Obama’s Proposed NSA Reforms Fall Flat

 

 Obamas Proposed NSA Reforms Fall Flat

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for President Obama for his NSA speech.

Bold change seldom comes from modest action; just ask President Barack Obama. The proposed reforms he announced last week for how the National Security Agency goes about collecting data are hardly the stuff of decisive, game-changing leadership. But that was probably never the Administration’s intent.

Granted, fixing the White House’s PR mess over citizen eavesdropping is a tall order. The President’s speech in the Great Hall of the Justice Department follows months of the dripping faucet of leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, not to mention a particularly bad month for the intelligence community in general, with a critical judicial ruling and a tough review from a White House-appointed panel. In announcing the modest reforms, Obama spent a good portion of time defending the NSA’s most controversial programs as necessary measures in the ongoing battle against terrorists.

What irony, then, that Obama’s speech came on the same day another US President, Dwight Eisenhower, warned Americans about the “military-industrial complex” that threatened American democracy from within. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower said back in 1961. “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” Against that standard, the verdict for Obama’s effort suffers.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for President Obama, who tried to walk the middle road, to no one’s benefit.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Be mindful of history. Obama might not have channelled Eisenhower specifically, but he could have relied on more than modest reforms and a good speech to answer all the criticism over spying dropped on his doorstep. He surprised and satisfied no one with his tepid response to spying – not Congress, not tech companies who were obliging or grudging accomplices, not the American public. Pleasing no one with a middle-of the-road approach might be a somewhat effective strategy for governing, but not so much for PR.

Obama’s Commander-In-Chief Moment

 Obamas Commander In Chief Moment

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Commander In Chief Barack Obama’s address to the nation on the Boston terrorist attacks.

He’s had to address the nation during four mass shootings and one major natural disaster, but President Obama has never had to deal with a suspected act of terrorism. But when two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon this past Monday, Obama had to go from President to Commander in Chief.

The attacks in Boston took on another level of depth when the media announced that the President would be addressing the nation. Clearly his speech had been prepared, but it was without the gloss the campaigning orator is accustomed to – rightly so.

President Obama appeared before a shocked nation wearing an expression of stern concern. His voice was forthright, his delivery serious but not emotional. In the brief address, he made sure to say that he and Speaker John Boehner, usually his arch rival, were communicating and that on this issue, there were no Democrats or Republicans, only Americans. With no information to share he stated unequivocally that justice would be served. His delivery reassured a nation that in shock and proved the key crisis communications principle: Keep communicating, calmly, even if there is no news to be shared.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Commander In Chief Barack Obama’s address to the nation on the Boston bombing.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: In times of crisis, what you say is nearly secondary to how you say it. Study carefully Obama’s face and tone of voice in this address and you will see a President in command. Even while conceding there was no information, Obama’s demeanor said that was only a matter of time. He asserted union of parties, gave a patriotic nod to Boston’s resilience, and wisely took no questions. If the antidote to chaos is control, the nation may have felt that the crisis was under control after this speech.

Will She, Or Won’t She? Hillary Gets Coy

 Will She, Or Wont She? Hillary Gets Coy

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Rodham Clinton was so determined to succeed in her run for president, there were doubts that cooperation between her and the man who would be President, Barack Obama, was even possible. Vice President was out; would she even accept Secretary of State, or would she pack up her toys and go home? Everyone knows the answer to that one, as this week Secretary of State Clinton leaves her post having logged more flight miles than any of her predecessors. Now that her consolation prize post is over, is she setting her laser-beam sights again on the big chair?

There are no indications coming from her directly, though there are enough indications swirling around her to give political pundits much to speculate about. First came a positively chummy interview Sunday past, with Hillary and President Obama on 60 Minutes. When asked if she was considering another run in 2016, Clinton replied, “I don’t think either [Obama] or I can make predictions about what’s going to happen tomorrow or next year.” The interview was seen by many as an endorsement, despite the president’s attempt to laugh that off.

Clinton was more direct during an interview with CNN yesterday, during which she said she had “absolutely no plans to run.” A forthcoming memoir may provide a few more interesting clues – or not. For now, the former First Lady and outgoing Secretary of State will keep everyone wondering whether she’ll try to add the ultimate title to her resume.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Hillary Clinton. Altogether more intriguing than any other politician.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Keep people guessing, and you keep people thinking about you. Clinton knows when to give, as she did during her very real testimony on the attack on the American consulate in Libya. She also knows when to withhold, with a blithe smile, as she does whenever she’s asked about another attempt at the presidency. Hillary Rodham Clinton has become a master of giving and withholding information, ensuring that the public, love her or hate her, will snap to attention whenever she speaks. Give a little . . . but not too much, and you’ll get the lion’s share of attention.

