Caribbean Nations Sue Over Slave Trade

 Caribbean Nations Sue Over Slave Trade

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly Okay) for the fourteen Caribbean countries filing suit against nations that made them the victims of slave trade.

The film Twelve Years a Slave was released this past week at a pivotal time – the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. Though the movie focuses on slavery in America, it was made by British filmmaker Steve McQueen, whose parents are from the West Indies by way of the slave trade. A quiet coincidence could be found in latter pages of the news: this weekend, fourteen Caribbean countries damaged by the slave trade announced they will demand apologies, and reparations, from Britain, France, and the Netherlands.

The case is based on the past’s lingering effect on the present, according to the nations. “Our constant search and struggle for development resources is linked directly to the historical inability of our nations to accumulate wealth from the efforts of our peoples during slavery and colonialism,” said Baldwin Spencer, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda. The list of damages they bring to Leigh Day, the London-based law firm representing them, ranges from underdeveloped economies to health issues.

With crimes over two centuries old and, in fact, not legal crimes when they were committed, reparations seem unlikely. However, settlements may be reached, bringing the Caribbean nations some of what they wanted: money, and acknowledgment.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly Okay) for the fourteen Caribbean countries filing suit against nations that made them the victims of slave trade.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: There are strings attached to every endeavor. History has a way of being forgotten unless brought up in ways that can make a weary world take note, as with Twelve Years a Slave‘s release on an historically significant anniversary. While the Caribbean countries may have wanted more than mere acknowledgment of barbarity, asking for reparations may be a stretch. Should modern-day nations pay for injustices committed centuries ago? Whether the courts decide may be beside the point. What was desired was acknowledgment and money, and the nations still suffering may get some of both – along with discussion as to whether these kinds of wrongs can ever be righted.

 

Austere Today, Gone Tomorrow?

 Austere Today, Gone Tomorrow?

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the proponents of austerity, who continue to lose a losing battle.

What now for the proponents of austerity? Up until last month it seemed they had won the policy and PR debate. With disciples across Europe and the US, and with Angela Merkel as its high priestess, fiscal restraint was positioned as a dose of much needed tough medicine. The mantra was clear; no pain, no gain. Politically unassailable, this was one helluva PR launch with some influential backers. Over the last month, however, things have become a little more complicated: austerity may have lost its PR claim as a cure all.

Last week, economists at the University of Massachusetts reviewed calculations cited in Growth In a Time of Austerity, the bible for those justifying tightened fiscal policy, as flawed. The claim? The research published in January 2010 by Harvard University included “selective exclusion of available data and unconventional weighting of summary statistics.” The case for austerity is now not so clear.

Since then, austerity seems to be losing more and more PR steam. EU nations are sliding deeper into recession, with unemployment in Spain and Greece topping 30 percent. In Britain, austerity is responsible for a limp 0.3 percent growth, while Germany, the champion of austerity, is teetering on the edge of recession. Has austerity fallen out of fashion? The headlines would seem to suggest that less has not added up to more.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the proponents of austerity, who continue to lose  a losing battle.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Product launches can teach us something about ideological launches. If austerity was a consumer product, it would now be sitting on the supermarket shelves unloved and unwanted. Why? Because not one of its proponents have been able to demonstrate tangible benefits. Despite a big and loud launch, its advocates seem to be retreating into the shadows. Where are the business leaders confirming they are hiring in the face of cutbacks? Without some simple proof points and enthusiastic advocates, this is one launch that might have seen its brief vogue run right out of steam and into the dustbins of economic history.

 

David Cameron’s Great Expectations

 David Camerons Great Expectations

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a speech promising to hold a referendum on Britain’s future in the EU by 2017. By then, he said, his government would be able to work with its European partners on reforms towards his vision of a better EU – in his words, more flexible, more adaptable, more open. At that point, he proposed, Brits should decide to stay in or get out.

The speech itself was direct, upfront, thoughtful, and inclusive.  It was passionate where appropriate, describing the UK approach as “practical rather than emotional.” There were concessions for every interest group: sufficient criticism to please at home, but nothing so deeply offensive as to justify open outrage by powerful partners abroad. No obvious blunders, no mistakes; just smart speechwriting at its best.

Although debatable that the “EU issue” was  top-of-mind for British people, they will now rightly expect their government to get it resolved. Was Cameron’s tactic to appease the conservative UK press and the euro-sceptics in his own party? If so, did it buy him time to focus on more important issues, or has he seriously jeopardized his political future? From a communications perspective, he opened up not one but many Pandora’s boxes and inspired a myriad of expectations. Was this the intention?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for David Cameron. Be wary of creating expectations that you may not want to meet.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Only promise what you can deliver. Communicating always involves creating and managing expectations, and in complex situations, different stakeholders’ expectations inevitably diverge. Even if the public pressure is almost unbearable (and it seems it wasn’t in this case) controversy is almost never resolved by creating new expectations. When you can’t control expecations and aren’t certain of the outcome, then it’s usually the most vocal who demand their stance be taken. This is one speech Cameron may come to regret.

 

 

 

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.

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