Margaret Thatcher’s PR Legacy

 Margaret Thatchers PR Legacy

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Lord Bell and Margaret Thatcher for consistent PR packaging that made a political icon.

The passing of Margaret Thatcher was announced yesterday by none other than her trusty PR adviser Lord Timothy Bell, the man who packaged Thatcher for an electoral win. It was a fitting end to an astonishing PR trajectory – the PR man who transformed the grocer’s daughter into a global figurehead ended up publicly drawing the curtain on the former Prime Minister’s final act, and possibly his greatest PR achievement.

To realize quite how successful Lord Bell has been in creating a myth and icon, one only need look at the media coverage announcing Thatcher’s death. Blanketing most news outlets on both sides of the Atlantic, the consensus on both political sides was that Thatcher had genuinely transformed economic policy and foreign policy with her relentless prescription for free markets and hostility to the Soviet Union.

Bell’s PR packaging served Thatcher’s messages well. Yesterday’s coverage made endless references to the deepened voice loaded with gravitas, as prescribed by her PR team, while her signature handbag portrayed an impatient common sense. Though her politics are what made her famous, her clever photo ops and bon mots made sure that even those who weren’t fans felt compelled to listen, watch, and acknowledge her achievements.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Lord Bell and Margaret Thatcher for consistent PR packaging that made a political icon.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Consistency trumps inventiveness. Thatcher’s genius was to begin working with a PR team at the outset of her political launch (as portrayed in the film The Iron Lady) that took every opportunity to demonstrate qualities that she later traded on. From her famous “This lady is not for turning” speech to her impeccably groomed persona, her packaging over the years rarely strayed or experimented with doubt or ideological uncertainty. Bell found for Thatcher a PR formula that, once firmly established, simply improved with age.

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.

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 Dr. Phil. The glow of Oprah landing Lance Armstrong wore off after she asked him about doping in the first 30 seconds of her two-night interview. Switch to the next best “get” of the talk-show circuit – Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man who pretended for two years to be the tragic girlfriend of football star Manti Te’o. Dr. Phil knew enough not to open with the “why” but to drag out this fascinating, confounding story to a moment of climax. It was better than both Oprah’s Lance interview and Katie Couric’s sit-down with Te’o and weeping family. In the PR battles to be the nation’s confessor, Dr Phil scored a high point with this bizarre interview leaving the key question, why, to  last.


 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) TO Tim Mathieson, husband of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Mathieson recently spoke at an event at the PM’s official residence to promote awareness of prostate cancer. Sharing advice with the media, he helpfully opined: “….the digital examination is the only true way to get a correct reading on your prostate. So make sure you go and do that, and perhaps look for a small Asian female doctor… ” Gillard, and presumably small Asian female doctors, were not amused. The PM looked stony faced, and there was a subsequent rushed apology by Mathieson.  Was this the dinner party joke best shared with Joan Rivers and friends only?


 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” PR AWARD TO Brandi Glanville, who has a new book out called Drinking and Tweeting and Other Brandi Blunders. For the uninitiated, Glanville is a star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and the ex-wife of actor Eddie Cibrian. For the uninterested, Brandi did an interview during which she dropped the v-bomb repeatedly talking about the medical procedure to ‘rejuvenate’ her own birth canal after multiple children. To her credit, the mention of her private parts did pertain to the story she was telling, and she used the proper word, not “va-jay-jay” or some other silly nickname. But Brandi still wins this award for gratuitous use of the word, without which we wouldn’t have even come to our attention. See? She was right. …We can’t believe we fell for it.

David Cameron’s Great Expectations

 David Camerons Great Expectations

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a speech promising to hold a referendum on Britain’s future in the EU by 2017. By then, he said, his government would be able to work with its European partners on reforms towards his vision of a better EU – in his words, more flexible, more adaptable, more open. At that point, he proposed, Brits should decide to stay in or get out.

The speech itself was direct, upfront, thoughtful, and inclusive.  It was passionate where appropriate, describing the UK approach as “practical rather than emotional.” There were concessions for every interest group: sufficient criticism to please at home, but nothing so deeply offensive as to justify open outrage by powerful partners abroad. No obvious blunders, no mistakes; just smart speechwriting at its best.