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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) TO Oprah Winfrey. First, she beats out the US Anti-Doping Administration, to whom Lance Armstrong should technically be confessing. Second, she gave tantalizingly vague quotes (to BFF Gayle King on The Early Show) about the interview, never quite saying he confessed, never quite saying he didn’t. We all know now that he did; as one pundit put it, “Oprah Winfrey doesn’t get on a plane and fly across the country for nothing.” But she knows better than to give away the candy store. Millions will tune in to watch Lance squirm, thereby giving Oprah’s embattled network OWN a whole new audience, and parent company Discovery breathing space about previously low ratings.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “D” (PR PROBLEMATIC) TO the National Rifle Association. The group suggested in a video that President Barack Obama thinks his own children are “more important” than others because they are protected by the Secret Service. The charge is just plain silly, and reinforces the NRA’s PR image as extremist and out-of-touch. Every modern president has mandatory armed protection and the Obama children are obviously a greater target for ne’er-do-wells than pretty much any other children in the world. With the extreme right already locked up, the NRA should be courting moderate gun-rights supporters – the very demographic likely to be rolling their eyes at the video.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE PR AWARD TO Mark Sanford. Nothing beats a comeback – even a longshot. In 2009, when he was Governor of South Carolina, Sanford told aides he was going hiking for a week and then mysteriously disappeared. Later, it was revealed that Sanford had taken an unauthorized break from his official duties to visit a TV reporter in Buenos Aires with whom he later claimed to be madly in love. The episode guaranteed a messy reputation, a divorce (from one of the few political wives who refused to stand by her man with a benign smile), and an entry in political folklore. Earlier this week, Sanford announced his decision to run for Congress. Really? No, really? We may be underestimating the American voting public when we say there’s nothing to discuss here. Then again, his new campaign will prove entertaining and underline the obvious truth: Scandal is always more interesting than policy. Let the games begin!

Photos Well Worth a Thousand Words

This week, as we prepare to break for the holidays, we ‘re taking a look at the PR moments that made a difference in 2012. The power of one strong picture is underestimated in the PR world; sometimes one visual is all that’s needed to convey a message. If a picture can say a thousand words, a photo can also shape a thousand words.

Here are three photos that proved the point.

Chrischristie obamajpg 150x150 Photos Well Worth a Thousand WordsBoth President Barack Obama and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey have their stalwart fans and detractors. But this photo, taken immediately following Hurricane Sandy, helped change the conversation about the need for bipartisanship. The American electorate paused; maybe respectful discussion and co-operation is possible after all? There were lessons in this photo for both parties, and its importance resurfaces as the fiscal cliff deadline approaches.

 

 

katieholeselle 150x150 Photos Well Worth a Thousand WordsNo slinking around in the shadows for Katie Holmes as she announced her divorce from Tom Cruise. Gracing the cover of Elle Magazine while simultaneously announcing her divorce from Tom Cruise, this cover girl made it clear it she was not the victim in the divorce. Clever strategy, or a happy coincidence? In the end, it doesn’t matter. The tone was set: Holmes one point, Cruise none.

 

 

 

QueenOO71 150x136 Photos Well Worth a Thousand WordsHard to believe, but only a decade ago the Queen was having her own PR Problems. Out of touch, cold, frosty, and humorless were the persistent complaints. How things have changed! Jumping out of helicopter with James Bond served her well during the opening ceremony of the Olympics. The stunt caught the headlines; some even asked, Was it really her? In the end, not only did royal PR benefit but the helicopter shot also served as a welcome distraction to a puzzling and eccentric Opening Olympic Ceremony that had many scratching their heads.

 

 

 

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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) TO John McAfee. The billionaire computer programmer played a monthlong game of “Catch me if you can” with authorities in Belize, who said they merely wanted to talk to McAfee about the death of his neighbor. McAfee then went on the run and into hiding – rather publicly, as he bragged to reporters about his disguises and blogged about his escapes. Authorities tried to portray McAfee as crazy; maybe crazy like a fox. Whether he’s delusional, addicted to attention, or he truly believes he’s in danger of being held for murder, McAffee is milking his “wanted man” adventure for all it’s worth. The public shakes its collective head…and keeps right on watching. We might be witnessing a myth in the making.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) TO Anne Hathaway. So, what was the reaction to the release of the multimillion dollar film version of the hit play Les Miserables? Any chance of immediate reviews was over before Hathaway even climbed out of her limo at the Paris premiere. She opted to go commando under her designer gown, which afforded her far less coverage than the paparazzi gave. “We’ve seen a lot of you lately,” chortled Today Show host Matt Lauer during the actress’s morning show appearance. To her credit, Hathaway drew a parallel between the unfortunate incident and her prostitute character in Les Miz, but the clever soundbite was all but lost; alas, one revealing picture is worth a thousand well-planned words. The PR machine on this one was well and truly blindsided.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO: Fiscal cliff “negotiators.” The ongoing eleventh-hour skirmish over federal tax increases and spending cuts is set for January 1, 2013. Americans are deeply weary of partisan gridlock in Washington, and perpetuating it continues to further tarnish the reputations of both political parties. With President Obama’s decisive win just six weeks old, Republicans might be well-advised to agree to tax hikes on the wealthy in exchange for a few key areas on which they can loudly claim victory with the majority of their constituents. This is a PR battle where being the hold-out is no longer the winning strategy. Since the election, the game has changed; the first side to make a decisive move  will give the country some much-needed peace (and quiet) this holiday season.

