Saying Almost Nothing Can Be Everything

3c0bfc70047cd9211fdfddb22528f6d3 300x2251 150x150 Saying Almost Nothing Can Be Everything

PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Terri Lynn Land.

Turning the tables on one’s opponent can also work in PR. That’s what Republican US Senate hopeful Terri Lynn Land of Michigan has done with her first campaign ad, a 30-second spot entitled “Really? that  pokes fun at her rival, Democratic Rep. Gary Peters.

Peters asserts that Land, a former secretary of state in Michigan, is part of a “war on women.” It’s an accusation in the vein of that old leading question “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Say “yes” and you cop to the transgression, but saying “no” implies it’s still going on — and trying to explain yourself just keeps the issue alive. In her ad, Land appears on screen and says Peters “want[s] you to believe I’m waging a war on women. Really? Think about that for a moment.” As campy music starts up, Land sips her coffee, shakes her head and checks her watch before the ad concludes with an overtone of her saying “I’m Terri Lynn Land and I approve this message because, as a woman, I might know a little more about women than Gary Peters.”

Simple and amusing, the ad hit its mark. “It seems to work,” The Daily Caller says. “It’s tough, but also fun.” The clever commercial also caught the attention of the big media guns like Time magazine, The Washington Post and National Public Radio. Talk about bang for your ad-buying buck.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Terri Lynn Land, a relative unknown whose ad put her on the national radar.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: It takes two to tango. When a damaging accusation is made, take a deep breath and try to figure out how to bat it down without directly engaging. Land’s execution was flawless. The gauntlet was thrown so she had to act, but she did so in a mocking way that makes her look smart and her opponent look aggressive and silly. It’s also a nice departure from the relentlessly negative political ads that permeate the airwaves. For Land, saying almost nothing said everything.

The PRV 2013 Final Grade: And the “F” Goes to…

Healthcare Exchanges The PRV 2013 Final Grade: And the F Goes to...THE PR VERDICT’S “F” (FULL FIASCO) grade goes to HealthCare.gov, the website hub for US citizens to sign up for government-supplied health insurance. A long hoped-for dream of affordable healthcare for Americans, and what Barack Obama surely thought would be his presidential legacy, has turned into what is generally described as a nightmare.

Getting the Affordable Health Care Act bill passed seemed the hard part. The next step was constructing a website that would be easy to navigate and able to handle an onslaught of Americans in need of insurance. But surely this would be a cinch for Microsoft or Apple or any of America’s tech giants. Maybe, if they’d gotten the contract, or even been consulted.

From the start, HealthCare.gov was a disaster. The site bounced users off, refused to save their data, or was impossible to log onto. Worse, the few who did manage to get on and didn’t want to change their plans suddenly found themselves without insurance. The President’s angry promises to get the site fixed were empty next to facts emerging from a commission (yes, things went that bad). Not enough testing, wrong mainframe, blah tech excuse blah. Only this week has Microsoft been called in, but help arrived too late to save this story.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Under-promise and over-deliver. It’s easy to see why President Obama would have wanted to offer affordable healthcare as soon as possible. Now, in hindsight, it’s easy to see why he should have waited. The achievement is one thing, implementation an entirely different animal. Whether looking at a presidential legacy or a small business breaking sales expectations with a big account, plan. Factor in worst-case scenarios. Hire the best consultants. When the back-slapping over a major win is done, take a hard look at what’s ahead to see that your promise doesn’t become an error fail.

Health Exchange Site Needs Intensive Care

Healthcare Exchanges Health Exchange Site Needs Intensive Care

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Healthcare.gov’s rocky rollout.

Among the great gifts US Congressional Republicans gave to President Obama in their 16-day quixotic government shutdown was deep cover for the abysmal rollout of Healthcare.gov, the website where uninsured Americans can (and must) sign up for health insurance. The federal government site is the go-to for the 6-in-10 uninsured consumers who live in states that, for political reasons, refused to set up their own healthcare exchanges.

Regardless of where one stands on Obamacare, the rollout has been a slow-motion disaster plagued by technical glitches, politics, restrictive government contracting requirements – there’s a long list. And now that  the foundering ship of state has been righted and set back on course, attention is shifting to the implementation problems, and criticism is crossing party lines.

