Toronto Mayor’s Reality Show

 Toronto Mayors Reality Show

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Some Canadians were tweeting that last week’s Toronto city council hearings were the best reality show on television, but most aren’t laughing. Further revelations about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford‘s admitted purchase and use of illegal drugs are shocking, but not as much as his refusal to resign.

Time was any good PR advisor would have told the mayor to step down after just one of the many offenses he’s admitted to: being caught on videotape smocking crack cocaine. Being caught on videotape threatening to kill someone. His explanation for that: “I was extremely, extremely inebriated.” Telling a cadre of reporters that he had bought and used drugs. Admitting same during live televised hearings. Still, Ford clings to his mayoral seat, despite mobs of his constituents chanting “Resign!” outside his office.

With the help of PRs, politicians who have fallen from grace can construct careful comeback trails. And there is a precedent for Ford’s case. Marion Barry, the Mayor of Washington, DC, was videotaped smoking crack in 1990, served six months in prison, and was re-elected mayor in 1994. However, Ford is missing a key component of this example: in order to make a comeback, one must first go away.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Between a fall from grace and bouncing back, one must admit defeat. Though Marion Barry’s act of contrition – a prison sentence – was involuntary, he had it in hand to show he’d reformed. But no amount of PR can save Ford’s train wreck. He has taken the first step of saying he has some sort of rehab team on his case, but now would be the time to resign and take care of business in private. The last thing he or Toronto needs is for his recovery to become the next episode of this reality show.

The Unraveling of Rob Ford

 The Unraveling of Rob Ford

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto.

Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, would never be considered a staid politician. But his public confession of drug use was bizarre even by his own lofty standards.

In May, video of the mayor allegedly smoking crack cocaine was shown to certain journalists – then disappeared. Ford said it wasn’t him. With his repeated denials and the video missing, the story began to fade. Last week, however, Toronto police said the same video was recovered on a laptop seized in a drug raid.

In what will go down as one of the most jaw-dropping political moments ever, Ford this week stepped off a City Hall elevator into a scrum of reporters and, apparently off-the-cuff, admitted he did indeed smoke crack. “When?” the astounded press corps asks. “Probably in one of my drunken stupors… a year ago,” he responds. A few hours later, a flushed and gulping Ford held a formal press conference in which he repeated his admission, asked for forgiveness, said he won’t do it again and refused to resign.

Shocking, perhaps, but not surprising. Ford is a colorful character with a loyal following. Indeed, after the video resurfaced, his approval ratings actually climbed. But even relaxed Canadians have a breaking point. The specter of a crack-smoking clown as mayor may be a tolerance too high for most Torontonians.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Rob Ford. The flamboyant mayor may have finally cracked up.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: You can be your own worst enemy, and that’s why it pays to get outside advice. Ford no doubt breathed more than one sigh of relief after that pesky video disappeared. When it turned up again, he panicked and wound up blurting out his complicity in the worst possible way. But Ford was too close to the issue. Had he consulted with crisis management pros, they could have helped him orchestrate a more strategic and potentially career-saving way of confirming his participation. After all, as Washington DC Mayor Marion Barry proved, crack isn’t so whack that you can’t come back.

To see the video, click here.

Will Christie’s One-Horse Race Lead to Washington?

 Will Christies One Horse Race Lead to Washington?

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Chris Christie.

Does style trump substance? That was the key question in the race for governor of New Jersey. With Chris Christie and Barbara Buono facing off for the coveted seat, name recognition alone was going to tip the scales in this race.

One needn’t be a resident of New Jersey to know Christie. He’s the man who spoke mostly about himself in a speech meant to introduce Mitt Romney to the Republican National Convention as their candidate for president. He was the Republican who crossed party lines by giving a warm welcome, and thanks, to President Obama in the days after Superstorm Sandy. He’s also the official who opposed same-sex marriage in New Jersey, though he quietly dropped a promise to fight it in the Supreme Court.

