Snowden’s “Trap” for Putin Misses Its Mark

Vlad Snowden Snowdens Trap for Putin Misses Its Mark

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden is raising questions about state-sponsored citizen surveillance. No, this is not a repeat from last May. The former National Security Agency contractor, whose classified disclosures exposed a host of US global surveillance programs, is proving himself to be an equal opportunity agitator by taking aim at his homeland-in-exile, Russia, and his putative host, Vladimir Putin.

In what was widely dismissed as a propaganda stunt for the Russian president, Snowden showed up on Russian television on Putin’s annual call-in meeting with the nation. Appearing via a video link, Snowden asked Putin whether Russia spies on its citizens like the US does. The former KGB agent responded that Russia’s “special services are strictly controlled by the state and society, and their activity is regulated by law.” He added, for good measure, that Russia has neither the money nor the “technical devices” the US has.

Snowden himself followed up with a newspaper column to explain the ulterior motive for his appearance: He was hoping to trap Putin with a question that “cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program.” His motive, he said, was to spark a debate over Russia’s own surveillance programs. Fat chance of that happening in his adopted land.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Edward Snowden, whose naïve idealism could be his undoing.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Don’t believe your own hype. Edward Snowden wants to expand his crusade, doubtless fortified by world reaction to date. Whether hero or traitor, though, his stature in either capacity doesn’t travel well, nor might it live long. His disclosures of US spying did, in fact, ignite an international debate. No chance of that same scrutiny happening in Russia. Nor is Putin likely to care much if Snowden’s “trap” sparks global condemnation. Just ask Ukraine.

“A New Russia” – Same As the Old Russia

 A New Russia   Same As the Old Russia

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Barely a week ago, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, came to a triumphant close. The games were free from terrorism, the ceremonies were lavish, the competition fierce and exciting. Russian President Vladimir Putin had made good, and the world could agree with Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee, when he closed the games by proclaiming, “This is the new face of Russia.” Days later, the old Russia would rear its head.

Over the weekend, Russian soldiers seized airports in Ukraine in what seems the start of an invasion. Crimea is now involved in a tug of what many fear will be war. “This is the red alert,” said Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk to reporters. “This is not a threat, this is actually a declaration of war to my country.”

Yatsenyuk was appealing to the West for help, and while the West has condemned Russia’s actions, President Putin shows no sign of being concerned or deterred. The “new face of Russia” looks very familiar.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Time out doesn’t mean an about face. In one sense, Russian President Putin did exactly what he was supposed to do: put political disagreements aside so the world could come together in the spirit of the Olympic Games. He was a gracious host to his guests, though he displaced his own people and killed stray dogs to build the Olympic Park. Nonetheless, Russia’s PR received an incredible boost during the Games. Within days, all of that good will has been undone. Having put on a grand party, it’s back to business as usual, and Putin cares less how Russia looks to the world now.

Sochi Media Won’t Include Social Media

soc olympics1 Sochi Media Wont Include Social Media

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for sponsors of 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

If it weren’t offensive, it might be almost quaint: an Olympic sponsoring committee seeking to impose arbitrary limits on social media. That’s what organizers of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are trying to do. Journalists covering the games will lose their credentials and be booted out if they take and post unauthorized photos or video with a smartphone. It’s possible that specators will face restrictions on photography as well.

The motivation here is more profit than censorship. The Games are big business and event organizers understandably want to wring every conceivable rouble from their sponsorship. To do that, they want absolute control of images, and there’s precedent for such an effort: Organizers of the 2012 London Summer Games sought similar clampdowns on use of social media.

As for censorship and eavesdropping, fear not, comrades: the Russian government has the games hard-wired and will be monitoring all communications, filtering as needed.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the Sochi Games sponsors and their control issues.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Accept forces beyond your control or risk coming to grief. Social media is like a fire hose you can’t turn off – your best bet is to keep it pointed in the right direction. Competition in this case is among the athletes, so there is reduced reputational and competitive downside for  the organizers. Instead Sochi’s sponsors could channel their repressive impulses in a different direction to promote goodwill without affecting profit – a photography contest, for instance? Better to channel the wisdom of crowds than to risk their wrath.

