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.

 

Guest Column: A Wulff at Google’s Door

BettinaWulf2 150x150 Guest Column: A Wulff at Googles Door

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Bettina Wulff.

Bettina Wulff may not be a name known to most Americans, but her claim to fame is that she was the former First Lady of Germany. Her husband, the former German President, Christian Wulff, resigned in early 2012 amidst a scandal involving personal favors from wealthy friends. The couple’s joint demise was particularly hard after the intense media honeymoon they initially enjoyed. The magazines had loved Bettina.

But resignation did not result in obscurity. Gossip recently reached new heights, or lows: prior to her high-profile marriage, Mrs. Wulff is alleged to have been an escort. The rumors spread like wildfire on the Internet – with the alarming result for Frau Wulff that if you typed her name into Google, the search engine’s auto complete function suggested “Bettina Wulff escort.” Google’s helpful service was now a slanderous PR issue.

Mrs. Wulff, formerly in PR, launched an aggressive campaign to clear her name. In September, she published a memoir rebutting speculation about her past. Next, she followed up with a lawsuit against Google Germany, requesting the deletion of 3,000 search results and the suppression of its derogatory auto complete results. Critics said this was a publicity stunt to sell her book, another sign of her craving for media attention – and a counterproductive one that kept the rumor alive. Was it better for Frau Wulff to take her lumps or fight the fight?

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Bettina Wulff. Who says what goes online stays there forever?

The PR Takeaway: To fight the rumor, change the conversation. In spite of endless gossip about her past, Bettina has turned the attention of media experts to another prominent player: Google and the debate about the monopolist’s responsibility for content. The court has temporarily ordered Google to eliminate eight search results. While this has not fully restored public sympathy for Bettina Wulff, it diverted the national conversation from “Was she really?” to a different question about Google and its content polices. Also, Bettina Wulff has changed her online history. Even for a First Lady, that’s something.

Total Arnold

 Total Arnold

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This week, Arnold Schwarzenegger began promoting his book, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. Schwarzenegger’s life is nearly unbelievable – he was a champion body builder who became the highest paid actor in Hollywood despite a heavyweight German accent and a nearly unpronounceable name. He then married a member of the Kennedy family and become governor of California. And the focal point of all his latest interviews? His affair with the housekeeper.

Surely Schwarzenegger didn’t want to include the chapter detailing his affair with housekeeper Mildred Baena, yet on some level he must have known this was the double-edged sword of PR: talk about the thing you don’t want to talk about, or no one will buy your book. In interviews, Schwarzenegger shows contrition, albeit insensitively, referring to the affair with Baena as “my screw-up” and “a disaster.” Arnie, it seems, is untroubled by how this might affect the result of this affair: his youngest son, Joseph. And it’s hard to tell whether he’s sorry for what he did to wife Maria Shriver, or sorry he got caught.

Schwarzenegger follows Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, John Edwards, and many others whose works and lives became defined by a single act: that of schtupping the maid, or the prostitute, or sexting the intern. Only Bill Clinton moved beyond Monica, though his career remains tarnished by the scarlet letter.  Yet what do we really expect from The Governator? Nothing other than what he’s giving, and gives well: He doesn’t care what you think about him, only that you think about him.

The PR Verdict: B (Good Show) for Arnold Schwarzenegger. The grade is based not on character but for his handling of the media and for canny self-promotion via contrition.

The PR Takeaway: Scandal always outlasts notable works. Whatever leads those in positions of power towards the scandalous is for the Psychiatrist’s Verdict. But for our purposes, as Arnie clearly shows, the public relations prescription is to own up; apologize with sincerity; pour barbecue sauce on yourself in preparation of being grilled by the media; and get back to the business of doing whatever good works were interrupted by your poor judgment. Finally, get on with counting the royalties, while remaining contrite at all times.

What do you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s media profile? Give us your PR Verdict!

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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When will the Greeks develop their own propaganda plan?

greece2 When will the Greeks develop their own propaganda plan?

The PR Verdict: “D” for Greece’s political class on selling austerity.

A collective sigh of relief reverberated across financial markets this weekend, as Greece approved its latest round of austerity measures. The measures are tough and include savage cuts in wages, pensions and a radical restructuring of outdated work practices.

While financial markets gave the changes a “thumbs-up” Greeks have given them a resounding “thumbs-down”.  Protestors in the capital have been rioting, with violent clashes reported throughout the country. Greeks are enraged about the level of sacrifice required and are pointing to Germany, the IMF and banks as the chief culprits.

The PR Verdict: “D” for Greece’s political class on selling these measures. It’s time Greece’s political class activated an educative PR plan.

A national campaign is needed where mutual sacrifice and the sharing of burdens are the order of the day. Start by enlisting the support of Greek intellectuals, celebrities and thought leaders to explain and personally describe, the sacrifices they are making for the greater good. For some pointers why not look at previous national propaganda programs that demanded sacrifices of their citizenry? History tells us it has been done before.

How would you convince the Greek population that sacrifice is for the long-term good?  Leave a comment and share your idea.