SF Mayor Revises Facts to Fit Friends

edlee SF Mayor Revises Facts to Fit Friends

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is trying to broker peace in his city between the haves and the have-mores – that is, between the middle class and the Next Notch Up. Many of the latter group hail from the tech industry, whose financial and political support helped Lee win office in 2011. Judging from recent published remarks, the mayor might need to recalibrate his socioeconomic bearings to keep his impartial referee’s cap.

Interviewed in Time on how tech wealth has fueled divisions and resentments among residents, Lee conceded that his city might have “missed some steps” in tending to its middle class – and then made a misstep of his own. “We might have a broader range of defining the middle class,” Lee told Time. “I’m talking maybe $80,000 to $150,000.”

That range, as it turns out, is wildly off. As local news outlets reported, census data list median salary in the city at $74,000 as recently as 2012. (It’s about $61,000 for California and $53,000 for the nation.) Upwardly revising the number also rebrands the middle class to embrace the tech block to whom Lee is beholden. Et voila! What middle-class exodus? What’s more, our six-figure friends need government help!

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, for floating a tone-deaf talking point seemingly crafted by a tech sector lobbyist.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Build a ring-fence around your credibility. This is especially true for would-be mediators. The middle ground is the hardest to defend and the slightest tip of the scales one way or the other compromises one’s impartiality and hence effectiveness at bridging gaps. Lee’s infraction of this rule is seemingly minor, but San Francisco is tightly bound, constrained geographically (by water) and politically (by tradition). Like the city’s endemic earthquakes, even small political ripples can do damage and escalate rapidly to major catastrophe. Keep your friends close, indeed – but your facts closer.

Three Steps FWD, Two Steps Back?

Screen Shot 2013 05 13 at 7.37.31 PM 150x60 Three Steps FWD, Two Steps Back?Political advocacy group FWD.us was launched last month by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and so far it has run up an impressively depressing string of PR gaffes. As a tax-exempt social welfare organization” (a la Citizens United), it can raise and spend money to promote political and legislative aims virtually unchecked. But the group’s missteps have made it the story instead of its cause and FWD.us now runs the risk of having little influence or gravitas.

Its initial focus was clear: comprehensive immigration reform. As a cause this made perfect sense. It is near and dear to talent-hungry tech firms and backed by deep-pocketed Silicon Valley luminaries including Eric Schmidt, Marissa Mayer and Bill Gates. The launch augured an auspicious foray into muscle-flexing issues advocacy in Washington.

But things went pear-shaped from the start. An embarrassing leak spoiled its launch, disclosing a seemingly unseemly strategy to promote its agenda via “avenues of distribution” dominated by member companies like Facebook and Yahoo. The leak forced president Joe Green (Zuck’s roommate at Harvard) to apologize. Then, it alienated supporters with a confusing advertising campaign that veered way off-topic, advocating for controversial projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and against Obamacare. FWD.us said the ads sought to create “political cover” for supporters of immigration reform in Congress, but its move prompted progressive organizations to pull ads from Facebook in protest, and two key Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to later withdraw from the group.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full fiasco) to date for Zuckerberg’s FWD.usfor bungling what should have been a sure-footed start. 

The PR Takeaway: Opening baby steps need to be unambiguous and unassailable. Opening gaffes can sink a new venture, and one misstep can lead to and/or magnify others. Move cautiously and deliberately. Leaks happen, so be mindful of how even internal communications might play in public. If something leaks, get back on message fast – with actions, not words, that spell out your group’s mission and galvanize supporters. This isn’t that hard. If Zuckerberg’s other business had stumbled as much at the outset, he might still be at Harvard studying for finals.