In remarks Monday, Obama hit the “no excuse” soundtrack for the technical problems and vowed a quick and substantive fix, but repairs could take weeks. The administration has highlighted the volume of site traffic (overwhelming) and successful registrations (respectable) but is still playing off its back foot amid rising calls for someone’s head – perhaps even that of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sibelius. A quick fix is mandatory.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) to the Obama administration, for not responding fast or loud enough to address Obamacare’s web-based woes.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Own the conversation on your product or service. Admirers of the nimble, shoot-and-move communications strategy of Obama’s presidential campaigns surely wish the same could be seen in how his administration has addressed the healthcare rollout glitches. Obama & Co. need to redirect the conversation. They’ve taken the first step with Obama’s “mad as hell” mea culpa. Now it’s time to find and promote successes, get ahead of the critics, provide a date for when things will be fixed – and prepare for someone to take the fall.  

 

In Congressional Poker Game, Americans Lose

 In Congressional Poker Game, Americans Lose

The PR Verdict: (“F” (Full Fiasco) for Congressional Republicans.

As midnight approached on Monday evening, an end came to the high-stakes poker game the United States Congress has been playing. Specifically, Republicans threatened a government shutdown if President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act wasn’t rolled back for a year, and the President and Congressional Democrats said no. The clock struck twelve, and the United States government shut down for the first time in 17 years.

Government workers received emails telling them not to show up at their jobs and tourists visiting national parks and museums now find signs like the one on Washington DC’s Air and Space Museum: “Sorry for the Inconvenience.” Ironically while most of the government is closed, one thing that remains open is enrollment in the Affordable Care Act.

At the heart of the battle are the Tea-publicans, members of the Republican Tea Party like Sen. Ted Cruz, and Speaker of the House John Boehner, They are sticking to their guns claiming this bad medicine is good for the country. “This may hurt but it’s good for you”  is the PR pitch. A hard sell?

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Ful Fiasco) for Republican members of Congress.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Short term harm only works if there is long term good . It’s difficult to say you’re working for constituents while causing them harm unless you can offer a rainbow at the end. As this contest escalates, the welfare of the public is increasingly lost. Political brinkmanship is what the debate has become and Republicans will need to claw back the PR fallout. As Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said, “Republicans are likely to get the blame”  and its not clear how this “will benefit us more.” Without a clear and happy rainbow at the end, the PR damage looks set to continue.

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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to President Obama for his artful handling of Congress regarding possible military involvement in Syria. Global concern about the Syrian civil war soared after more than 1500 civilians were believed killed in government-led chemical weapons attacks. Taking a political gamble, Obama announced he supports limited intervention but would require Congressional approval to move forward. The savvy move effectively forces Republicans to align themselves with the White House on an issue that’s far from popular with the American people. Within days, senior Congressional Republicans lined up behind the prez. If the measure passes in next week’s vote, the US will present a united front. If it fails, it will be due to Republican leaders’ inability to garner support. Either way, Obama wins.

John McCain plays on iPho 010 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to US Senator John McCain, caught playing poker on his iPhone during a Senate committee hearing to discuss US military intervention in Syria. The hawkish Arizona Republican is a strong proponent for use of force in response to the gassing of civilians in that country’s two-year civil war, and his advocacy is likely to be critical in upcoming Congressional votes to authorize military action. But at the hearing Tuesday, his mind was apparently elsewhere, as an alert Washington Post photographer discovered. “Scandal! Caught playing iPhone game at 3+ hour Senate hearing – worst of all I lost!” McCain posted on his Twitter feed. But the attempt at deflection only drew more criticism. “That hearing sounds so boring though. Hope it wasn’t about anything important,” tweeted one.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to JCPenny, for dumping their embattled Martha Stewart line of home goods. The colorful kitchen and home collection caused was a disaster from the start, when Stewart assured the venerable retailer that her exclusive contract with Macy’s wasn’t that exclusive. Actually, yes, it was, ruled a judge. The lawsuit cost millions, as well as JCP’s then-CEO Ron Johnson his job. This week, the whole magilla was resolved when current JCP CEO Mike Ullman cleared shelves of Stewart designs that, after all was said and nearly done, weren’t selling anyway. That, apparently, is the way the cookie plate crumbles.

