Italy’s Five Star Movement Wins; Now What?

 Italys Five Star Movement Wins; Now What?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Italy’s Beppe Grillo.

What happens when the anti-establishment becomes part of the establishment? That’s the question Italians are asking themselves as an overwhelming 25 percent voted for the grassroots Five Star Movement (M5S) last weekend. A party of “political outsiders,” its elected parliamentary representatives define themselves by everything typical parliamentarians are not – at least, not in Italy. Namely? Young and honest.

In only three years, M5S has become a political steamroller. Without deep financial pockets, momentum has come from tireless rants and the pungent humor of the party’s leader Beppe Grillo. A former comedian, he amassed political capital with his unmatched rhetoric, winning the hearts and minds of disgruntled Italians who continue to despair at their deeply dysfunctional political system. His main achievement seems to be giving ordinary Italians a chance to vent their frustration and rage peacefully.

Now, poor Beppe is caught in a classic communications dilemma. Remaining true to brand means categorically refusing alliances with any established political force and continuing to win the crowds by criticizing established politicians and cracking jokes. The “outsider approach” might win votes, but it won’t help the country out of a dire economic crisis. With the “Grillo” brand being the anthesisis of sober statesmanship, it might be time for his M5S to think about a rebrand for the party and its leader.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Beppe Grillo. A different style (and a different spokesperson) may be what is needed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Brand evolution changes with circumstances. Grillo’s stated goal was to give Italian citizens the power to change their own country, but everyone understands this is a long haul – and an unpopular journey. While Grillo did not run for office himself, his M5S has won a seat at the table. With doubts persisting about the party’s ability to effect any real change, the best way to reassure their supporters is to take on the mantle of serious politicians promising to get things done. Coming across as rebels, comics, victims, or dreamers won’t cut it any longer, but speaking in a different tone and style will. Less jokes and rage and more substance will transition the party (and its leader) into the power role they have been handed. Beppe Grillo, as the leader and spokesperson, might want to start the change from the top.


Regret Only from the Irish Government

 Regret Only from the Irish Government

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Irish Government.

A report issued this week by the Irish government detailed the state’s involvement in the so-called “Magdalene laundries” that operated for most of the 20th century. More than 30,000 girls and women were remanded to these institutions – ostensibly halfway houses for the “misguided,” where they were sent for “rehabilitation.”

The Irish government has now acknowledged these laundries were nothing more than state-sanctioned sweatshops. Females from nine to 89  were barely fed, detained illegally and had their babies taken from them. The laundries, the report said, were managed by Catholic nuns and kept operational in part thanks to “significant state involvement,” including contracts from various Irish ministries.

In the face of such damning evidence, one would expect the report to be accompanied by a fulsome apology, particularly since the abuses persisted as late as the mid-1990s. However, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenney stopped well short of a mea culpa. Under questioning in Irish Parliament, Kenney merely said he was sorry the women had suffered the “stigma” attached to being in the laundries. This lackluster expression of semi-regret infuriated victims and their supporters and guaranteed that the issue continues to scandalize and divide. This was not the closing chapter all parties were hoping for.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco). Has the Irish government – and the inexorably intertwined Catholic Church – learned absolutely nothing from the church’s sex abuse scandals?

THE PR TAKEAWAY: A good “sorry” speaks volumes. Whether it’s a German company admitting involvement in the Holocaust or the Japanese government apologizing to “comfort women,” acknowledging culpability regarding past indignities is now a well-trod path. When making such monumental admissions, an immediate and heartfelt apology is common sense and PR 101, not to mention the morally and ethically correct action. Acknowledging that the transgressions occurred is half the battle; taking responsibility is the critical other half. For the Irish Prime Minister, a review of the Act of Contrition is in order. Until he does so, this sorry chapter of Irish history remains unfinished and festering – a particular embarrassment during The Gathering, a year-long celebration designed to promote tourism. A sorry state, indeed.