strongest possible terms.”

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Anna Wintour and Vogue, who turned the page on their faux pas. As the situation in Syria worsens, this was not going to go away.

PR Takeaway: Hindsight gives ample cover, and it’s always in fashion as a PR explanation. Why be embarrassed? Dictator Assad and his attractive, educated, investment banker wife were known to have actively pursued a PR profile in the West. Wintour and Vogue can hardly be blamed when much of the West was participating in the very same love-in. But in order to maintain credibility, it’s best to say “Oops” and move on. Vogue, along with many others, had the cashmere pulled over their eyes. Wintour says the “priorities and values”’ of the Assads are completely at odds with the values of Vogue. At least now, Vogue is on the right side of the debate.

Can Asma Assad Ignore This Video?

asma assad33 300x168 Can Asma Assad Ignore This Video?

The PR Verdict: “C” for style and content which never really differentiated itself from what's already out there.

What was Asma Assad’s reaction when she looked at her inbox yesterday?  The wife of the notorious Syrian dictator has been sent an open letter in the form of a video, by the spouses of the German and British ambassadors to the UN.  The video urges Syria’s first lady to help end the bloodshed in her country.

The four-minute clip has been disseminated to news sites globally.  Contrasting the images of dead and injured children with photos of Asma looking chic and modernising, it urges her to speak out on behalf of all mothers.  “Stop being a bystander” the video implores and “take action!”

Huberta von Voss Wittig and Sheila Lyall Grant, the two spouses in question,  say the video was made on their own initiative.  But strangely they are nowhere in the video.  Infact the clip could have been made by anyone, with nothing about it to indicate it’s theirs.  Suddenly their conviction seems lukewarm,  laying themselves open to accusations that they have been cajoled into lending their name only.

The PR Verdict: “C” for style and content which never really differentiated itself from what’s already out there.   Good intentions no doubt,  but the urgency of the issue needed a stronger and more distinctive voice.

PR Takeaway:  Use differences to make a difference.  What gave this video global attention was who produced it.  So why not take a stand in the video directly?  Make the demands yourselves and even better, ask a couple of prominent Arab women to join.  This clip needed to look different from any other campaigning organisation’s efforts.  Answer? Make it intensely personal and in so doing, almost impossible for Asma to turn the other cheek.

To see the video and to read more click here.

What’s your PRV on this?

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Has Asma Assad Handed The Rebels A Gift?

asmaassad Has Asma Assad Handed The Rebels A Gift?

The PR Verdict: “A” for the rebels releasing Asma's emails.

The Syrian uprising has come up with a new PR weapon.  The Guardian has released a treasure trove of over 3,000 emails between President Assad, his wife  Asma, and their court cronies.  The emails show Syria’s ruling couple wildly out of touch and oddly untroubled as their country implodes.

Of particular interest is Asma Assad’s correspondence with decorators and jewellers in France and Switzerland, written while her husband continues ordering the destruction of rebel stronghold Homs.  Giving new meaning to the term “fiddling while Rome burns”,  Asma Assad is documented ordering high-priced shoes, accessories and furniture from Europe.  ”I am still hoping you can send me a sample for the dark wood alternative” she requested of one French furniture supplier, four months into the uprising.

Asma Assad, who American Vogue previously named the “rose in the desert” is now guaranteed a place in the history books for all the wrong reasons.

The PR Verdict: “A” for the Syrian rebels who released Asma’s emails.   For a news cycle that was tiring of images of military devastation, this puts the issue back in the headlines and reignites the pressure to remove a dictator.

Fashion’s former darling of the Middle East has just become the byword for a corrupt and  an out-of-touch system.  History is littered with spouses who become symbols for their husband’s excesses, embodying greed, reckless indifference and a lightning rod for gross mismanagement.  Following in the tradition of Marie Antoinette, Imelda Marcos and Elena Ceaușescu, Asma Assad is set to join the club of women who history does not remember fondly and in turn, has become a great PR weapon for the regime’s opponents.

To see pictures of Asma’s spending spree click here . To read more about the emails click here

What’s your PR verdict? Does this help the rebels?

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