The Michelle Obama of China?

 The Michelle Obama of China?

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Peng Liyuan, China’s new First Lady.

Ever heard of Peng Liyuan? Watch out, she may soon become a household name. In a stark departure from regimes past, incoming Chinese President Xi Jinping is carving out an important role for his wife Peng Liyuan. Is she the new PR weapon for China?

China’s First Lady, Ms. Peng will have her own speaking engagement at an upcoming conference for the economic powerhouse nations of the new century.  The countries commonly known as BRICS include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Held in South Africa at the end of March, it’s an important venue for the new president and the promotion of Ms. Peng is a shrewd move.

A folk singer known for her passionate renditions of patriotic songs, Ms. Peng is far better known than her husband Mr. Xi, until his relatively recent political ascent. She is glamorous, reportedly a warm personality, and has already demonstrated her “issues-ability” in her role as Goodwill Ambassador for the World Health Organization on HIV and tuberculosis. With this pedigree and the support of her husband, will she stand alongside Michelle Obama, Jackie Kennedy, and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy as one of the world’s most significant First Ladies?

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Peng Liyuan. She represents the “softer side” of China, a side that the world is curious to glimpse.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Charm charms. Even totalitarian states understand that in the age of smartphones and Twitter, they need to do more than issue propagandized press releases. Somehow they need to be likeable.  By giving his wife a profile, China’s new strongman is softening his own image and ultimately that of his country. In addition to giving his wife a PR platform, he has been recently quoted by the media joking with U.S. schoolchildren and kicking a football in Ireland. In old China, these media opportunities would not have happened, much less been publicized. This new president and his wife are already laying the groundwork for a PR charm offensive. Stay tuned.

Ralph Lauren’s Olympic Disaster

 Ralph Laurens Olympic Disaster

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Ralph Lauren

Oh no! The blue blazers and white trousers of the US Olympic team aren’t made in the USA? The clothing that athletes from Team USA will wear was actually made in China? Outrageous! Ralph Lauren, who has proudly supplied the US Olympic team with its uniforms over the years, suddenly found itself in the ugly crossfire of the outsourcing debate.

The fracas started when both Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi got wind that the uniforms were made in China. What a great media opportunity! The clothes have been Chinese-made since 2008, but oddly enough no one seemed to mind then, when outsourcing wasn’t such a hot political issue. This time around, everyone wanted to get on board. And when Donald Trump becomes the latest to start publicly opining, it’s definitely time to take remedial action.

Ralph Lauren issued a statement late on Friday night, presumably to kill weekend drumbeating, saying that the clothes will be made on US soil next  time:  “We have committed to producing the opening and closing ceremony Team USA uniforms in the United States that will be worn for the 2014 Olympic Games.”

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Ralph Lauren for recognizing this was an issue with no winnable defense. Take corrective action, quickly, and move on.

The PR Takeaway: Issue your response and then elevate the topic to wider macro concerns. There is no upside in advocating outsourcing, particularly when it involves national symbols. No matter that other US fashion houses of similar standing would have done the same. Next step, make it clear that this is a wider issue. The firm said it will take the lead in the  “conversation” within the industry and government  about “manufacturing in the United States.” See? This issue wasn’t about Ralph Lauren… it was about the state of US manufacturing! Nothing personal.

What’s your opinion of the US Olympic team uniform debate? Give us your PR Verdict!

Did The Dalai Lama Really Want To Share That?

dalai lama21 Did The Dalai Lama Really Want To Share That?

The PR Verdict: “D” for the Dalai Lama

Does the Dalai Lama have a PR? Watching his interview on CNN, the most likely response is no.  Or if he does, is there some deliberate policy afoot to connect with the public in a different way?  Wednesday’s interview with host Piers Morgan was affable enough but may have left some of his admirers and followers wondering.

In a wide-ranging interview he discussed China, free speech, and ongoing protests by Tibetans.  Describing the death of recent protestors as “very sad” he urged China to be more realistic when addressing issues of civil unrest.  He also praised the Arab spring in principle, saying it was “very good”.  Fine so far.

Then came the more personal questions asked of His Holiness.  While celibate, he conceded he looks at women and thinks, “that’s very nice”.   If tempted, he reminds himself, “I am a monk – I am always a monk.”   Surprisingly, among the people he admires most, is George W. Bush.  “Some of his policies may not be very successful,” the Dalai Lama conceded, “but as a person, as a human being, very nice person. I love him.”  Who knew?

The PR Verdict: “D” for the Dalai Lama and the mystique of a spiritual leader.  Accessibility and everyday observations, while making him approachable, inevitably distract from solemnity and gravitas.

