Prince Causes King-Sized PR Problem

 Prince Causes King Sized PR Problem

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Prince Alwaleed.

What does Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal have in common with Paris Hilton, a Kardashian, or an insecure teenage girl? While the 58-year-old male may not need to be constantly reassured about being loved or looking pretty, he does want the world to acknowledge that he really, really is the richest of them all.

The amusing spat between Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and Forbes Magazine about his rank as 26th on their World’s Billionaires list has been a source of Schadenfreude for those who didn’t make the ranks. One day before the publication, the office of Prince Alwaleed issued a petulant statement saying he would “sever ties” with the Forbes billionaires list for a series of allegations made by the magazine. Forbes responded with a story describing in detail the process of estimating the Prince’s wealth and the efforts undertaken by himself and his entourage to influence the ranking – including the revelation that the Prince sits on a throne when travelling in his private jet.

The Prince’s efforts to secure his position in the list included making pleading calls with the editor and even offering access to his private banker in Switzerland, all to no avail. Instead, the Prince has inadvertently encouraged increased scrutiny over bigger issues, including the integrity of the Saudi financial center and allegations of stock price manipulation in the Kingdom.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Prince Alwaleed. How do you fix a PR problem you started yourself?

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Keep business impersonal. Being the PR for Prince Alwaleed presumably involves learning to count to ten while the man on the throne shoots at the press. The terse statement concerning Forbes has ignited a series of unforeseen consequences, including press scrutiny into the transparency of his listed vehicle, Kingdom Holding, and regulation of the Saudi stock market. Rather than firing off angry press statements in response to a magazine’s fact-checking questions, stay quiet, elusive, and…well, royal. Silence is golden – even if it is on a throne in a private jet.

To read the Forbes story click here:


IKEA Magic: Now You See Her, Now You Don’t

 IKEA Magic: Now You See Her, Now You Dont

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

Furniture retailer IKEA was caught off guard this week when a Swedish newspaper published pages from the Saudi Arabian edition of IKEA’s catalog.  What a surprise! Women in the Saudi edition had been Photoshopped out by local Saudi management.  Cue embarrassment for IKEA, a retailer that prides itself on liberal values.

The global catalogue is distributed to approximately 200 million households, but for the Saudis it contained unacceptable images that needed removing. What caused offense? A woman in her pajamas beside a bathroom sink. In Saudi Arabia, a Muslim country, women must conceal their bodies and hair. IKEA said in a statement that its does “not accept any kind of discrimination… We regret the current situation.” Management was keen to explain that the changes “do not align with IKEA Group’s values.”

IKEA Saudi Arabia is run by a franchisee outside the IKEA Group. Nevertheless, the company said it is “reviewing routines to safeguard correct content presentation from a values point of view.” Sensible and sensitive handling of this issue but, there could be trouble ahead.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for IKEA and a brand remaining true to its liberal streak, but beware of starting something that could become a cultural flashpoint.

The PR Takeaway: Marketing and discussions on broader cultural values rarely mix. What is puzzling about this news story is why IKEA hasn’t had this trouble before. Was a woman featured in the 2011 catalogue? What happened in the Saudi version then? It might have been easier to characterize this latest fuss as a breakdown in established procedures between a franchisee and a head office. IKEA has now stuck its neck out and committed publicly to a conversation about values. In a country as seemingly inflexible as Saudi Arabia, some things are best left unsaid. Better to have described this as a one-off business dispute between two partners and done the rest of the negotiations behind closed doors.

To read more, click here.

What’s your opinion of how IKEA handled this situation? Give us your PR Verdict!


What Did the Princess Ask For? Is That All?

PRINCESS What Did the Princess Ask For? Is That All?

The PR Verdict: “C” for the Princess and her call for reform.

Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz (is there a shortened form?) gave the BBC a surprising interview yesterday, calling for change in her native Saudi Arabia.

From her London base, the daughter of King Saud, former ruler of Saudi Arabia, identified five needed reforms for the kingdom.  Radical in scope they included the constitution, divorce, education and social services.  She also criticised the current chaperone system for women as “infantilizing”, turning Saudi women into “a burden on their men and on society.”

The urgency of her calls came undone when she added in the interview that she is opposed to women driving, urging a delay  “until we are educated enough and until we have the necessary laws to protect us.”

The PR Verdict: “C” for the Princess and her call for reform.  She let the air out of the balloon by urging caution.  By saying that allowing women to drive is not for now, she pushed her five lofty reforms into the distant future and delayed  a simple reform from happening anytime soon.

Key PR lesson: Always start with a call to action that immediately mobilizes.  Give people something to do.  Arguing for constitutional and legal reform has its role but the Princess’s foray into free speech left her energized sympathizers limp.  While her five suggestions can be the subject of endless academic debate,  the question of women driving is a straight forward yes or no.  More importantly, it is the gateway for broader change.  Sadly a missed opportunity.

To read the interview click here

What’s your PR Verdict?

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