But did Christie ever really have an opponent? Christie made a memorable stand during Sandy and has kept a high profile since, staying on brand as a straight shooter, poking fun at himself on Letterman and undergoing weight loss surgery as he dealt with media criticism over his appearance. Christie has done it all publicly, with a PR plan that has made everyone think this was a one-horse race.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Chris Christie, returned as governor of New Jersey and possibly a future in Washington DC.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Stand out from the pack, and stay there. At a time when approval of government and its elected officials is at an all-time low, Christie differentiates himself fearlessly. He ranges from being a man of the people to being a brash trash-talker, but everyone knows his name. This is no accident. Find a way to step apart from the pack and then do what it takes to make sure yours is the only name remembered.

Senate Wonder Women Save the Nation

 Senate Wonder Women Save the Nation

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to the sisterhood of the Senate. (From left, Rev. Jim Wallis with Sens. Ayotte, Murkowski, and Collins.)

As hard as it is to give anyone credit in the embarrassing spectacle that is the US government shutdown, a group of female senators including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), who crafted the framework of a compromise, deserve their day in the sun.

The shutdown entered its third week after Congress failed to pass a spending bill that would restore shuttered government services. Tensions increased as a deadline permitting the US to borrow money to pay its obligations loomed.

As factions within Congress continued wage war, women came to the rescue. Led by  Sen. Collins, a group of six of the Senate’s 20 female senators united to produce a compromise to break the impasse. The agreement served as the foundation of a proposal endorsed by bipartisan leaders in the Senate, prompting their male colleagues to almost begrudgingly acknowledge that the times, they are a’changing. As veteran Sen. John McCain put it, “Leadership, I must fully admit, was provided primarily by the women in the Senate.”

The women could have rejected the notion that their reproductive equipment played a role in the compromise, perhaps even been insulted by the suggestion. Instead, Collins and the other senators embraced their feminine attributes. “I find that, with all due deference to our male colleagues, women’s styles tend to be more collaborative,” she told ABC News. Indeed, Collins and her crew have positioned themselves nicely as a group that gets things done and, potentially, a force to be reckoned with on future issues.

THE PR VERDICT:  “A” (PR Perfect) to the sisterhood of the Senate.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Play up your strengths – and keep playing them up. This unusual alliance captured the media’s attention; once the press was focused on them, the senators kept the headlines coming by elaborating on the qualities that helped them achieve their goals. Promoting the attributes of one sex over another is a tricky business, but the senators played their hand nicely. Brava, ladies!

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR Perfect) to Michael J. Fox , who took the “making lemonade out of lemons” maxim to a whole new level with the premiere of his new television show.  In Fox’s eponymously named sitcom, he plays a character who, like the actor himself, is returning to work while living with Parkinson’s disease. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s more than a decade ago, is raising awareness of a debilitating disease that afflicts somewhere between 7-10 million people worldwide. Regardless of whether the show is a hit, it’s a PR coup, informing and educating and making life that much easier for those with the disease.

 

joekcnbc The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Joe Kernen, a host on business channel CNBC, for on-air racist comments that he somehow thought were funny. Bantering with co-hosts a week ago on interest rate action taken by India’s central bank, Kernen morphed into a stereotypical Indian accent at the mention of rupees. But it didn’t end there. Visibly struggling with his own better judgment for several seconds, Kernen finally gave in to his inner trading “bro.” “Are they good at 7-11?” he asked, causing his co-hosts to squirm and scold. He added a quick “faux-pology” before the segment ended, saying: “I take it back. I apologize, before I have to.” Before he had to? Clearly he knew better before the words crossed his lips. Kernen later issued a more official apology for his “inappropriate and insensitive remark.” But one wonders what CNBC’s editor-in-chief and Kernen’s boss, Nikhil Deogun, an Indian-American from Kolkata, thought of the “joke.”

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to the masterminds behind the Cory Booker “stripper scandal.” Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, NJ who has been campaigning for a seat in the senate, found himself being questioned by the media to explain his connection with a stripper. Scandal! Or is it? On closer inspection of the story initially broken by BuzzFeed…nyeh. Booker became acquainted with Lynsie Lee when they appeared in a film about social media. The mayor and the stripper, who works at the world’s first vegan strip club, have been tweeting, but rather tamely. “The mayor talks with people from all walks of life on Twitter,” said a spokesman. “The most shocking part of the story was learning that there is a vegan strip club in Portland.”

Senator Cruz’s 21 Hours of Fame

 Senator Cruzs 21 Hours of Fame

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) to Sen. Ted Cruz.