The Fat Lady Sings at the Met, Despite Protests

Met Eugene Onegin 150x127 The Fat Lady Sings at the Met, Despite Protests

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for The Met’s straightforward, on-brand response to protestors. (Pictured: performers in The Met’s production of “Eugene Onegin.”)

As Russia put harsh anti-gay laws into place, celebrities have begun announcing boycotts in protest; Bravo’s Andy Cohen announced he would not co-host the Miss Universe pageant taking place in Moscow while Cher is not including stops in Russia. But when protesters planned to picket the production of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” The Metropolitan Opera said the show must go on.

The protest centered around the conflict between the composer and the stars of the production. Tchaikovsky was gay; some of the performers in this staging of “Onegin” have been associated with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the man who put the anti gay laws into place.

The Met’s response came from its General Manager, Peter Gelb, in a blog on Bloomberg.com. “As an arts institution, the Met is not the appropriate vehicle for waging nightly battles against the social injustices of the world,” Gelb wrote. “Throughout its distinguished 129-year history, the Met has never dedicated a single performance to a political or social cause, no matter how important or just,” Gelb wrote. “Our messaging has always been through art.” Gelb further pointed out that the Met’s stance on gay rights is reflected through “the choice of our LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rainbow of artists and staff.”

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for The Met’s straightforward, on-brand response to protestors.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Messages can become mixed when they come from the wrong messenger. It’s one thing for performers to choose not to go to Russia in protest; a similar boycott took place when celebrities refused to perform in Sun City, a South African resort, when it was still under apartheid rule. But where is the line drawn? On artistic soil. The Met is in New York, a melting pot for cultures and a place where the arts can unite people of all diversities. Gelb stated the Met’s case respectfully, unequivocally, and quickly. In this case, the hubbub was over before the fat lady sang.

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.

Depardieu: From French to Russian Dressing

 Depardieu: From French to Russian Dressing

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Gerard Depardieu (left, with Vladimir Putin).

Who’s playing who in the great French tax debate? Heavyweight French actor Gerard Depardieu has raised eyebrows after threatening to take up a Russian passport to avoid what he sees as onerous tax rates in his native France. In a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Depardieu claimed, “I love your country, Russia, your people, your history, your writers. I like to make films here . . . I adore your culture, your way of thinking . . .”

President Putin has said the passport is there for Depardieu “if he wants it.” Depardieu has said he wants to take up the offer even before the new higher tax rates are law in France. For smiling President Putin, what better way to encourage off-shore Russians that Moscow is safe and friendly to high net-worth investors?

Before playing his part in this PR love-fest, Depardieu might want to ponder why, despite having a flat tax rate of only  13 per cent, wealthy Russians continue to ship their money to offshore centers. Parking money offshore has been a consistent concern of both Russian tax authorities and millionaires alike. Could it be that Putin needs an endorsement to show his wealth-friendly credentials?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Gerard Depardieu and his partnership with President Putin. The actor might want to read the fine print.

THE PR TAKEWAY: In PR, it’s easy to be played. Gerard Depardieu seems to be happily ignoring the acres of press coverage concerning Russian government corruption, its politicized bureaucracy, and it’s notorious vindictiveness – not to mention clamp downs on artisitic freedom (ever heard of Pussy Riot, Gerard?). As wealthy Russians continue to seek safer havens, Depardieu might want to wonder why Putin’s PR people are happy to have him so publicly running in the opposite direction of Russia’s oligarchs. It’s easy to understand what Putin sees in this PR opportunity, but for Depardieu, it’s not so clear. Before jumping on the endorsement bandwagon, it might have been more sensible to look around for alternative tax jurisdictions. Singapore, anyone?

