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.

A Serious Storm, A Simple (and Effective) Message

OB VD264 obamaf G 20121028145952 150x150 A Serious Storm, A Simple (and Effective) Message

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for a President’s speech that reassured and activated.

Hurricane Sandy has managed to do the unthinkable in terms of media coverage: moved the last ten days of electioneering off the front page and turned national attention toward disaster recovery. President Obama joined the conversation on Monday morning, and with a coupe of clearly honed messages at a hastily-convened press conference, he made the transition from electioneering President to President in Charge.

Obama’s short speech is worth watching for anyone wanting to know how to craft a simple message. What started off with a slightly wordy and lengthy introduction soon became clear. Yes, preparations were in place and the East Coast was as ready as it could be, but the main takeaway? “Listen to what officials are saying – this is a serious storm.”

Obama’s speech was designed to reassure, and to manage expectations. He flagged the  inevitable issues that will arise post-storm, including long-running power outages and transportation delays. But the main lesson from the speech is that reassuring the public that everything’s under control is not enough; a call to action is needed and grabs attention. Getting the public directly involved takes the conversation to a higher level of engagement.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for a President’s speech that reassured and activated.

The PR Takeaway: To get the public’s attention, give the public something to do. President Obama’s speech included a roll call of what was intended to reassure a nervous public. What made the difference was clear instruction. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani made a similar speech following September 11, when he asked New Yorkers to go back to their lives, the streets, and shopping. A call to action from someone in authority got attention then, as it does now.

What Did Obama Say That Was Offensive and Callous?

obamagay marraige21 What Did Obama Say That Was Offensive and Callous?

The PR Verdict: “D” for both organizations and their PR strategy on Obama’s announcement.

“Offensive and callous” were the surprising words used yesterday by the gay Republican organization, Log Cabin Republicans, to describe President Obama’s headline comments endorsing gay marriage.  Distinctly underwhelmed by Obama’s change of heart, the organization immediately issued a statement claiming the President “does not deserve praise for an announcement that comes a day late and a dollar short.”   Their reasoning?  His comments followed North Carolina’s approval of an amendment to the state Constitution banning gay marriage.   People were “mourning” the passing of the amendment and Obama’s timing they said, smacked of cynicism.

These sentiments were then reinforced by a similar organization, GOProud, which said, “This is hardly a profile in courage by President Obama.”  Wanting to score a PR point, the statement went on to declare triumphantly that “President Obama has finally come around to the Dick Cheney position on marriage equality.”   Meanwhile, GOP candidate Mitt Romney was not mentioned in either statement and nor was the party’s current policy position.

This was an odd and mistaken PR strategy.  Why make PR mileage on a day which most campaigning peers would consider a step forward?

The PR Verdict: “D” for both organizations and their PR strategy on Obama’s big announcement.   While having previously characterized this issue as one of personal choice,  both organizations batted the issue straight back into the world of partisan politics.

PR Takeaway:  Fighting back at every  PR turn can quickly sound stale.  Both responses belittled progress on an issue that each organization has been fighting for.  Why not welcome the change and then, in the coming days, prod the President as to what he intends to do with his new found view? A clear case of misguided strategy and wrong timing.

What’s your PR Verdict?