Five PR Challenges
Let me say at the outset that I have no idea who I will vote for in the general election. Being a committed Independent, I will not be voting in the Pennsylvania primary on April 22.
As of March 27, the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are dead even in the opinion polls.
The candidates are beginning to hammer each other, freeing John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, to act, look and sound presidential on the national and international stage.
If strong action is not taken to break the logjam, this internecine scrap will go down to the convention in August with the Democrats very likely snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in a political PR catastrophe.
Other PR challenges of the day:
* China’s Tibet crackdown threatens the reputation of Olympic sponsors.
* New York State’s new governor, David Paterson, was facing a potential PR nightmare.
* Starbucks was caught stealing $100 million in tips from its employees.
Each of these has potentially serious PR consequences.
Are you and your company set up to turn a PR negative into a positive?
The candidate is leading in the delegate count (1,622.5 to 1,472.5, with 2,024 needed for the nomination). Further, he leads in the vote count by 717,276. Most observers and political experts believe Hillary Clinton cannot catch up.
On March 28, Slate.com gave Clinton a 12% chance of winning the nomination. The Gallup Poll of March 28 gave Obama a 50% - 42% lead over Clinton, indicating that the Jeremiah Wright controversy is behind him, for now.
“Somebody forgot to tell Hillary Clinton the Democratic presidential race is over,” wrote Reuters’ John Whitesides that same day, “and Barack Obama won.”
If I were Obama’s campaign manager, I would marginalize Hillary Clinton: pretend she does not exist and concentrate on John McCain, specifically his hawkishness and saying he would be all right having U.S. troops in Iraq for the next 100 years. Another problem McCain has is his line that “the issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should.”
By taking on the Republican candidate rather than his current Democratic opponent, Obama creates fear that McCain is the real enemy—of peace and prosperity—and that his presidency will be the equivalent of a Bush third term. By taking the focus off Clinton and shining a laser on McCain and the great issues of the day, Obama starts to look presidential.
What would you advise?
For some reason I began receiving e-mails from Hillary for President on March 11. Through March 29, I was blitzed with 75 press releases. For example, on Tuesday, March 25, I received 10 separate e-mails from her press office—a mind-numbing 3,800+ words. (See the illustration at the end of this story for a list of Clinton press releases and the dates.)
According to The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released last week, Clinton has a 37% positive rating, her lowest since 2001 when she was elected to the U.S. Senate. Her account of arriving in Bosnia under enemy fire with no welcoming committee has been completely debunked by videos showing her greeted by little children with flowers.
In her press releases, speeches, press conferences and videos, Clinton has taken shots at Obama for not leaving Jeremiah Wright’s church, not releasing his income tax returns and lying about sources of campaign contributions, as well as lambasting John McCain for offering no help to the economy. A group of her contributors publicly excoriated Nancy Pelosi for suggesting that the super delegates follow the wishes of the electorate and vote for the candidate with the most delegates and the largest vote count. Both Hillary and Bill Clinton are publicly whining about Michigan and Florida delegates not counting. Her consigliore, James Carville—likening New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to Judas Iscariot for his Obama endorsement—implied that Richardson owes the Clintons his loyalty, and that loyalty trumps belief in what’s good for America.
In addition, the Clinton campaign is reportedly starving for money.
If I were Clinton’s campaign manager, I would suggest instead of lashing out at every perceived injustice, that she concentrate on creating serious doubts about her current opponent, Barack Obama. Target the minds of the electorate, the pledged delegates and especially the super delegates, whose support is crucial to her nomination. Obama must answer for the relationship with his hate-spewing pastor for 20 years, Jeremiah Wright, his utter inexperience in national and international affairs, and his questionable land deal with Antonin “Tony” Rezko, who contributed $85,000 to Obama’s campaigns and is currently under indictment.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said on “Morning Joe” that Clinton had to keep the campaign “loose and chaotic.”
I would also tell James Carville to shut up about the Richardson endorsement. Reviving it and harping on it—which he did into last weekend—only serves to remind people that a former high-ranking member of Bill Clinton’s administration thinks Obama would make a better president.
What would you advise to save the Clinton nomination?
The Olympic Sponsors
The Chinese cannot get their act together in terms of PR. The litany of recent transgressions have been amply covered in this e-zine—poisoned pet food and pharmaceuticals, steroid-laden fish exports, lead paint in children’s toys, theft of copyright material and piracy, as well as the potential nightmare of elite Olympic athletes being asked to compete in the world’s most polluted city. Now the brutal repression of monks and nuns in Tibet—bringing back memories of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989—is giving 12 huge international corporations the willies.
These companies are the members of TOP—The Olympic Partner Programme—that include Coca Cola, GE, Kodak, McDonald’s, Panasonic, Samsung and Visa. Their association with the Beijing Olympics—and by extension, the thuggish Chinese Communist regime—is a PR nightmare. They have invested millions, and they were planning to reap millions.
