The PRV 2013 Final Grade: And the “F” Goes to…

Healthcare Exchanges The PRV 2013 Final Grade: And the F Goes to...THE PR VERDICT’S “F” (FULL FIASCO) grade goes to HealthCare.gov, the website hub for US citizens to sign up for government-supplied health insurance. A long hoped-for dream of affordable healthcare for Americans, and what Barack Obama surely thought would be his presidential legacy, has turned into what is generally described as a nightmare.

Getting the Affordable Health Care Act bill passed seemed the hard part. The next step was constructing a website that would be easy to navigate and able to handle an onslaught of Americans in need of insurance. But surely this would be a cinch for Microsoft or Apple or any of America’s tech giants. Maybe, if they’d gotten the contract, or even been consulted.

From the start, HealthCare.gov was a disaster. The site bounced users off, refused to save their data, or was impossible to log onto. Worse, the few who did manage to get on and didn’t want to change their plans suddenly found themselves without insurance. The President’s angry promises to get the site fixed were empty next to facts emerging from a commission (yes, things went that bad). Not enough testing, wrong mainframe, blah tech excuse blah. Only this week has Microsoft been called in, but help arrived too late to save this story.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Under-promise and over-deliver. It’s easy to see why President Obama would have wanted to offer affordable healthcare as soon as possible. Now, in hindsight, it’s easy to see why he should have waited. The achievement is one thing, implementation an entirely different animal. Whether looking at a presidential legacy or a small business breaking sales expectations with a big account, plan. Factor in worst-case scenarios. Hire the best consultants. When the back-slapping over a major win is done, take a hard look at what’s ahead to see that your promise doesn’t become an error fail.

Health Exchange Site Needs Intensive Care

Healthcare Exchanges Health Exchange Site Needs Intensive Care

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Healthcare.gov’s rocky rollout.

Among the great gifts US Congressional Republicans gave to President Obama in their 16-day quixotic government shutdown was deep cover for the abysmal rollout of Healthcare.gov, the website where uninsured Americans can (and must) sign up for health insurance. The federal government site is the go-to for the 6-in-10 uninsured consumers who live in states that, for political reasons, refused to set up their own healthcare exchanges.

Regardless of where one stands on Obamacare, the rollout has been a slow-motion disaster plagued by technical glitches, politics, restrictive government contracting requirements – there’s a long list. And now that  the foundering ship of state has been righted and set back on course, attention is shifting to the implementation problems, and criticism is crossing party lines.

In remarks Monday, Obama hit the “no excuse” soundtrack for the technical problems and vowed a quick and substantive fix, but repairs could take weeks. The administration has highlighted the volume of site traffic (overwhelming) and successful registrations (respectable) but is still playing off its back foot amid rising calls for someone’s head – perhaps even that of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sibelius. A quick fix is mandatory.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) to the Obama administration, for not responding fast or loud enough to address Obamacare’s web-based woes.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Own the conversation on your product or service. Admirers of the nimble, shoot-and-move communications strategy of Obama’s presidential campaigns surely wish the same could be seen in how his administration has addressed the healthcare rollout glitches. Obama & Co. need to redirect the conversation. They’ve taken the first step with Obama’s “mad as hell” mea culpa. Now it’s time to find and promote successes, get ahead of the critics, provide a date for when things will be fixed – and prepare for someone to take the fall.  

 

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

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Cory Booker, the charismatic Democratic mayor of Newark, NJ, who this week became the state’s first African American US senator. True, he was unlikely to lose; New Jersey hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate in 40 years. Still, the media-savvy 44-year-old ran a carefully calibrated race. Early on, he laid low and campaigned via his Twitter feed and Instagram videos. He artfully handled shrill questions about sexuality and his communications with a West Coast stripper. When opponent Steve Lonegan turned up the heat, Booker came out swinging with an aggressive TV ad (but still spent less than $1 million on television). Booker’s next challenge will be navigating the US Senate where, as The New York Times put it, “show horses tend to stumble.”

