Guest Column: Boehner’s Bait and Switch

BOHENER 150x150 Guest Column: Boehners Bait and Switch

PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Speaker Boehner.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner wasted no time before the presidential election result was called, declaring, “With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates.” With polls still open in Alaska and Hawaii, the Republican leadership was drawing a line in the sand. No matter the outcome, some ideas were not going to be up for debate.

But election night was still young when Boehner made his statement. By Wednesday morning, he’d nuanced his position by stating Republicans were willing to accept new revenue, without  mentioning any further details. Perhaps he realized that following President Obama’s re-election, “no taxes” wasn’t going to fly.

A standard tactic in negotiations and PR brinkmanship is to set boundaries early on. These pre-emptive shots across the bow manage the other side’s expectations before the negotiations commence. Taking firm positions far in advance of a negotiation can be effective, but this type of bargaining tactic tends not to win friends and can create PR nightmares down the line. No one wants to have to publicly backtrack.

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Speaker Boehner, who has now given himself some negotiating room. He might have been better off saying nothing on the big night.

The PR Takeaway: Careful when and where you draw your definitive line. Muhammad Ali gained PR notoriety for taunting and “trash-talking” his competitors before a boxing match. Competitive athletes now commonly use this tactic. It’s about getting the other side to doubt their strength, question their position, and to negotiate against themselves. This is no different than using bluffs, and was most likely Boehner’s tactic with Obama. There are PR advantages if you can remain firm, but if you can’t maintain your position, silence is always golden.

neilpatton2 150x150 Guest Column: Boehners Bait and SwitchGuest columnist Neil Patton is the President of Pre-think Strategic Negotiations, Inc. Pre-think is a consultancy focused on helping organizations and individuals improve their negotiation capabilities and outcomes. A professional labor negotiator for more than 19 years, his clients have included the Canadian Army , healthcare providers, and mining companies. 

UN Secretary Moon Eclipsed at Olympics?

 UN Secretary Moon Eclipsed at Olympics?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Ban Ki Moon.

Should the Secretary General of the United Nations take PR lessons from the world of celebrity publicists? The head of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon (BKM), arguably the figurehead for the global community, made a puzzling appearance at the Olympic opening.  Was it good for the UN brand?

First up, BKM carried the Olympic flame through central London, wearing a white tracksuit, smiling and waving pleasantly to the crowds. He then surfaced again on Friday with a small cadre of team members carrying the Olympic flag to mark  the end of the ceremony. News reports said he was participating to promote an Olympic truce between warring countries during the games.

He stood second in line, carrying the flag and sharing the limelight with the founder of UK civil liberties group Liberty, Ethiopian athlete Haile Gebrselassie, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and Brazilian environmentalist Marina Silva. Impressive company, to be sure, but shouldn’t the office of the Secretary General of the United Nations be afforded higher status?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Ban Ki Moon. Let’s face it the rules of the maitre d’ apply: Where you sit and who you sit next to are key. It shows how important–or not–you are.

The PR Takeaway: Visuals really matter when that’s all you have. Editors of major fashion magazines are notorious for insisting on front row seating for the runway shows. If not, it’s a no-show from them, on the basis that any other placement devalues the magazine’s brand. Tough talk, but an effective policy that invariably gets them the right positioning. For the sake of the UN brand and its global influence, why not insist that Ban Ki Moon be placed, at the very least, next to the UK Prime Minister and the Mayor of London? Or how about with the head of the Olympic federation–two organizations with shared ideals? With the world watching, BKM’s rightful place was up on the podium, not in the trenches. BKM might want to speed dial Vogue front-row-center editor Anna Wintour before accepting the next invitation.