Putin Admits He’s a PR Poser

putinshirltess3 Putin Admits Hes a PR PoserYes, its true: Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, is guilty of staging absurd PR stunts. The world has always had its suspicions that Russia’s de-facto dictator was guilty of cynical media manipulation. Now none other than Putin himself has confirmed same… Which may be the most bizarre stunt he’s pulled yet.

The BBC recently reported that the nice version of Vladimir (not Vlad the Imprisoner of Pussy Riot) came clean to a journalist who previously suspected some of the presidential trips were nothing more than PR stunts and refused to cover them. Putin conceded that some of the stunts were staged, telling Bolshoi Gorod magazine, “Of course, there are excesses. And I’m annoyed about it,” he confided.

He was referring to news stories of him tagging whales, flying with Siberian cranes, and, most dramatically, saving a TV crew from a tiger. “The leopards were also my idea,” Putin added, referring to a photo op that had him fooling around with a rare snow leopard. Vlad kindly lets us know this was not a cynical PR exercise; on the contrary, he was doing this to draw attention to animals under threat. Apparently the President of Russia, commenting on the topic without an extravagantly staged photo, might have gone unnoticed.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Vladimir Putin and his PR confession. His reason doesn’t sound credible, nor do any of the other unmentioned PR shots of Russia’s President.

The PR Takeaway: PR is not a smorgasbord; you can’t  pick and choose what you want people to believe. By coming clean, Putin hoped that he would clear up a number of derisory rumors about his program of photo opps. His confession leaves unmentioned photo opps, including Vlad fly-fishing shirtless and Vlad recovering historic relics from the seas, as deeply unbelievable. To admit to staging some photos but implicitly expecting the public to believe others is wishful thinking.  Vladimir’s reputation as being an untrustworthy manipulator just got reconfirmed. Hardly smart Putin PR.

What’s your PR Verdict?  Read here for more.

 

 

Barclays CEO Admits He Was Dazzled by Diamond

 Barclays CEO Admits He Was Dazzled by Diamond

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Martin Taylor, former CEO of Barclays.

What to make of the recent mea culpa from Martin Taylor, the former CEO of Barclays? The Financial Times published his opinion piece, provocatively entitled  “I Too Fell for the Diamond Myth,” in which he describes his time as CEO of Barclays during the late 1990s.  Back then, Bob Diamond was running Barclays Capital, the investment banking arm, and reported to Taylor. Judging from the article, we can safely assume they don’t exchange holiday cards.

Taylor gives an insider’s view of boardroom dysfunction and a deliberate effort by traders within Barclays Capital to work around trading limits. The traders exposed the firm to massive risks by window dressing and reclassifying bets to get them past agreed internal controls. This was the late ’90s, after all.

Russia subsequently defaulted, and the markets went into freefall. Describing Barclays’ experience as “worse than most,” Taylor says the “failure to respect the internal control system” precipitated the fire sale of key assets. Traders were dismissed, and Diamond maintained that he had known nothing. Diamond offered to resign, but Taylor, concluding that the business was still in its infancy, said his direct report should stay. Taylor concludes by saying, “I deserve blame for being among the first to succumb to the myth of Diamond’s indispensability.” Ouch!

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Martin Taylor. After more than a decade, he has come clean with some insight. Trouble is, we’re still missing some basic information.

The PR Takeaway: Personal reflection wins people over, but ignoring key questions undoes the gain. If Bob Diamond wasn’t asked to leave, was he at least given a zero bonus for the year? Was anything else done to send home the message that the CEO running the business had bottom line responsibility? Without a full explanation, it’s hard to get past the sneaking suspicion that Taylor’s mea culpa might have been more of an effort to rewrite history than a more profound and insightful contribution.

Is Taylor’s article an explanation, or an excuse? Give us your PR Verdict!