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the man behind the ban on large-sized sugary drinks and increasingly limited public smoking areas. While those “nanny state” actions could be called beneficial, this week the mayor directed NYC police to find and arrest the artist known as Banksy, who is currently “defacing” the buildings of Bloomie’s burg. Banksy’s art routinely sells for millions, and other cities have treated his graffiti-style work as valuable contributions. Nevertheless, in a town that has recently suffered a spate of violent attacks on gay men, cops are being ordered by Hizzonor to focus on apprehending this hooded painting bandit. That’s a Big Gulp of nerve.

bachmanncruz The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO any number of US Congressional Republicans, for statements during the 16-day government shutdown crisis that gave “spin” a bad name, even after the crisis ended. When it did, the meekly even-handed media coverage broke decidedly against the Republicans, but that didn’t end their attempts to save face and subvert reality. Thus we have statements like House Speaker John Boehner’s “We fought the good fight, we just didn’t win,” Sen. Ted Cruz’s “Washington is not listening to the people,” and Rep. Michele Bachmann’s “This was a fight worth having.” After setting out on an obviously dead-ending path, they followed to its natural conclusion and somehow kept going, perhaps walking their party right into the political wilderness.

In Congressional Poker Game, Americans Lose

 In Congressional Poker Game, Americans Lose

The PR Verdict: (“F” (Full Fiasco) for Congressional Republicans.

As midnight approached on Monday evening, an end came to the high-stakes poker game the United States Congress has been playing. Specifically, Republicans threatened a government shutdown if President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act wasn’t rolled back for a year, and the President and Congressional Democrats said no. The clock struck twelve, and the United States government shut down for the first time in 17 years.

Government workers received emails telling them not to show up at their jobs and tourists visiting national parks and museums now find signs like the one on Washington DC’s Air and Space Museum: “Sorry for the Inconvenience.” Ironically while most of the government is closed, one thing that remains open is enrollment in the Affordable Care Act.

At the heart of the battle are the Tea-publicans, members of the Republican Tea Party like Sen. Ted Cruz, and Speaker of the House John Boehner, They are sticking to their guns claiming this bad medicine is good for the country. “This may hurt but it’s good for you”  is the PR pitch. A hard sell?

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Ful Fiasco) for Republican members of Congress.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Short term harm only works if there is long term good . It’s difficult to say you’re working for constituents while causing them harm unless you can offer a rainbow at the end. As this contest escalates, the welfare of the public is increasingly lost. Political brinkmanship is what the debate has become and Republicans will need to claw back the PR fallout. As Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said, “Republicans are likely to get the blame”  and its not clear how this “will benefit us more.” Without a clear and happy rainbow at the end, the PR damage looks set to continue.

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.

 

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 actor Mark Wahlberg, who announced that, after a year of secretly taking online classes, he has earned his high school diploma. Growing up in a tough neighborhood in Boston, a young Wahlberg started doing drugs and ran afoul of the law multiple times before being arrested and tried for assault at 16. Emerging from prison with an attitude adjustment, Wahlberg found fame in the band New Kids on the Block and in a series of provocative underwear ads for Calvin Klein. Two Oscar nominations later, the 42-year-old said that getting his diploma was an important personal achievement. The perfect PR tale of redemption and a personal turnaround. Will someone make a movie about this?

boehner The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to John Boehner, Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives, who again showed powerlessness to corral his caucus and keep its more intransigent members from stampeding the entire herd off a cliff. Boehner gave in this week to the Tea Party faction of his caucus and vowed to proceed with another effort to defund Obamacare, President Obama’s signature health care reform initiative, or shut down the government. Even Senate Republicans, as well as GOP commentators and other Obamacare opponents outside government, have decried the Republican House strategy as futile and self-destructive. Boehner previously has argued much the same but reversed course to accommodate his colleagues – again showing that for House Republicans, the tail wags the dog.

