Posts Tagged ‘public relations tactics’

DC PR Firm Dispatch: How Mexico and Thailand Should Respond to Strife

March 16th, 2010

Simultaneous strife currently strains two countries on almost opposite sides of the world.  In Mexico, the tragic toll from drug cartel violence took a sad turn recently when an American consulate worker and her husband were killed in an ambush in Juárez.  In Thailand, nearly 100,000 protestors supporting ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have been rallying for days against the current government.

A world apart, but the burdens are the same, socially and most certainly economically.  The violence in Mexico has caused tremendous job loss and a 7% economic contraction last year alone.  Thailand is barely getting over the hangover of its last round of political instability, when mass protests forced its international airport closed and stranded thousands of travelers for days.

Now, both countries are highly popular holiday destinations (#8 for Mexico and #17 for Thailand, globally), but these states of affairs are hardly welcoming to vacationers.  So pretend you run the communications arm for the nation.  You need to keep commerce flowing, and you don’t want foreigners scared to visit.  Therefore, consider these public relations tactics:

Explain the truth – people often simply want to know just that.  What does your government’s official website say?  How about your embassy and consulate websites globally?  Any statement placed on these sites would be picked up by the press immediately.  As with most highly-charged media narratives, the truth is often far more complicated than what’s actually broadcast.  Travelers hate to guess what’s going to happen next when planning trips to exotic destinations, so give them the honest play-by-play, and if things aren’t so bad in certain destinations then let them know.

Make it “official” via social media.  It goes without saying that Facebook, Twitter and other social media can go a long way to amplifying what your official government sites are saying.

Be prepared for the worst.  Even if your government’s honest explanation of the situation on the ground helps alleviate some concerns, you have no way of knowing what may come next.  (Um, hepatitis, anyone?)  Therefore, keep your eyes on the ball and make sure to have planned responses and statements ready.

When things improve, make sure people know.  Everyone likes to hear about improvements and success.  When your country gets a situation under control make sure to publicize the improvements to help build confidence.

What to Watch for in Thursday’s Health Care Summit Smackdown

February 23rd, 2010

Ok, so the title may be a bit dramatic, but let’s face it – massive policy proposals to provide greater public entitlements aren’t born in brief, televised discussions amongst lawmakers (thankfully).  That’s why Thursday’s televised health care summit, where President Obama and Members of Congress will air their grievances discuss the nuances of health care policy, is unlikely to have much substance to it.  Instead, it’s apt to be a political wrestling match where Obama and Congressional Republicans will try to drop-kick each other’s arguments out the ring of public approval.  Recent history offers a guide on what to expect.

When the two sides sparred on television in January, the general consensus was that Obama gave a public relations thumping to the Republicans, at times intellectually dismembering the opposition arguments and other times using his pulpit to remind everyone who is president.  (It got so bad for Republicans that Fox News cut away from live coverage.)  Obama tacitly acknowledged his advantage; when asked well into the Q&A session if he would take more questions, he said “you know, I’m having fun!”

So will Thursday’s summit be another public relations disaster for the Republicans?  A survey of the key public relations tactics and strategies don’t augur well for the minority party:

Home field advantage.  The event will take place at the Blair House, the ornate guest quarters across the street from the White House, effectively putting this on Obama’s turf.  Everyone’s more comfortable when the game’s on their court, and politics is no exception.  (And, Obama did more than hold his own in the last match-up, which was at the Republican winter retreat in Baltimore.)  Advantage: Obama.

The public supports the measuresPolls show that every major component in the proposed legislation has good public support.  This allows Obama to be more confident in advancing the principles of his version of health care policy, and makes it certain that Republicans will have to play strong defense.  When you’re defending, you’re not scoring points.  Advantage: Obama.

Decorum, yes – rules and procedures, no.  Both sides were polite but firm in their arguments in January, and will probably behave the same at the summit.  Still, this isn’t a discussion on legislative turf, and there aren’t cumbersome parliamentary rules to follow – in other words, Obama will again be free to assert the privileges of the presidential pulpit and be more aggressive in parrying and forcing his point of view on the opposition.  Lacking the standing of the highest office in the land, the Republicans won’t have the same capacity to employ those tactics.  (Unless this guy attends – then all bets are off.)  Advantage: Obama.

