Sandberg Leans In

 Sandberg Leans In

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star) for Sheryl Sandberg.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, is currently everywhere, talking about her big idea for America’s working women. Her new book, Lean In, is about “women, work and the will to lead.” Her advice? “Stop leaning back and lean in.”

With some clever and strategic PR, anticipation leading up to the book’s release yesterday had been building. Starting with the Sunday talk shows, Sandberg was in most of the weekend press, followed by ubiquitous appearances on morning radio and TV chat shows. Her message is that women have stalled in their climb upward because they “quietly lean back,” worrying about how they’ll manage family and work commitments sometimes years before the issue is relevant. Sandberg says, keep your foot on the pedal until you need to brake.

Not a new message, but it sounds fresh. There is no mention of the glass ceiling, instead, Sandberg prescribes different wording to give her readers another way to look at an old issue: When you lean back, you lose momentum. How about leaning in and seeing what happens?

THE PR VERDICT: ”A” (PR Perfect) for Sandberg’s repackaging of established material, making a punchy sound bite and media blitz.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Old news can become new news. With a charismatic messenger and punchy sound bite, it is truly astonishing how much coverage and energy Sandberg has garnered for her new book. The secret: an elevator pitch that explains and instructs simultaneously. Sandberg’s message and the phrase  “Lean in” is set to become part of the modern lexicon, as popular as Facebook’s “Friending.” Sandberg has given American women not only timely advice, but also a new way to describe (and solve) and old problem. Smart.

Chik-fil-A and Campus Pride’s Peaceful PR

Windmeyer Cathy 150x150 Chik fil A and Campus Prides Peaceful PR

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Shane Windmeyer (pictured, left) of Campus Pride and Dan Cathy of Chik-fil-A.

Shane L. Windmeyer and Dan Cathy may not be household names, but both are well known in their respective arenas: college students recognize Windmeyer as head of Campus Pride, a vocal advocate for the LGBT community, while business execs know Cathy as CEO of fast-food franchise Chik-fil-A. Their relationship – at least, that of their respective organizations – has been an acrimonious one since last summer, when Cathy’s comments regarding same-sex marriage ignited a firestorm of protests and boycotts on both sides of the issue.

Apparently, that relationship has changed. This week, Windmeyer revealed in his Huffington Post blog that the two men have reached a détente of sorts. According to the editorial, Cathy reached out to Windmeyer to better understand his perspective, even as the embers from last summer’s fracas were still smoldering. The phone call begat a series of additional calls, texts, e-mails, and in-person meetings, culminating in Windmeyer attending the Chik-fil-A Bowl as Cathy’s personal guest on New Year’s Eve.

Even more impressively, Cathy provided Windmeyer with internal documents that show the company has ceased financial support of certain groups perceived as hostile to the gay-rights agenda. As a result of the new peace, Windmeyer used his blog to appeal to Chik-fil-A boycotters to reconsider, noting, “In the end, it is not about eating (or eating a certain chicken sandwich). It is about sitting down at a table together and sharing our views as human beings, engaged in real, respectful, civil dialogue.”

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for both parties. In a time when hotheads are the norm, cooler heads are a refreshing change.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Sometimes the best PR strategy is to take the “public” out of “public relations.” In this case, opening up a private dialogue away from the harsh glare of the media spotlight gave both party representatives room to explore and understand the other’s views. In doing so, both secured concessions from the other and opened up a dialogue that continues to create an entirely different outcome. Might Congress want to take note?

Our Favourite PR Turnarounds of 2012

This year saw some celebrities, companies and even countries turn their own PR corner and we had a hard time choosing our favourite three for 2012. While they haven’t consistently made the headlines, each pick proves that image rehabilitation is always possible.

2013parishilton 150x150 Our Favourite PR Turnarounds of 2012Paris Hilton is ending the year visiting orphans in India and sick children in Los Angeles, routine trips for the 31-year-old celebutante these days. With her name once synonymous with “bad girl”, Ms. Hilton seems to have left the days of sex tapes and cocaine possession behind. She’s revamped her image by staying out of the limelight while showcasing her business acumen, building an eponymous global chain of retail stores and a fragrance line estimated to top $1 billion in sales. Her news clippings, about new shop openings and charitable acts, reflect the reinvention: privileged brat no more. Lindsey, take notice.

 

2013myanmar 150x150 Our Favourite PR Turnarounds of 2012Myanmar, long known for its oppressive regimes, overhauled its image on the world stage with its transition to democracy. 2012 saw ex-political prisoner and Nobel Prize winner Aung Sun Suu Kyi and her party elected to parliament, the lifting of censorship laws to create a nascent free press, and the central bank floating the kyat to allow for normalized investment. President Thein Sein’s reforms have resulted in relaxed U.S. trade sanctions and even prompted a visit from Barack Obama, the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in the former Burma. All this sends a great message to the world: democracy rules!