Life on Sesame Street

 Life on Sesame Street

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Sesame Street.

Sesame Street has been in the media spotlight in ways it never wanted to be. First, Mitt Romney during the presidential debates, threatened to cut funding to the Public Broadcasting System, which airs Sesame Street. Sesame Street reps answered with a quick smack down of Romney’s implied assertion that the government funds the educational children’s show.  Next PR task was to order the Democratic party to stop running a subsequent Romney attack ad featuring Big Bird.

While Big Bird was safe after President Obama’s re-election, Elmo, the furry red monster, was next in the media’s sights. This week, Kevin Clash, Sesame Street puppeteer and the voice of Elmo, was accused of having a sexual relationship with a man who was underage at the time. The firestorm of scandal lasted one day; the accuser quickly recanted his story when details didn’t add up.

Sesame Street maintained a terse tone when issuing the statement on Clash, saying that management had met with the accuser, conducted a thorough investigation, and found the allegation to be unsubstantiated. “Kevin exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding internet usage,” the statement reads, “and he was disciplined.” Clash has since taken a leave of absence. Who knew life on Sesame Street could be so fraught with PR dangers?

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Sesame Street. By maintaining an impartial tone – even toward one of their own – their image stays professional, businesslike, and neutral to all who might help or harm.

The PR Takeaway: Authority comes with neutrality. Sesame Street could have used Romney’s Big Bird slam to their advantage, but they knew the political winds could turn against them just as easily. In the Elmo-Clash situation, had they shown full support for the furry monster’s alter-ego and other accusers turned up, the whole company might have been blighted. While the public, on the record statements so far might make Sesame Street seem a chilly place, the company’s neutral and  authoritative tone over the last weeks has secured its brand and singular purpose: providing the best in televised children’s education. Big Bird and friends can continue to sleep easy on the street.

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. 

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

ROMNEY CONCESSION2 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (GOLD STAR!) TO: Mitt Romney. If the web is to be believed, shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning, Mitt Romney began to draft his concession speech. It apparently took him all of five minutes. Up until then he had not thought it was something he would need to prepare, or ultimately use. The rush notwithstanding, Romney delivered a finely worded speech conceding defeat, congratulating the victor, and calling for unity. Given the marathon he had just endured, Romney crossed a lost finish line with grace and elegance. Classy.

 

0071 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) TO: Craig… Daniel Craig. No one likes a whiner, and Daniel’s Craig’s much publicized and off-message interview with Rolling Stone Magazine puts 007 in a thoroughly post-modern and tiresome light. While the PR and marketing machine for the latest Bond blockbuster, Skyfall, goes into overdrive, Craig shared his existential angst about playing the iconic secret agent: He claims to have longed to exit the role for some time, despite his seven-figure paycheck. While there may be an easier way to make a living than jumping out of planes and wearing tailored suits, this was a conversation better reserved for the therapist.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO: Kirstie Alley. The former actress,ex-Jenny Craig diet spokeswoman, and Dancing With the Stars contestant took the next step on the tabloid celebrity path and wrote a tell-all memoir. Entitled The Art of Men, Alley’s book reveals past love affairs with John Travolta (“He’s not gay,” she insists) and North and South co-star Patrick Swayze. Alley also says that she and Swayze, both of whom were married to others at the time, did not have an affair but says their affair was real. Huh? A PR coup when you can claim the “nothing” that happened is a candid revelation.

Diane Sawyer: Anchor Aweigh!

 Diane Sawyer: Anchor Aweigh!

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Diane Sawyer.

Talking heads were breathless in describing this nail-bitingly close election but one thing unified this divided country: What the heck was up with Diane Sawyer? The venerable anchorwoman received the dubious honor of being the second-most talked about part of Election 2012.

The Twitterverse focused its biting sights on Sawyer, who during election coverage was described as propped on one arm, slurring her words, giggling, and making comments about the network’s dramatic music.  “And Diane Sawyer declares tonight’s winner is…chardonnay!” read one Tweet. And a new Twitter handle was born: @DrunkDianeSawyer, which soon had hundreds of followers.

The network felt compelled to address the alleged brew-haha, although it’s not really clear if anything needed to be said. This seemed more like a story that grew its own momentum, proving the viral nature of social media over any real substance. “Diane’s fine – she’s exhausted,” said a representative responding to the deluge of tweets. “Diane has been up for days and she’s had many sleepless nights…..covering the hurricane and then preparing for the election broadcast.” Sounds plausible enough.  This hiccup will fade if Sawyer refrains from addressing it herself. After all, Tweeters’ attention spans are only 140 characters long.

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Diane Sawyer. One (or two) bad nights do not a long, illustrious career unmake.

The PR Takeaway: Don’t apologize, don’t explain.  Sawyer’s PR rep said what was needed to deflect rumours and the rep was the right person to say it. Should Sawyer have jumped to her own defense, she would have only incriminated herself prolonging discussion and fuelling curiosity that something was not quite right. Better to keep calm, carry on and get some rest.

To see a clip of Sawyer during the election results, click here.

Should Diane Sawyer address rumors of her being drunk on air? Give us your PR Verdict!