It seems President Obama got some bad PR advice this week. Why he didn’t visit a center housing some of the more than 50,000 children who have crossed our borders in the past several months was, frankly, beyond me.
According to CNN, “Texas Governor Rick Perry and others are lashing out at President Obama’s decision not to tour border facilities overwhelmed by a flood of undocumented children, saying the U.S. leader needs to see with his own eyes what both sides agree is a humanitarian crisis. ‘The American people expect to see their president when there is a disaster,’ Perry told CNN…citing Obama’s trip to the East Coast to tour damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. ‘He showed up at Sandy. Why not Texas?'”
Obama later argued, “This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops, I’m interested in solving a problem.”
Rick Perry was right. President Obama knows, as all national leaders do, that politics IS theater, and how you are seen and what you are seen doing can speak volumes. By visiting the border or–even better–taking photos with the children–he would have given us a visual representation of how deeply he cares about their awful situation.
This is not to say that the president doesn’t care. I truly believe that everyone from Rick Perry to Barack Obama to John Boehner want these children to ultimately be happy and safe. And while they may disagree on solutions to the border crisis and the immediate problem of what to do with these tens of thousands of children, they all care.
Much like his predecessor George W. Bush was criticized for not visiting the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the days following the killer storm, some are angry at Obama for avoiding the border last week. I see this as a missed opportunity. In public relations, photo ops are not only important, they can be essential, especially during a crisis. The president and his staff knew this–but blew a chance to communicate his concern. Your thoughts?
Climate change could really use some positive PR right now.
President Obama announced new steps last week to cut carbon emissions, promote energy efficiency and boost solar power. “There are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time,” he said. The president added that 300 organizations and companies have pledged to expand their use of solar energy, which he noted is getting cheaper and easier to use.
There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that humans are contributing to climate change. But many Americans aren’t buying it. In a January Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, “just 27% of respondents said addressing climate change should be an absolute priority this year, with 41% saying that it could be delayed until next year and 29% saying it shouldn’t be pursued.” The same poll revealed a sharp difference in the way Republicans and Democrats view the issue, with 40% of Democrats said addressing climate change should be an absolute priority, compared with 14% of Republicans. A Public Policy Polling survey last year found 38% of Americans believe global warming is a hoax.
As part of the public relations war being waged on the issue, BarackObama.com has devoted pages and pages of Republican politicians’ quotes which ridicule how they’ve been ridiculing climate change. A small sample includes Sen. Marco Rubio in an interview with CNN this week, saying that the president was “not a meteorologist” and “it’s enormous stretch to say that every weather incident that we now read about–or the majority of them–are attributable to human activity;” and Rep. Dan Benishek. who is also a physician, saying that climate change is “all baloney,” “just some scheme,” and “unproven science stuff.”
Lately, most nightly news reports lead with weather disasters throughout in the country. And as we know, our local weather has been pretty bad in recent years. Scientists with no political agendas say we’ve been hurting the environment for years and we’re starting to pay the price. Climate change is happening and it’s time to get the public to believe it so real action can be taken. Maybe a good PR campaign will help. Your thoughts?
When does free speech become unprotected speech? A couple of incidents this week proved that while saying something potentially offensive won’t land you in jail, it sure might cost you your job.
For example, on Saturday, media company IAC “parted ways” with company PR executive Justine Sacco who, the day before, tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” Sacco was, of all things, head of corporate communications for IAC, a media company that operates popular websites including The Daily Beast, About.com, CollegeHumor and Match.com. “Her whole job revolved around communicating with reporters,” reported CNN, “which made her Twitter comment about Africa all the more shocking.”
IAC’s publicly issued this statement: “The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question.”
Then there’s Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, who was suspended by cable network A&E after making this and other politically incorrect statements in a GQ magazine interview: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God.” While Robertson’s opinions are protected under our First Amendment, his words were offensive to many.
While more than a million have joined a Facebook page defending Robertson’s right to his opinions, some want A&E to fire him. It’s a tough call; A&E has sponsors just as IAC has clients it doesn’t want to lose.
Whether you’re a TV personality or an executive at a major corporation, your freedom to express yourself through a stupid joke or faith-inspired prejudices can cause public relations nightmares for your employer. Fundamentally, it’s just bad PR to use the media to offend large segments of the population. The lesson: offensive speech isn’t always protected speech. Your thoughts?
There’s little to be happy about in the sordid, still unfolding story of New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. Unless you’re Eliot Spitzer.
Former New York Governor Spitzer, you recall, is the former governor because a year into his administration he was found to have paid several high-priced call girls for their services. It was a violation of law and a massive error in judgment. He slowly re-emerged publicly, first as a CNN commentator and talk show host, and recently as a candidate for New York City comptroller. Spitzer is asking for voters’ forgiveness, making the case that he deserves a second chance at elective office. As of this writing, he’s leading in the polls.
Former Representative Anthony Weiner, also a victim of lack of self-control, was leading in polls as well–a week ago. Then new revelations of additional online sexual relationships appeared and Weiner held a press conference to essentially say, “I already told you there would be reports of more incidents. My wife is OK with it, and so you should be, too.” A day later we learned that these online conversations continued for a year after Weiner resigned from Congress. His poll numbers in the race for mayor are dropping rapidly.
Journalists, commentators and politicians have cleverly used the phrase “weapons of mass distraction” to describe constructing an issue to divert attention from another. This was the plot of the darkly comic David Mamet screenplay/Barry Levinson film “Wag the Dog”. An imaginary threat of war was created to sidetrack voters’ focus on a presidential sex scandal just before Election Day. “We don’t need it to prove out,” says spin doctor Conrad Brean, played by Robert DeNiro. “We need it to distract them for two weeks til the election.” The scheme works.
Anthony Weiner’s scandal has taken Eliot Spitzer’s scandal out of the news. In fact, Spitzer’s misguided liaisons are looking far less horrific when compared with Weiner’s. The former governor should thank his lucky stars that the former congressman has become his personal weapon of mass distraction. Your thoughts?
Following one of this week’s top stories–the Carnival cruise ship Triumph’s disaster when a fire caused a power failure and subsequent awful sanitary conditions–I’ve sampled opinions on the company’s handling of the crisis:
PR executive Doug Elmets said in a CBS interview, “The self dubbed ‘most popular cruise line in the world’ has quickly become the opposite. It’s not just because of the conditions on board, but the company’s failure to offer a sincere apology and regular updates. It’s not really how you get into a crisis, it’s how you react once you’re there, and (their) initial reaction is pretty bad…(Carnival CEO Gerry) Cahill should have spoken out sooner.”
Huffington Post’s Catherine New wrote, “Even as Carnival deployed a host of communications strategies to do damage control as news from the Triumph spread, its efforts did more harm than good…’I can’t think of a worse way they could have handled it, whether as a maritime issue or as a PR issue,’ said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com. The company used its Twitter account to post frequent updates about the progress of the Triumph’s return to port. However, any social media missteps were quickly seized on both by frustrated passengers and the public, who watched the disaster unfurl in real time on television and the Internet.”
David Bartlett, a senior vice president at Levick, a strategic communications firm, wrote for CNN, “Crisis management experts know that customers and the general public are more likely to judge an organization by how it handles a problem than how it got into the problem in the first place…Carnival has to…position itself instead as part of the solution to the problems that caused the disaster.”
My opinion: I’m amazed that despite so many PR cases studies on crisis response, Carnival has been handling this so awkwardly. It may be a long time before the company can regain a positive reputation. Can a well-executed PR strategy help now? Would you still take a Carnival cruise? Your thoughts?