Vogue Fashions a (Too) Perfect First Family

 Vogue Fashions a (Too) Perfect First Family

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Vogue’s cover feature on the First Family. (Pictured: First Lady Michelle and President Barack Obama.)

Can planned PR be too effective? That might be the inevitable question when reading the latest edition of American Vogue, featuring First Lady Michelle Obama on the cover.  Photographed elegantly by Annie Liebowitz, the magazine offers an interview with the Obamas at home in the White House, with a particular focus on the First Lady’s views on raising a family. To the Obamas’ supporters, it’s inspiring; to the cynical, it makes for decidedly unedifying reading.

In the article, America’s First Couple talk about “their life as parents, their marriage, and their vision for America’s families.” This is an article that details the rigors of running a household just like any other and the stresses a demanding job can have on any parent. While most working couples find it hard to have an evening meal with their children, Mrs. Obama tells Vogue that the President is home by 6:30 pm to have dinner with her and their two daughters.

The article goes on to emphasize the importance of family, grandparents, and discipline, and the Obamas talk in a good-natured way about coming to terms with technology that teenagers understand as second nature. The PR sound-bite that sums up the article?  This is not the First Family, but rather the “Family First Family.”

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK ) for the Obamas and their Vogue profile. The ring of authenticity may have sounded a bit tinny coming from this very Obama-friendly publication.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Authenticity gives credibility. This article has all the hallmarks of being quote checked, pre-approved, and negotiated every step of the way. (Important to mention: Vogue editor Anna Wintour raised funds for the Obama campaign and was rumored to be in the running for an ambassadorship.) The result? Some of it just doesn’t ring comfortably true. Though the Obamas may be, in some respects, like ordinary Americans, the magazine’s description of the family sitting down to dinner together seems almost perfectly scripted. The end result is that the reader feels vaguely manipulated. Next time, opt for telling a less 1950’s version of suburban family bliss and opt for something more modern. Sometimes it’s better if PR gets out of its own way.

To read the article, click here.

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.

The First Wives PR Club

 The First Wives PR Club

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) to Ann Romney and “B” (Good Show) to Michelle Obama.

Still undecided about who to vote for on November 6? Tired of thinking about tax rates and foreign policy? Just turn to Woman’s Day and US Weekly for some guidance. Women’s magazines have just been enrolled into the election battles. The result? Ann Romney and Michelle Obama are everywhere.

Woman’s Day broke the news that Michelle Obama’s favorite food is mac n’ cheese, while Ann Romney’s favorite film is The Sound of Music. Michelle told US Weekly that her favorite guilty pleasure is French fries while outlining to Good Housekeeping the Obama family’s daily exercise program. Family Circle took a poll of the ladies’ recipes: Michelle Obama’s chocolate chip cookies won over Ann Romney’s M&M cookies. Oprah has interviews with both couples in October’s O Magazine.

From a PR perspective, how and where to do the interviews? Solo, or as a couple? What to talk about, and to whom? Ann is doing most interviews with her husband Mitt and focusing on magazines such as Good Housekeeping that have a median readership age in the mid fifties. Michelle, on the other hand, is going for the hipper vote. Doing interviews as a couple but then breaking out solo, she is talking to Elle and People en Espanol.

The PR Verdict:  “B” (Good Show) to Michelle Obama and “C” (Distinctly OK) to Ann Romney. Michelle has the edge in appealing to a wider audience.

The PR Takeaway: Have your cake (or, in this case, cookies) and eat it; be traditional and hip at the same time. Michelle Obama and Ann Romney are courting older female voters by giving insights into their respective domestic bliss, but Michelle is also playing to a younger crowd, with solo interviews in their favorite magazines. Ann Romney is doing well in her established segment, but so far her appeal to young fashion- and celebrity-reading females remains untested. It may be time to stop concentrating on the base she already knows and take a leaf from her opponent’s PR handbook.

What’s your opinion of the first wives’ PR tactics? Give us your PR Verdict!


THE PRV REPORT CARD: This Week’s Winners & Losers


TOM CRUISE 6 SEPT1 150x150 THE PRV REPORT CARD: This Weeks Winners & LosersMICHELLEOBAMA6spet1 150x150 THE PRV REPORT CARD: This Weeks Winners & Losers

What a week: Tom Cruise allegedly auditioning candidates for wifely duties, DNC firepower in Charlotte and Katie Holmes tells us why she is not afraid of make-up. 

Who are this week’s PRV winner and Losers?

LOSER OF THE WEEK:  The PR Verdict: F (Full Fiasco) to Tom Cruise and Scientology.  Vanity Fair charges that Scientology held auditions for the role of Mrs. Tom Cruise. Church denials are to be expected but the problem is the source is respected publication Vanity Fair, owned by Condé “We Don’t Like Being Sued So We Pay Our Fact-checkers Well” Nast. This may be tough to disprove. It might be better to concede that Tom prefers to marry within his religion but add that there was no audition process. Sometimes it’s better to lower the temperatutre than fight the fire.

WINNER OF THE WEEKThe PR Verdict: A (PR Perfect) for Michelle Obama.  Style met substance and  captured the pundits and the public imagination. Huffington Post and others hailed Michelle Obama at the DNC, but when Dem-adversarial Fox News gives you the high-five, you’ve done your job well. And those arms! We couldn’t take our eyes off them.

And finally:

KATIEHOLMES2 150x150 THE PRV REPORT CARD: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHERE’S-NO-“THERE” -THERE PR: Katie Holmes talks exclusively to People TV about why “she is not afraid of makeup.” Nearly two minutes of content-free product placement by cosmetic company Bobbi Brown. Why does Katie love makeup, how did she get over her make-up fears, and what secrets did her mother tell her the about hidden world of foundation? We’re astonished (truly).

(Editor’s note – a previous mention regarding Julian Assange has been withdrawn due to an editing error. Please disregard).

Agent Provocateur, Michelle Obama and her lingerie

michelleobama Agent Provocateur, Michelle Obama and her lingerie

THE PR VERDICT: "D" for any PR people involved in dreaming up this story.

The mystery deepens over news reports that Michelle Obama was in the New York store of Agent Provocateur, purveyor of racy lingerie. Three UK papers actually ran the story with details of  the First Lady closing the store down in a spending spree that allegedly totaled over $50,000.

Michelle Obama’s staff denied the reports saying they are “100% incorrect” while yesterday a Whitehouse spokesman angrily denied the story.

What was the story’s genesis? If it wasn’t Michelle Obama’s team and the articles didn’t refer to unconnected eyewitnesses present in the store, then fingers inevitably start pointing to Agent Provocateur’s own PR.

The PR Verdict: “D” for any PR people involved in dreaming up this story.

One unequivocal denial from the White House and the story is dead.

Agent Provocateur’s CEO told the UK’s Telegraph that by summer the label plans to increase its presence in the US to eleven retail stores and the label had garnered several ‘unexpected famous names’ in the U.S. Only later did the organization deny this included Michelle Obama. Burning bridges with key newspapers for short-term gains in publicity is a risky business. Save these ideas for April Fools.

To see the White House denial click here.