In the US, the “filibuster” is a tactic undertaken by senators to stall a vote on important legislation. In the hands of Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), not only is a filibuster not a filibuster, it’s also an unwise PR move.

US Senate rules allow any senator to hold up the chamber’s agenda by expounding on any topic for as long as that senator can stand and speak. This week, Senator Cruz launched a 21-hour speech in the hopes of “de-funding” President Obama’s national health care reform law. The surprise? After ending his monologue, during which he read from Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham and did Darth Vader impressions, he voted, along with the rest of the Senate, to move on.

To his PR credit, as a freshman representing the conservative Tea Party, Cruz has shaken things up in the typically rigid US Senate, but as many pundits pointed out, the “pseudobuster” was pointless because the law cannot be undone this way. Senate Republican leaders refused to endorse Cruz’s soliloquy against Obamacare and all that was left was the Senator’s dented credibility.

THE PR VERDICT:  “D” (PR Problematic) for Sen. Ted Cruz, who looked like he neither knew what he was getting into, nor how to get out of it.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Changing mid gear looks foolish. As in most places, getting things done in the US Senate requires cooperation and ultimately Cruz will need GOP leaders’ help to be effective as a legislator and to get re-elected. Fine and well to make the headlines but even upstarts have to work within some kind of framework to be successful. No man is an island and for Cruz, he just learnt a PR lesson the hard way.

 

Mayor Takes Sex Scandal from Bad to Worse

 Mayor Takes Sex Scandal from Bad to Worse

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.

Lately, barely a week goes by that a male politician isn’t apologizing for some sort of sexually naughty behavior. Last week that began with Anthony Weiner apologizing for new accusations of sending sexual texts to women, and it ended with San Diego Mayor Bob Filner facing charges of sexual misconduct.

Specifics quickly took the vagaries out of the charges, filed via a lawsuit. Women who worked with the 70-year-old mayor say he tried to forcibly kiss them, touched them, made unwanted sexual advances, and put his former communications director in a headlock. At a press conference this past Friday, Filner refused to comply with demands for his resignation. Instead, he apologized for his behavior toward women “over many years” and introduced his solution: two weeks of therapy.

Friday is typically a slow news day, a time when politicians make changes that will get lost in a pre-weekend shuffle. The two-week therapy cure ensured that Filner’s news remained a top story throughout the weekend. Demands for his resignation, even from fellow Democrats, only mounted. It’s unlikely that the twice-daily briefings Filner will receive while in intensive therapy will contain other developments.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. Somehow, he managed to make a bad situation worse.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Take advice from the other side. On political drama The West Wing, the Democratic president hired a Republican advisor as a sounding board for partisanship. If the scriptwriters of an evening television program knew this, why couldn’t Filner’s PR team see a perfect storm gathering? Filner’s apology was flimsy, and he compounded the fracture with the admission that this has been going on “over many years.” And many years of sexual harassment is somehow to be cured in two weeks of therapy? That’s rather a lot to ask the public to swallow. While we can’t be sure, it seems unlikely that Filner’s PR team included a female perspective. There again, considering his admitted attitudes toward women, it’s doubtful he would have listened.

 

Client 9 Seeks 2nd Chance

 Client 9 Seeks 2nd Chance

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Eliot Spitzer.

In his heyday, former New York State Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer crusaded for strict regulations on Wall Street, incurring the wrath of the rich and powerful while fighting the good fight for the little guy. By night, he was known as Client 9 to the madam who supplied him with prostitutes. Not an isolated incident, nothing that could be put down to not knowing better. The word hubris replaced talk of a future in the White House.

Ah, but look at the shelf life of political shenanigans, and we may see why Spitzer is taking another shot in politics, announcing his run for Comptroller of New York. After all, Bill Clinton was reviled during the Monica Lewinsky episode, and now he’s an elder statesman that current president Barack Obama couldn’t wait to have in his corner. Another politician testing the waters for Spitz is Anthony Weiner, who waited not terribly long after his naughty-texting downfall to climb into the race for mayor of New York City. Was anyone terribly surprised that he quickly rose in the polls? Perhaps not.

