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.

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.

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 Vladimir Putin for maneuvering himself into a crucial leadership position in the Syrian crisis. First, the Russian president commandeered US Secretary of State John Kerry’s offhand proposal for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to avoid a military strike. While Kerry offered the option as an unlikely possibility, Putin seized it and turned it into a workable option, forcing President Obama to delay his request to Congress to consider military action. Putin followed that up with an editorial in The New York Times, pressing his case directly to the American people. Over the past week, the Russian president more firmly positioned Moscow as a key player in international management of not only Syria, but broader issues in the Middle East.

paxdick The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Pax Dickinson, whose sexist, racist tweets cost him as his job last week as CTO at Business Insider, the business and tech news website. Tech site Valleywag called Dickinson out Monday, citing offensive postings on his personal Twitter feed that go back years. He was gone the next day. Dickinson has tweeted choice words for – well, just about everyone who’s not a white heterosexual male. “Tech managers spend as much time worrying about how to hire talented female developers as they do worrying about how to hire a unicorn,” read one of his tamer rants, from 2012. Maybe he thought a disclaimer on his account, “Unprofessional opinions not endorsed by anyone respectable,” lent cover for his off-hours “brogrammer” to roam free. But that’s not how that Interweb thingy works, as surely any CTO should know.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to the media, for taking James Franco’s “I wish I was gay” quote out of context. The media lives for a celebrity like Franco, who does something provocative almost every month. He’s gone from actor to performance artist, keeping the world guessing as to whether he’s serious about attending several universities – simultaneously – doing art installations, and appearing on a soap opera as a villain named (what else?) James Franco. The man was ripe for a celebrity roast, during which several of his comedian friends joked about his sexuality. Franco’s response: “I get asked about it from all sides… It’s not something that bothers me in the slightest. I don’t even care if people think I’m gay. I mean, I wish I was gay.” Franco was trying to de-stigmatize questions about  sexuality, but the press pounced and turned the quote into exactly the sort of sensationalism that Franco, a sensational showman, was trying to avoid.

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

cnn 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to CNN, for its measured but pointed response to political posturing by the Republican National Committee. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus threatened to bar both CNN and corporate sibling NBC News from the 2016 Presidential debate process, in response to a mini-series on Hillary Clinton being produced by CNN Films, another affiliate. Priebus said the program amounted to an “in-kind donation” for Clinton, a likely Presidential candidate, and her fellow Democrats. One can certainly debate the suitability of airing such a program, given the corprate connections and timing. But in a statement, CNN noted that the project is in its early stages, called on the RNC to reserve judgment, and noted, correctly, that the only people to be harmed by the RNC’s threat would be voters.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersLOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to summer blockbusters with bloated budgets. July may have been one of the hottest months on record  – but not at the box office. Movie studios are facing huge losses after a string of big budget releases tanked at the box office, including Pacific Rim, White House Down, After Earth, and, most notably, The Lone Ranger. Disney suffered a shellacking on that film, spending anywhere from $200 to $400 million when all the marketing was said and done, and taking in a relatively embarrassing $175 million. Star Johnny Depp blamed bad pre-release PR, Steven Spielberg prophesied the blockbuster implosion, and moviegoers merely stayed home and binge-viewed Orange Is the New Black on NetFlix. The upside? Maybe Hollywood is finally done with sequels to Transformers.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO President Obama for canceling his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the impetus for which clearly was Russia’s “disappointing” asylum-granting to Edward Snowden, the American secret-leaker. But to what end? A few weeks ago, Obama said he wouldn’t “scramble jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.” Now, he’s refusing to meet with world leaders over him. By canceling, the President himself has elevated The Snowden Affair to a whole new level. Instead of a tête-á-tête with the Russian president prior to the G20 summit, the White House announced, President Obama will head to that geopolitical hotspot, Sweden. Boy, Putin must be shaking in his fur-lined boots.

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.

Obama’s Gun Photo Shoots Him in the Foot

obama gunshooting1 150x150 Obamas Gun Photo Shoots Him in the Foot

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco).

Is President Obama taking lessons from the Putin PR playbook? The Premier of Russia is notorious for ludicrous photo ops and a clumsy PR strategy that includes releasing Marlboro-man style photos of himself to the media. There’s Vlad diving in the deep sea, fly fishing bare-chested, and parachuting out of an airplane. The photos usually provoke rounds of snickers, rather than admiration. Could the latest White House PR ploy have the same effect?

The Putinesque moment in question is the release by the White House of a photo of President Obama shooting a rifle. In an interview published by the New Republic, Obama claimed he had used the gun at the Camp David Presidential retreat. “We do skeet shooting all the time,” the President said. Cue derision from conservative foes who, in the midst of national acrimony about gun control, were justifiably puzzled by this previously undisclosed hobby.