 

2013AIG 150x150 Our Favourite PR Turnarounds of 2012The U.S. government last week sold off its remaining stake in AIG, the insurer deemed “too big to fail” and the largest recipient of a much-maligned government bailout four years ago. The sale marks one of the most impressive turnarounds in U.S. business history and the resurrection of the AIG name. CEO Robert Benmosche was eloquent in his statement, thanking the country “for giving us the opportunity to keep our promise to make America whole on its investment … Thank you America. Let’s bring on tomorrow.” AIG’s name, like its stock, appears to be on the up and up.

Dept. of Financial Services to Standard Chartered: “J’accuse!”

 Dept. of Financial Services to Standard Chartered: Jaccuse!

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for New York’s Dept. of Financial Services. Great splash, but now what?

What’s the fastest way to generate a headline and claim your PR moment in the sun? How about a surprise PR missile in the middle of a sleepy summer? Announce to the media that colossal wrongdoing has been uncovered, and presto; you now have more publicity than TomKat’s divorce.

Top marks, then, to New York State’s Department of Financial Services (DFS), who late on Monday stunned the markets with an accusation that venerable British bank Standard Chartered was hiding some $250 billion worth of transactions with the Iranian government. Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of the DFS, gave the media a summer gift by calling Standard Chartered a “rogue institution.” He said the firm “carefully planned its deception” of US authorities using “fraudulent” procedures and “forging business records” to stage a “staggering cover-up.” Markets were stunned. Shares in Standard Chartered fell more than 16 percent, and the bank’s executives – as well as other bigwig US regulators, were caught unaware by the revelations.

Eight long hours after the headlines had been screaming of criminal activity, Standard Chartered limped out with a statement. The firm rejected the accusations and said “well over 99.9 per cent” of Iranian transactions complied with US regulations. The sums of money were nothing like $250 billion, more like  $14 million, said one source, a result of  “small clerical errors,” nothing more.

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for New York’s DFS. Great splash, but now what? Where is the chorus of other regulators outraged at this alleged wrongdoing?

The PR Takeaway: Be careful what you wish for. Great job in getting the headlines, but now comes the tough part! Despite the nicely packaged and damning sound bites, it could be lonely out there for NY’s accuser as UK politicians begin to comment that this issue seems more about undermining foreign banking firms than substantive wrongdoing. This story may no longer turn on straightforward “did they or didn’t they” facts, and instead become a wider issue regarding PR grandstanding and regulatory overreach. If that’s the case, the splashy headlines might have been better delayed until all the other regulators were in the pool.

UPDATE: OUCH! Since publication, Standard Chartered have now agreed to a puzzling $340 million penalty. Rather embarrassing for the bank that was so outraged over being publicly shamed for what it said was only $14 million dollars of faulty transactions.  Now the firm has agreed to pay $340 million in penalties… hmm… does this math add up?

Should the DFS have waited until they had backup, or were they right to go ahead and shout “J’accuse!”? Give us your PR Verdict!

Romney’s Offshore Accounts Wash Up Again

 Romneys Offshore Accounts Wash Up Again

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Mitt Romney.

Things are looking a little uncomfortable for Mitt Romney as chatter builds about his offshore tax dealings. Vanity Fair this month went into forensic details over Romney’s affairs, describing the “murky world of offshore finance, revealing loopholes that allow the very wealthy to skirt tax laws.”

While there is no smoking gun, it is clear that Romney’s financial advisers were disciples of tax minimization. Trouble is, no one likes to read about a presidential candidate with offshore accounts. As Newt Gingrich said repeatedly during his campaign, “I don’t know of any American president who has had a Swiss bank account.”

So far Team Romney has given a robust response: Romney’s affairs are in a blind trust and have been for some time. Romney is a smart businessman who doesn’t want to pay more tax than is necessary, but his team insists he pays the full whack of tax, according to U.S. rules, no matter where the assets are located. But is this enough to cut the chatter?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Romney’s handling of the issue so far. But what is the unanswered question that won’t go away?

The PR Takeaway: If a story won’t die, listen carefully for the question that is going unanswered. In this case, Romney’s campaign has done an impressive job in batting back the questions–they have disclosed some (certainly not all) of his tax records and details about his tax bill and trusts. The nagging issue continues to be; why was the money sent  offshore in the first place? Until Team Romney comes up with a convincing soundbite (if there is one), they should keep including the issue in their presidential debate rehearsals.

What do you think about Mitt Romney’s offshore accounts? Give us your PR Verdict, below!