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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