escape from tomorrow disney poster 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to indie horror film Escape from Tomorrow. The film was shot secretly on location at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, without permission from the company, telling the tale of a man’s disturbing experiences during the last day of a family vacation at the amusement park. Due to Disney’s reputation for being fiercely protective of its brand, the cast and crew used guerrilla filmmaking techniques to avoid attracting attention during its making. Since early screenings, the Mouse House’s response has been a stoic “no comment,”  knowing that in PR, paying attention means giving attention. Presumably the silence before the legal storm…..

 

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 President Obama for his artful handling of Congress regarding possible military involvement in Syria. Global concern about the Syrian civil war soared after more than 1500 civilians were believed killed in government-led chemical weapons attacks. Taking a political gamble, Obama announced he supports limited intervention but would require Congressional approval to move forward. The savvy move effectively forces Republicans to align themselves with the White House on an issue that’s far from popular with the American people. Within days, senior Congressional Republicans lined up behind the prez. If the measure passes in next week’s vote, the US will present a united front. If it fails, it will be due to Republican leaders’ inability to garner support. Either way, Obama wins.

John McCain plays on iPho 010 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to US Senator John McCain, caught playing poker on his iPhone during a Senate committee hearing to discuss US military intervention in Syria. The hawkish Arizona Republican is a strong proponent for use of force in response to the gassing of civilians in that country’s two-year civil war, and his advocacy is likely to be critical in upcoming Congressional votes to authorize military action. But at the hearing Tuesday, his mind was apparently elsewhere, as an alert Washington Post photographer discovered. “Scandal! Caught playing iPhone game at 3+ hour Senate hearing – worst of all I lost!” McCain posted on his Twitter feed. But the attempt at deflection only drew more criticism. “That hearing sounds so boring though. Hope it wasn’t about anything important,” tweeted one.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to JCPenny, for dumping their embattled Martha Stewart line of home goods. The colorful kitchen and home collection caused was a disaster from the start, when Stewart assured the venerable retailer that her exclusive contract with Macy’s wasn’t that exclusive. Actually, yes, it was, ruled a judge. The lawsuit cost millions, as well as JCP’s then-CEO Ron Johnson his job. This week, the whole magilla was resolved when current JCP CEO Mike Ullman cleared shelves of Stewart designs that, after all was said and nearly done, weren’t selling anyway. That, apparently, is the way the cookie plate crumbles.

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

cnbc9 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) TO Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who calmly and methodically schooled three CNBC-TV news hosts on financial industry regulation last week. In a live interview that was widely circulated and rebroadcast on the web, the business-friendly network’s hosts challenged Warren’s advocacy for reinstating Depression-era banking regulations that sought to protect consumers by segregating investment and commerical bank activities. The senator patiently but determinedly parried every criticism and counter-argument the CNBC team raised. She brooked no quarter, easily carrying the debate with her command of the facts and professorial gravitas. She made three business experts look like students in an entry-level economics class, and kept it all business, nothing personal.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Rolling Stone Magazine. Outrage greeted a cover that seems to give Boston Bombing  suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the rock star treatment usually reserved for the musicians who grace the magazine’s cover. RS editors quickly said that illustrates the article’s point, asking how “a bright kid with a charming future became a monster.” The point was perhaps a bit too sharp; with the public’s feelings still raw from the attack, the hashtag #BoycottRollingStone spread like wildfire through Twitter, and convenience chains CVS, Walgreens, and Tedeschi Food Shops refused to carry the issue. Sensationalism doesn’t guarantee sales, especially if people can’t buy the issue.

boehner1 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO US House Republicans, who voted for the 38th time last week to repeal the sweeping national healthcare reform that is President Obama’s signature domestic achievement. (Or was it Vote No. 39? Even legislators can’t keep it straight.) The one-house vote is meaningless – the Senate will never take up repeal in a serious way – and wags in Washington and elsewhere turned to Einstein’s definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result) to characterize the Kabuki political theatrics. Republican  persistence is defended as an attempt to permanently taint Obamacacre in the public’s mind, eventually leading to its downfall. But outside the halls of Congress, it mostly looks pointless and futile.