And that’s just what we know at this point.  Because the event itself is a political novelty, who knows what surprises lurk in the ante rooms, waiting to make the summit a more entertaining affair.  Or maybe it’ll be as dreary as a typical CSPAN replay of clerks reading bill texts.  Either way, I wouldn’t be too thrilled if I were a Republican Member of Congress going into the presidential squared circle on Thursday.

DC PR Firm Dispatch: How McDonnell Should Respond to the State of the Union

January 21st, 2010

As is customary, a member of the opposing political party has been tapped to deliver the response to the President’s State of the Union speech next week.  This year it’s Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s turn to do the deed, and as a rising star in the Republican party, he has high expectations to meet.

When you’re assigned an enormous public relations task – parrying with the President – you owe it to yourself to prepare well.  If this were a contest, you’re battling the toughest opponent there is.

So what should you say in your speech?  To answer that question, let’s reverse engineer Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s absolutely disastrous performance last year when he delivered the response.  That way, we can understand some helpful public relations tactics and considerations for McDonnell.

Maintain appropriate tone.  When discussing America’s standing on the world stage, you’re addressing serious issues in global public affairs.  Therefore, your tone as a thought leader should never stray toward anything silly.  Jindal’s words and demeanor were better suited to lecturing toddlers on the importance of listening to grown-ups, but poorly focused on serious political debate.

Practice before skeptics.  Even if Jindal rehearsed his speech with his staff, he should have done so with people outside politics – after all, this is a speech to the nation, not just political insiders.  When your message will be heard by different audiences, make sure you speak to more than just your base.  Otherwise, you risk having your speech finalized via echo chamber, with no constructive feedback to improve it.

Know the consequences of your attacks.  Bashing a government program, particularly when you are a government official, brings you dangerously close to self-inflicted wounds.  In a typical rant on out-of-control government spending, Jindal harshly criticized taxpayer dollars being wasted on “volcano monitoring” and he emphasized these words to enhance their latent absurdity.  Only problem is, “volcano monitoring” is actually a very important geological monitoring service done by the federal government to anticipate natural disasters.  Just like the one that struck Jindal’s state a few years earlier…

Don’t lie.  We all know that being political is often an exercise in bending facts, but some politicians still think out-right lies are smart strategy.  Jindal’s “aw shucks” anecdote about locals standing up to big bad government bureaucrats during Hurricane Katrina disaster relief was later revealed as a total falsehood.  Once your speech wanders into fantasy, you’ve lost almost all credibility.

DC PR Firms Dispatch: The Anatomy of Conan’s Brilliant Statement and Strategy

January 13th, 2010

In the ongoing battle over late-night entertainment slots at NBC, consider the brilliant public relations move by Conan O’Brien in airing his grievances with the network’s behavior.  For those who haven’t followed, sagging ratings for Jay Leno’s show encouraged NBC’s executives to ask Conan to move his show back to a later start time.  Conan’s statement in response is deft, witty, concise, sublime, aggressive without being arrogant – in other words, a publicist’s dream tactic.

The view from the world of DC PR firms, who regularly deal with issues debates and strategic campaigns, must be one of awe and envy.  If you don’t believe how effective Conan’s statement was, let’s see what NBC said in response.  Oh wait… can’t seem to find anything in plain view on their site that addresses this matter… I sincerely hope that the ostrich-head-in-the-sand isn’t NBC’s PR strategy.

With that said, let’s analyze the statement to summarize the chessboard public relations tactics employed:

“People of Earth.” Conan’s introduction reaffirms who the messenger is: A comedian.  That it’s also a funny and original way of beginning doesn’t hurt.  Lesson: People appreciate when you own up to your identity.

•  I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me.” Everyone loves a tip of the hat to an industry idol, and Conan shows humility and respect in his homage to Carson.  This makes the statement less about him and more about saving the late night franchise.

“After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.” Conan puts the ball directly in NBC’s court, by explaining that he has no control over the fate of his show.  This puts NBC on the defensive and forces them to react, instead of going on offense.

“The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show.” Strongest line in the whole statement.  This sentence boils the whole ordeal into ten words, one that conveys clear literal and figurative meaning and speaks volumes.

“My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.” Conan closes by taking the high road, putting a nice positive end on his rant.

Overall, Conan’s statement reinforces the negative thoughts about the network, while at the same time promoting the positive steps he’s taken to preserve the integrity of the late night franchise.  Well played!