If I were PR vice president of a TOP corporation, I would urge management to pull the plug on our Olympic sponsorship. We would lose millions of dollars, but the goodwill generated around the world for our stand on human rights would be priceless. The Tibet crackdown gives us a valid reason to get out, and I’d rather be known as a good guy with cajones than take a chance that my logo might share the world’s TV screens with the extermination of nonviolent, protesting monks and nuns.
What’s more, a very real possibility exists that smog will envelop Beijing during some part of the Olympics, which would mean my logo would be associated with 70,000 athletes and spectators wearing surgical masks—my tacit support of a rogue country fouling its own nest.
In the public relations world, this is known as reputation management.
So far the following world leaders have announced they will boycott the opening ceremonies: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, President Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic and very possibly President Nicholas Sarkozy of France.
What would you do?
New York Governor David Paterson’s PR Nightmare
It is generally agreed that Eliot Spitzer is a nasty, sanctimonious bully, and his downfall—the result of a sexual encounter with a high-priced hooker—was greeted with universal glee.
I watched the swearing in of his successor, David Paterson: a gentle, legally blind African-American who delivered an inspiring message of healing and promised to bring warring factions together in order to pass needed legislation. It was a love-in, with many cheers, tears and standing ovations.
The following day, Paterson and his wife held a news conference and confessed to a lot of love-ins—a series of extra-marital affairs that got them through a rough patch in their marriage. And a day later, Paterson admitted to using marijuana and cocaine in his early years. Why?
Quite simply, the Patersons’ newfound fame could quickly turn to infamy as love- and drug-buddies of their past surfaced to sell their stories to the tabloids, or at the very least, claim 15 minutes of fame.
As an exercise in PR, it was the opposite of the Clinton-Lewinsky dust-up, in which the president lied until DNA proved him guilty and wound up being impeached.
A friend of mine has long suggested that when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, President Clinton should have gone on Oprah, confessed to being a sex addict and told the country and the world he was undergoing treatment.
Were I PR adviser to the Patersons, I would urge them to do exactly what they did. Otherwise they would be mired in ongoing media mud and the important business of government sidetracked.
What would you do?
The Great Starbucks Theft
Two weeks ago I wrote about Starbucks not paying attention to its core business—coffee—and turning itself into a chain of uppity variety stores. The stock price plummeted, the CEO was axed and Howard Schultz returned to resuscitate the company by reinstituting the coffee culture that had been responsible for its worldwide success.
Two weeks ago, Starbuck scored a worldwide PR coup when one of its Tacoma, Wash., baristas (coffee servers) volunteered to donate a kidney to one of her longtime customers.
Last week, a Superior Court judge in California ordered the company to pay its baristas $100 million in tips that the shift supervisors swiped for themselves—a violation of state law that prohibits supervisors and managers from getting their hands on any employee tips.
If I were in charge of Starbucks PR, I would ignore the whole thing. In the unlikely event that the media or a competitor (Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s) causes a fuss, I would say that it’s been Starbucks policy all along to reward supervisors, which acts as an incentive for baristas to work harder and climb the corporate ladder. We were unaware of California law and will obviously change our policy to conform to California law.
Last Saturday, Starbucks announced it would appeal the judge’s decision. “The ruling would take away the right of shift supervisors to receive the tips they earn for providing superior customer service,” said Chief Executive Howard Schultz. “I want you to know that we strongly believe that this ruling is extremely unfair and beyond reason.”
This was an error. It says to Starbucks’ customers that the tip you want to give that nice friendly kid who served you coffee is going to some faceless, greedy supervisor, so don’t bother to tip. Tips will dry up. And like Carville’s harping on the Richardson betrayal of Hillary Clinton, it keeps a controversial and divisive issue in front of the public.
The Libertarian in me says that state (or federal) laws decreeing how a business should apportion revenues internally are as outrageous as Starbucks’ treatment of its baristas. But the law is the law.
What would you do?
55-Word Book Review
Note: In the May 8, 2007, edition of this e-zine, “The Book Business: An Industry of Whiners,” I proposed an online (for profit) book service, QuickieBookReviews.com, that features short reviews (55 words) and one to four stars—just like movie reviews.
You are invited to submit 55-word reviews of any really good book that readers would enjoy.
****”Flash for Freedom!” By George MacDonald Fraser. Subscriber Jim McQuillan put me on to the Flashman novels, great follow-ups to the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. Given the anger at the black experience spewed by Barack Obama’s minister, here is a raw, horrifying and gripping look at the African slave trade in the mid-19th century. Strong stuff, not for the faint-hearted. Penguin/Plume, 1971, 288 pp, ISBN-0-452-26089-2, $$15.00, paperbound. —DH, 03-25-08.
- Angela Merkel
- Antonin Tony Rezko
- Barack Obama
- Chris Matthews
- David Paterson
- Denny Hatch
- Donald Tusk
- Eliot Spitzer
- Frank-Walter Steinmeier
- Howard Schultz
- James Carville likening New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson
- Jeremiah Wright
- John McCain
- Nancy Pelosi
- New York s Sen. Clinton
- Nicholas Sarkozy
- Reuters John Whitesides
- Václav Klaus