Pelosi Makes Old News, New News

Screen Shot 2013 05 20 at 7.14.18 AM 139x150 Pelosi Makes Old News, New NewsNot everyone likes Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives. That much is clear. She is described by the Financial Times as “a kind of liberal piñata for Republicans,” and “a ready-made hate-figure for conservatives.” She recently gave an interview to the paper in its informal weekend format, Lunch with the FT.  Was this interview an attempt to set the record straight? An informal make over?

There are many reasons to give interviews to the media. Sometimes it’s to make an announcement, to launch and idea, or to set the record straight. Sometimes it is to simply make your case again. Nancy Pelosi, at the age of 73, gave her lunch interview to the Financial Times with one key message: business as usual.

What’s noteworthy about the interview is that there is no new PR messaging and no real news. Given her age and her congressional seniority the key takeaways were that she remains a defiant and unapologetic liberal (“proudly so”) and that she continues in her role as the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, a task of endless complication. Described as “brutally effective” in her role, the FT claims Obama’s “signature legislative achievements such as healthcare reform would have never become law” without her. At this point in her tenure, the need to establish a base and to outreach with new messaging now seems to be behind her.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Nancy Pelosi and an interview that was more of the same.

The PR Takeaway: Simply staying on track can be the message. What’s noteworthy about this article is how little new ground it breaks. Pelosi’s messaging is exactly as one might have expected but packaged in an interview format that revolves around an informal lunch, makes the messaging sounds less political and self promotional. In PR, if you want to make your point but don’t have anything new to say, change the venue and the format and keep the messaging on track. What is old news can pass as new news.

Is Chris Christie Shaping Up for President?

 Is Chris Christie Shaping Up for President?

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Chris Christie.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie has been the subject of much political speculation in recent months, with both Democrats and Republicans wondering whether he’ll make a bid for the presidency. The one major obstacle? Christie’s weight. The media constantly debates whether possible health problems might keep him out of the big chair in the Oval Office. Christie has apparently taken on this issue; this past Tuesday, he revealed that he’d secretly had lap band surgery to lose weight.

Christie has been one of the more interesting possibilities as a Republican candidate, both despite and because of his seeming lack of rigid allegiance to his party.Republicans have to like Christie because, well, he’s a Republican. But Democrats like the way he occasionally dances on their side of the floor. No one, however, likes the idea of a President who might develop health problems while in office.

While Christie does not have any of the diseases typically associated with obesity, such as diabetes or hypertension, and has referred to himself as “the healthiest fat guy around,” everyone is aware that at his current weight, Christie is not a presidential contender. Hence, the lap band surgery. It’s less invasive and drastic than conventional weight-loss surgery, and Christie apparently recovered from the procedure over a long weekend – President’s Day weekend, to be exact. Hint, hint.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Chris Christie. He’s more willing than a Texan beauty pageant contestant to do what it takes to win.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When issues are presented repeatedly and chip away at one’s PR, take action. Christie has tried joking his way out of charges that he’s too heavy to be a presidential contender. He tried saying he’s healthy. But when the issue blocking him from serious consideration for candidacy persisted, he took action. When charges won’t go away, they must be dealt with. The loss of an issue is a gain for positive PR. 

 

Republicans Face Harsh Realities, Rebranding

 Republicans Face Harsh Realities, Rebranding

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Priebus and the RNC.

“Scary,” “narrow-minded,” and “the party of stuffy old men.” Those are just some of the ways the Republican party  describes itself in an unvarnished 100-page report released by the Republican National Committee (RNC) this week. Commissioned by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus following the 2012 presidential election, the so-called “autopsy report” identifies the party’s major flaws in attracting voters and recommends big cultural change to help Republicans win the next time around.

The candid nature of the report makes it interesting reading. One of the major issues identified is the party’s failure to appeal to younger voters and minorities, two of the largest growing voting demographics. “Public perception of the party is at record lows,” the report notes. “Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.”