The public has a short memory, or perhaps a shorter tolerance for politicians in general these days. Those whose transgressions err on the side of the personal, rather than keeping the little guy down and out, tend to be forgiven. The odds seem good that Joe Public will give Client 9 another shot.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Eliot Spitzer. Penance done, he stands a good chance of being re-elected.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: After you’ve done wrong, do the right things. Step 1: apologize. Step 2: gracefully resign from your post (hopefully with your still-supportive wife by your side). Step 3: Lay low for a while, giving other politicians a chance to grab the negative headlines. Step 4: begin reinvention and let the search engines associate you with something else apart from scandal. (In Spitzer’s case, this meant a a stint as a TV pundit.) Step 5: Let others go before you to test the waters. And finally, Step 6: return to the job you were good at, pledging to reward forgiveness. Voila! Happy days are here again.

Love, Russian Style

 Love, Russian Style

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Vladimir Putin (pictured with soon-to-be-ex-wife Lyudmila).

Russia has always been mysterious, both captivating and confounding the rest of the world. Perhaps that’s why Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s announcement last week that he is divorcing his wife of nearly 30 years, Lyudmila, seemed downright frank. In an “interview” as choreographed as the ballet the Putins had just left, the couple was approached at the Kremlin’s private theater by a journalist who just happened to inquire about their marital status. Dressed in formal wear and referring to each other by their patronymic names, the Putins stiffly confirmed an amicable split.

As strange as it was, the announcement marked a PR milestone for Putin, who has so fiercely guarded his private life that his adult daughters have never been photographed and he allegedly shut down a newspaper that speculated he was having an affair. Why be so open now? Possibly to put this issue to bed well before the next presidential election in five years. With one of the highest divorce rates in the world, Russians are no strangers to separation. Putin, however, is not particularly popular in his homeland, and divorce runs counter to the Russian Orthodox Christian church. He’ll also be the first Russian leader in 300 years to split from his spouse. At least Lyudmila won’t be banished to a nunnery like Peter the Great’s wife (at least, as of press time).

THE PR VERDICT:  “B” (Good Show) for Vladimir Putin. The harsh glare of the spotlight means that even former KGB agents have to practice a bit of glasnost now and then.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Be candid. Don’t resist. Today’s media is borderless and, often, relentless when it comes to the personal lives of public figures. At a certain point, it’s better to be candid about a significant event such as a divorce or affair rather than hoping (or forcing) the lid to stay on the pot. Just ask US President Bill Clinton, who probably wishes he’d handled the question about his involvement with intern Monica Lewinsky a bit differently. For leaders of nations, there is no such thing as a private life – even in Mother Russia.

IRS’s Reputation Taxed by Scandal

 IRSs Reputation Taxed by Scandal

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the IRS.

The United States Internal Revenue Service has never been the most popular government entity, but lately its reputation has taken a severe shellacking. The first problem came to light a few months ago, when it was revealed that the IRS had been targeting the Tea Party and other conservative political groups, putting their finances under close scrutiny. But on the PR embarrassment scale, that was nothing compared to the Star Trek video.

As the IRS finds itself under close scrutiny, a series of mortifying gaffes are now on public display. An astounding $50 million, all taxpayer money, was spent during 2010 and 2012 on 225 IRS conferences. The expenditures included training – or, rather, a rah-rah ha-ha training video with a Star Trek theme. And line dancing classes at the conferences. And baseball tickets, and stays in presidential suites for conference attendees, and a “happiness expert” who cost over $11,000. The list goes on and, unfortunately, on.

The congressional hearings investigating the conservative targeting are the equivalent of an audit for the IRS, and as with anyone else, the unpleasant receipts are being discovered. Daniel Werfel, the new IRS head, said he took the job because he thought he could be helpful. “The IRS is an agency in need right now,” he said in an understatement, in between apologies and explanations that can’t begin to defray the damage.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the IRS. The government entity will have a long road of recovery after shooting itself in the foot.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Think before you line dance – or make a video of it. The scrutiny of conservative groups is now being blamed on orders “from Washington”; if true, the resulting issues were unavoidable. But the silly, expensive training videos, the line dancing, the happiness expert? Someone along the way must have asked what this would look like to the outside world, or should have. In PR, an ounce of prevention is far more effective than ten pounds of damage control. At this point, confession and sincere apologies won’t make a dent in the IRS’s accounts.

To see the IRS Star Trek video, click here.