Pelosi Makes Old News, New News

Screen Shot 2013 05 20 at 7.14.18 AM 139x150 Pelosi Makes Old News, New NewsNot everyone likes Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives. That much is clear. She is described by the Financial Times as “a kind of liberal piñata for Republicans,” and “a ready-made hate-figure for conservatives.” She recently gave an interview to the paper in its informal weekend format, Lunch with the FT.  Was this interview an attempt to set the record straight? An informal make over?

There are many reasons to give interviews to the media. Sometimes it’s to make an announcement, to launch and idea, or to set the record straight. Sometimes it is to simply make your case again. Nancy Pelosi, at the age of 73, gave her lunch interview to the Financial Times with one key message: business as usual.

What’s noteworthy about the interview is that there is no new PR messaging and no real news. Given her age and her congressional seniority the key takeaways were that she remains a defiant and unapologetic liberal (“proudly so”) and that she continues in her role as the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, a task of endless complication. Described as “brutally effective” in her role, the FT claims Obama’s “signature legislative achievements such as healthcare reform would have never become law” without her. At this point in her tenure, the need to establish a base and to outreach with new messaging now seems to be behind her.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Nancy Pelosi and an interview that was more of the same.

The PR Takeaway: Simply staying on track can be the message. What’s noteworthy about this article is how little new ground it breaks. Pelosi’s messaging is exactly as one might have expected but packaged in an interview format that revolves around an informal lunch, makes the messaging sounds less political and self promotional. In PR, if you want to make your point but don’t have anything new to say, change the venue and the format and keep the messaging on track. What is old news can pass as new news.

The PRV Report Card: Winners & Losers

Screen Shot 2013 05 16 at 7.16.52 PM 150x150 The PRV Report Card: Winners & LosersPR Winner: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Republicans who have turned up the heat on the Obama’s second term. If true that life comes at you in threes, then this week was the triumvirate of PR gifts. Obama found himself on the back foot regarding the IRS/ Tea Party scandal, the Justice Department/AP phone record snooping, and finally the ongoing thorn in the side of the Administration that is Benghazi. No matter the merits, the concerted drum beating has been an effective PR attack. Objective one: change the news agenda and place the Administration on the defensive, unable to talk about what it wants to talk about. For this week at least, mission accomplished.

Screen Shot 2013 05 16 at 7.17.58 PM 150x150 The PRV Report Card: Winners & LosersPR Loser: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Barbara Walters and the media reaction to her announcement that she is stepping down. In what will be her long goodbye to broadcasting, America’s famous interviewer announced that she would be phasing herself out during a series of programmed appearances and TV specials over the next twelve months. Online and columnist reactions to her career were astonishingly scathing. Slammed as lightweight, fawning and inconsequential the reaction could have only made unhappy bedtime reading for Babs’ PR team. A couple more glowing endorsements from journalists who think Babs paved the way for other women might have given the coverage some more balance. For Babs and her team, this might be a tough twelve months.

Screen Shot 2013 05 16 at 7.19.58 PM 150x150 The PRV Report Card: Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO Kylie Busutti, a former Victoria’s Secret model currently touting her book I’m No Angel. In her sad tale, Ms. Busutti recounts being shocked – shocked! – to find out that models are required to be absurdly thin and that Victoria’s Secret apparel is sexy, apparently too sexy for Busutti’s Christian faith. We’re not sure what deserted island this young woman grew up on, but these are hardly revelations. There is something rank, too, about claiming a moral high ground that wouldn’t let her continue in such a tawdry profession but does, apparently, permit trying to capitalize on it.