This public soul-searching is unprecedented for a national political party. While some Republicans are bristling at the release of the report, others laud the RNC for taking such a dramatic step. One thing everyone should be able to agree on it is that change is needed: Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, a seismic shift from the prior two decades. Perhaps this report is the blueprint for the Republican party’s future?

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Priebus and the RNC. Acknowledging failures is never easy, but every turnaround needs a first step.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: True rebranding is an inside-out job. The invasive nature of a well-done rebranding process sometimes comes as a surprise to corporate leaders, who falsely assume they are simply signing up  a new logo, not a massive corporate  rethink.  A rebrand is a major undertaking that involves the acceptance of harsh truths and a commitment to making fundamental changes. A new name or logo change may be an important part of the equation, but they’re not the end result. Fortunately for companies (unlike political parties), the dirty linen can usually be examined more privately.

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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) TO John McAfee. The billionaire computer programmer played a monthlong game of “Catch me if you can” with authorities in Belize, who said they merely wanted to talk to McAfee about the death of his neighbor. McAfee then went on the run and into hiding – rather publicly, as he bragged to reporters about his disguises and blogged about his escapes. Authorities tried to portray McAfee as crazy; maybe crazy like a fox. Whether he’s delusional, addicted to attention, or he truly believes he’s in danger of being held for murder, McAffee is milking his “wanted man” adventure for all it’s worth. The public shakes its collective head…and keeps right on watching. We might be witnessing a myth in the making.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) TO Anne Hathaway. So, what was the reaction to the release of the multimillion dollar film version of the hit play Les Miserables? Any chance of immediate reviews was over before Hathaway even climbed out of her limo at the Paris premiere. She opted to go commando under her designer gown, which afforded her far less coverage than the paparazzi gave. “We’ve seen a lot of you lately,” chortled Today Show host Matt Lauer during the actress’s morning show appearance. To her credit, Hathaway drew a parallel between the unfortunate incident and her prostitute character in Les Miz, but the clever soundbite was all but lost; alas, one revealing picture is worth a thousand well-planned words. The PR machine on this one was well and truly blindsided.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO: Fiscal cliff “negotiators.” The ongoing eleventh-hour skirmish over federal tax increases and spending cuts is set for January 1, 2013. Americans are deeply weary of partisan gridlock in Washington, and perpetuating it continues to further tarnish the reputations of both political parties. With President Obama’s decisive win just six weeks old, Republicans might be well-advised to agree to tax hikes on the wealthy in exchange for a few key areas on which they can loudly claim victory with the majority of their constituents. This is a PR battle where being the hold-out is no longer the winning strategy. Since the election, the game has changed; the first side to make a decisive move  will give the country some much-needed peace (and quiet) this holiday season.

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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (GOLD STAR!) TO: Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase. Nothing beats a ringing endorsement, and Warren Buffet threw his PR weight behind Dimon by recommending him as Secretary of Treasury when Tim Geithner finally hangs up his boots. For Dimon, whose halo has arguably faded over the last 12 months, this was a shot in the arm for an unofficial campaign that still has him denying he wants the job anyway. As an outspoken banker against regulation, Dimon’s PR image has also endured the recent fracas of the London Whale losses and headlines relating to  manipulation of the energy market. However, Saint Warren’s benediction minimizes those sins. A smart move in what might be a long running campaign.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) TO: Susan Rice. The UN Ambassador likely has grill marks on her suit from the intense inquisition–er, questioning being administered by John McCain and Lindsey Graham in a bid to stop her nomination as Secretary of State. At issue: What Rice knew, when she knew it, and if she even knew anything at all about the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Libya. Rice is currently being forced into a game of who-said-what with the CIA. The Administration gets an “F”  for failing to characterise this entire issue as an operational failure and instead allowing its opponents to claim it as a policy issue.  If Rice does ultimately get the job, monitoring warring nations will seem a comparative piece of cake.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO: Gennifer Flowers. The former model and actress who said she had a long-term affair with Bill Clinton in 1992 was recently consulted by an ABC affiliate for comment on the David Petraeus affair (because…she’s an expert on politicians’ dalliances?). During the interview, Flowers took full credit for Clinton’s presidential nomination, saying that her damning press conference “made him a household name overnight.” Good to know at last how he really ascended to the presidency.