Although debatable that the “EU issue” was  top-of-mind for British people, they will now rightly expect their government to get it resolved. Was Cameron’s tactic to appease the conservative UK press and the euro-sceptics in his own party? If so, did it buy him time to focus on more important issues, or has he seriously jeopardized his political future? From a communications perspective, he opened up not one but many Pandora’s boxes and inspired a myriad of expectations. Was this the intention?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for David Cameron. Be wary of creating expectations that you may not want to meet.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Only promise what you can deliver. Communicating always involves creating and managing expectations, and in complex situations, different stakeholders’ expectations inevitably diverge. Even if the public pressure is almost unbearable (and it seems it wasn’t in this case) controversy is almost never resolved by creating new expectations. When you can’t control expecations and aren’t certain of the outcome, then it’s usually the most vocal who demand their stance be taken. This is one speech Cameron may come to regret.




Guest Column: Canadian Political Party Smackdown!

598e8a954113bbd41d651c0b7a2f 300x214 Guest Column: Canadian Political Party Smackdown!

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the NDP.

Canadians are used to conservative party political attack ads, even when there isn’t an imminent election. Since 2007, the norm has been for the ad to run and the Liberal Party not to respond. The Liberals lost the last two elections. Apparently, Canada’s new Opposition Party, the ultra-left NDP, has had enough.

Some history: The old ads from the party of the Canadian Prime Minster, Stephen Harper, suggested that the Liberal Leader of the Opposition was “not a leader”; the Liberals sat on their hands, and Leader Stephane Dion was subsequently trounced in the next election. The Liberals then got a new Leader, Michael Ignatieff, a Harvard professor and frequent expat. Harper painted Ignatieff as a crass opportunist who “didn’t come back [to Canada] for you.” Ignatieff also chose not to respond and promptly led his party to the biggest defeat in Liberal history.

Canada got a new Opposition Party with the NDP. Harper started attack ads on the new Leader of the NDP, admonishing the Party with the innuendo, “This is the best you can do?” This time, the NDP shot back with an ad accusing Harper of attacking the most vulnerable Canadians during the recession. Even without an election in the offing, the ads say that current policies aren’t working and that Canadians will have to pay the price. The war is on–but who will win?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the NDP. While necessary to respond to the attack ads, the NDP policy wonks obviously won the day by attacking policies, not personalities. 

The PR Takeaway: Politics is about popularity, rarely policy. The Prime Minister’s attack ads are directed at the subject’s image and reputation; these attributes take years to build, but only 30 seconds to undermine. The NDP took the moral high ground by talking about policies, which Canadians find tough but pragmatic in a recession. Leading up to the next election, the Prime Minister can backtrack, soften, or amend these policies to diffuse the NDP’s salvos. More likely than not, the NDP will find it harder to fight the PM’s more personal attack campaign. Hitting back with policy is a hard sell. 

Is the NDP attack tactic effective, or should they have stayed out of the muck altogether? What’s your PR Verdict? 


Bob Diamond: Was It Something I Said?

BobDiamondresignation 300x194 Bob Diamond: Was It Something I Said?

The PR Verdict:”F” (Full Fiasco) for Bob Diamond, resigning CEO of Barclays.

One down and another just gone. Monday morning saw the resignation of Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius, following news of the Libor rate scandal. “The buck stops here” Agius said.  Exit stage right.  Oddly enough, his number two, CEO Bob Diamond, remained standing. By Tuesday, Diamond’s resignation had been accepted.

Up until then, Diamond apparently felt the buck didn’t really stop with him. While suitably contrite, with public apologies and regrets that made it clear that rate fixing failed to meet Barclays’ standards, there was no hint of a resignation. Hell no! Dismissing any suggestion that he was about to lose his position, Diamond told the media he wasn’t going anywhere. Two days later, he was out of a job.

Diamond’s headstrong comments over the weekend pushed forward the likelihood of a resignation. After all, if the Chairman had resigned, why didn’t the CEO, who is in charge of day-to-day business? Given that Diamond has previously fought PR clouds over his compensation and autocratic style, this unlucky third strike was bound to have him preparing the cardboard box for his belongings.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Bob Diamond. Telling the media and staff he had no intention of leaving his post wasn’t his call. An oddly cavalier declaration when his Chairman had decided to take his public lumps.

PR Takeaway: Is it the role of a CEO to decide if he should keep his job or not?  Remember, each person is only a guest in his or her position, and the invitation can be pulled at any time. Better to have deferred the issue to the Board and say that the matter of continued service was a decision for them. Diamond unwittingly gave everyone from the UK Prime Minister on down the opportunity to cry foul. With little incentive for powerful stakeholders to come out in support of Diamond’s tenure, his remaining days were nothing more than a countdown to the inevitable.

Should Agius and Diamond have resigned simultaneously? Would that have been the better PR tactic? Give us your PR Verdict below.

We will be back July 5 with a new PRV. Happy July 4 to all our readers