PR Takeaway:  Gravitas depends on a certain level of inaccessibility.  It’s a tough call to be a spiritual leader while also being available for a lengthy friendly interview.  The Pope and Queen Elizabeth learnt this long ago.  Disclose little about oneself, and then only rarely.  Above all keep it high level.  As soon as a chatty interview strays into “loving” a still-polarizing former US president, the relationship between His Holiness’s followers and who they might imagine him to be,  inevitably changes.  What would the Pope and the Queen tell Piers in their interview?

To read and see parts of the interview click here.

What’s your PR Verdict on the interview?

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What To Think About Bo Guagua’s Letter?

bo guagua story top2 300x168 What To Think About Bo Guaguas Letter?

PR Verdict: “C” for Bo Guagua, son (left) of Bo Xilai (right)

The Bo Xilai scandal and hints of a Chinese power struggle continue to grip those who understand it while the rest of us wonder why everyone involved in the scandal has such complicated names.  The plot has thickened yet again.  Bo Guagua, son of the once powerful Bo Xilai and a student at Harvard, has sent an open letter to his university’s newspaper to set the record straight.

Missing in action for several weeks, twenty-four year old Bo Guagua’s letter in the Harvard Crimson disappoints, reading as no more than a feeble attempt to drown out claims he was a party boy.  Were these the details we were waiting for, given that Chinese media have connected him tangentially with the suspected poisoning of British businessman Neil Heywood and his mother a key suspect?

The key points from the letter:  No, he does not drive a red Ferrari.  He did not get favorable treatment at Oxford or Harvard.  He is studious!   And his education was partly paid by scholarship.  What a good boy!

PR Verdict: “C” for Bo Guagua.  The Crimson was always a going to be a bigger pushover than the NYTimes or one of its peers, so it was wise to go there and have his message published without edits and additional questions.  But to what end?

PR Takeaway:  Moving the dial in the public arena requires taking a stand. This letter speaks only of peripheral issues and oddly focuses on the author only.  Not a word in support of either parent, concerns regarding the Chinese judicial system or conversely public support for the system, to curry favor with Chinese authorities.  The world is only too eager to hear from the son of both a powerful government official and a mother under investigation for murder.  He has the power to throw unwelcome spanners in the works.  Next time he might want to give the media a little more to go on.

To read the letter click here and to read more click here.

What’s your PR Verdict on this open letter?

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Asian Women, Racial Stereotypes and How Not to Win a Senate Seat.

debbiespenditnow Asian Women, Racial Stereotypes and How Not to Win a Senate Seat.

THE PR VERDICT: "D" a resounding flop!

We’re more than a little stunned by the latest negative campaign ad, sponsored by U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra against incumbent Debbie Stabenow.

The thirty-second ad opens with the sound of a gong and a young Asian woman riding a bike near rice paddies. The woman stops her bike in the Asian landscape (actually California) and says in vaguely broken English, “You borrow more and more from us. Your economy gets very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you.”

If the intent was to generate national headlines and controversy then full marks to the genius that dreamt this up.  In thirty seconds the ad successfully offended Asian Americans, and alarmed Hoekstra’s own Republican leadership which immediately sought to distance itself from the ad.

The PR Verdict: “D” a resounding flop. The ensuing publicity has focused solely on Hoekstra’s questionable judgment and nothing else. How does this help his campaign?

Hoekstra’s campaign defends the ad as “satirical”.  Does this mean harmless? If so, why not substitute the Asian woman with a range of other stereotypes and wait for belly laughs from the audience?  Is Hoekstra running for the senate or trying to get as job as an intern at Saturday Night Live?


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Taking A Bite Out Of Apple

apple Taking A Bite Out Of AppleApple’s record-breaking financial results have been overshadowed by a NYTimes investigation concerning health and safety at Apple’s supplier factories abroad.

The NYTimes traced the death of a 22-year-old worker at a factory in China, run by one of Apple’s key suppliers. Experts deemed the accident avoidable.  Unnamed Apple executives were quoted anonymously, claiming that while they had programs to monitor and audit suppliers, urgent market pressures sometimes took priority over safety.

Meanwhile, Apple officially declined comment. Given its publicly stated commitment to safety and its established Code of Conduct for suppliers, this was a missed opportunity.

The PR VERDICT: “C” for Apple.  Better steps should have been taken. Silence in this case can only lead to further suspicion.

Start with a statement that says Apple was distressed and disturbed by the allegations.  Then reiterate that nearly 300 audits of suppliers are completed annually all over the world and that Apple has an established management infrastructure to deal with this issue. Finally, confirm that the case raised by the NYTimes will now have the highest internal priority.

Don’t let the NYTimes have the last say.

To read the full article click here