The White House caption accompanying the photo by the official White House photographer notes: “President Barack Obama shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David, Md., Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012.” If Obama has a history of shooting, then it was probably best to have released a photo way earlier than this, rather than make it look as though he’s just assuring the NRA he’s not anti-gun.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco). A bad idea, poorly timed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: No one likes to be played. The unintended upshot of the photo’s release is fodder for the gun lobby and skepticism by journalists. Even if the President is a routine skeet shooter, this photo would have been better uncovered by the media much earlier in the gun debate and not released by the President’s own PR team. Whatever the PR short-term gains, trust and credibility are lost with these overtly manipulative releases. Just ask President Putin.

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.

 

 

When Plastic Politicians Face the Nation

berlusconi surgery 150x150 When Plastic Politicians Face the NationKirchner cosmetic7 150x150 When Plastic Politicians Face the NationPUTIN SURGERY2 150x150 When Plastic Politicians Face the NationQaddaddfi surgery1 150x150 When Plastic Politicians Face the NationKIn Jong UN cosmetic 150x150 When Plastic Politicians Face the Nation

As the US elections edge closer, what is the PR obligation for a candidate to look his best? What price beauty? And who on the world’s stage might have already succumbed to the vanities of the knife?

Vanity Fair  thinks this an issue worth discussing. An article on the magazine’s website identifies who of the world’s leaders are most likely to have had “work done,” with a top Manhattan surgeon on hand to give his view. The undisputed winner, hands down, is former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, while Cristina Kirchner of  Argentina, with her signature bee-stung lips, seems an almost certain runner-up. The jury is out on Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who just seems to take a good photo–or do Botox injections give him that rested appearance? Kim Jong Un of North Korea seems the biggest puzzle. If he has had plastic surgery . . . It really doesn’t seem to have helped. Money back for Lil’ Kim?

And what should a politician’s PR minder say when word of facial work on a head of state leaks out? What is the right PR way to handle a candidate’s cosmetic improvement?

“Medical reasons” seems the most convincing explanation, which Berlusconi initially used. He had ample air cover: Italian officials said he underwent procedures to repair damage sustained in 2009 when he was hit in the face by a protestor. But then, Berlusconi gave his own game away when he said, “Improvements are a way of showing respect to those who share your life, your family.” So the hair transplant wasn’t a result of the protester’s attack after all? He gets high marks for being forthright about going under the knife.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Silvio Berlusconi and his ongoing cosmetic makeover. His work is never done, but at least he gave himself ample PR cover to go back for more.

The PR Takeaway: Honesty is not always the best policy. For the Kremlin’s strongman or Libya’s former dictator, collagen puffed bee-stung lips might provoke the hardest ridicule to suppress. Electorates are inherently suspicious of peacocks, and whether for a democratic candidate or a dictator, admitting to plastic surgery seems an unlikely electoral winner. From a PR point of view, this is one case where the “Never apologize, never explain” rule might be the way to go.

To see who else might have gone under the knife, check out Vanity Fair’s gallery here.

Should politicians admit to having plastic surgery? Should they even get it, since the results are usually obvious? Give us your PR Verdict!

 

What Did Mike Wallace Tell Us About Journalism?

mikewallace What Did Mike Wallace Tell Us About Journalism?

The PR Verdict: “A” for a career that helped define broadcast journalism.

What does the death of veteran 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace at 93 tell us about the way we like our news?  The justifiable tributes have been flowing in thick and fast.  What’s noteworthy is what he is being remembered for.

CBS in its own tribute to Wallace said he “took to heart the old reporter’s pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  He (Wallace) characterized himself as “nosey and insistent.”  CBS then lists proudly the 20th century icons that “…submitted to a Mike Wallace interview. He lectured Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, on corruption.  He lectured Yassir Arafat on violence and asked the Ayatollah Khoumeini if he were crazy.”

The complaint du jour of journalism, particularly broadcast journalism is that that it has lost the art of professional objectivity.  Journalists nowadays always have an angle, so goes the refrain from both the media establishment and opinion formers, and crusading journalism that starts with a point of view isn’t that way we want our news.  CBS and Wallace however proved that that isn’t always true.

The PR Verdict: “A” for an impressive career that helped define broadcast journalism.  In looking back over interview footage it’s clear that ‘nosey and insistent journalism” was always in vogue.

The material CBS chose in compiling Wallace’s interview highlights makes for fascinating viewing.  Confronting, insistent questioning and getting a rise out of the interviewee seem to be the hallmark of success for both Wallace and his producers at CBS.  The truth may be that we don’t mind opinionated and righteous journalism after all.

To see the compilation of Mike Wallace’s greatest interviews from CBS click here.

What’s your PR Verdict on the interviews?

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