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?

Guest Column: Boehner’s Bait and Switch

BOHENER 150x150 Guest Column: Boehners Bait and Switch

PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Speaker Boehner.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner wasted no time before the presidential election result was called, declaring, “With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates.” With polls still open in Alaska and Hawaii, the Republican leadership was drawing a line in the sand. No matter the outcome, some ideas were not going to be up for debate.

But election night was still young when Boehner made his statement. By Wednesday morning, he’d nuanced his position by stating Republicans were willing to accept new revenue, without  mentioning any further details. Perhaps he realized that following President Obama’s re-election, “no taxes” wasn’t going to fly.

A standard tactic in negotiations and PR brinkmanship is to set boundaries early on. These pre-emptive shots across the bow manage the other side’s expectations before the negotiations commence. Taking firm positions far in advance of a negotiation can be effective, but this type of bargaining tactic tends not to win friends and can create PR nightmares down the line. No one wants to have to publicly backtrack.

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Speaker Boehner, who has now given himself some negotiating room. He might have been better off saying nothing on the big night.

The PR Takeaway: Careful when and where you draw your definitive line. Muhammad Ali gained PR notoriety for taunting and “trash-talking” his competitors before a boxing match. Competitive athletes now commonly use this tactic. It’s about getting the other side to doubt their strength, question their position, and to negotiate against themselves. This is no different than using bluffs, and was most likely Boehner’s tactic with Obama. There are PR advantages if you can remain firm, but if you can’t maintain your position, silence is always golden.

neilpatton2 150x150 Guest Column: Boehners Bait and SwitchGuest columnist Neil Patton is the President of Pre-think Strategic Negotiations, Inc. Pre-think is a consultancy focused on helping organizations and individuals improve their negotiation capabilities and outcomes. A professional labor negotiator for more than 19 years, his clients have included the Canadian Army , healthcare providers, and mining companies. 

Romney’s Offshore Accounts Wash Up Again

 Romneys Offshore Accounts Wash Up Again

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Mitt Romney.

Things are looking a little uncomfortable for Mitt Romney as chatter builds about his offshore tax dealings. Vanity Fair this month went into forensic details over Romney’s affairs, describing the “murky world of offshore finance, revealing loopholes that allow the very wealthy to skirt tax laws.”

While there is no smoking gun, it is clear that Romney’s financial advisers were disciples of tax minimization. Trouble is, no one likes to read about a presidential candidate with offshore accounts. As Newt Gingrich said repeatedly during his campaign, “I don’t know of any American president who has had a Swiss bank account.”

So far Team Romney has given a robust response: Romney’s affairs are in a blind trust and have been for some time. Romney is a smart businessman who doesn’t want to pay more tax than is necessary, but his team insists he pays the full whack of tax, according to U.S. rules, no matter where the assets are located. But is this enough to cut the chatter?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Romney’s handling of the issue so far. But what is the unanswered question that won’t go away?

The PR Takeaway: If a story won’t die, listen carefully for the question that is going unanswered. In this case, Romney’s campaign has done an impressive job in batting back the questions–they have disclosed some (certainly not all) of his tax records and details about his tax bill and trusts. The nagging issue continues to be; why was the money sent  offshore in the first place? Until Team Romney comes up with a convincing soundbite (if there is one), they should keep including the issue in their presidential debate rehearsals.

What do you think about Mitt Romney’s offshore accounts? Give us your PR Verdict, below!