Oct 25

Da comrades, you can ask me anything you want. But, nyet on my answering any but the easiest, least controversial ones

Proving that politicians are pretty much the same everywhere, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a multimedia "Town Hall" discussion with his constituents. Russian citizens were able to ask Putin any question under the sun. But, and here’s the big but, the Russian president’s palace guard carefully screened and selected the questions Putin answered.

So, while it seems like a giant stride in the right direction, Putin’s dialogue with the average1204593g  Russian citizen was tightly managed and scripted, just like in the ‘good old days.’ The toughest questions mysteriously disappeared (perhaps to a virtual Gulag?) and Vlad only responded to the easiest, most self-serving queries.

So, what else is new? We see Democrats and Republicans alike do much the same thing when they venture forth to deliver major policy speeches. The Dems seek the safe harbors of liberal think tanks and university settings while W., Cheney and Rummy speak at places like West Point where a favorable audience is a guarantee.

Corporate chieftains of publicly-traded companies are notorious for the same strategy and will routinely schedule their annual general meetings in obscure locations and at inconvenient times, just so they can minimize the number of dissident shareholders in attendance.

While Putin’s message management is disappointing (and, I’m sure, frustrating to the average Russian), it’s not unique. Sadly, in this case, Putin and his fellow public and private-sector peers are likely to ‘stay the course’ year in and year out. There’s no ‘timeline’ for message management withdrawal when politicians and executives continue to avoid open and honest discussions with their constituents.

Sep 08

I hate political advertising

Well, Labor Day has come and gone and, sure enough, it’s political advertising time again. It’s my least favorite time of year.

I hate political advertising. I also hate most politicians, but that’s a different blog.

Political advertising is either too warm and fuzzy or sharper and more menacing than the teeth on my pit terrier, Mick. I just happened to see one for Andrew Cuomo, who is running for New York State Attorney General. In the commercial, we see a series of newspaper clippings which absolutely skewer his opponent, Mark Green, as being either a "perennial candidate," "useless" or "successful at only one thing: dividing New Yorkers." Nice. The spot then goes on to show positive quotes about Cuomo, portraying him as the greatest thing since sliced bread.

This stuff disgusts me. Am I supposed to feel good about some candidate because he runs a TV spot that slams the living hell out of an opponent? I realize this has been going on forever, dating back to the days of Adams and Jefferson, but I believe things are reaching new lows with some of the attack ads we’re seeing nowadays.

What does it say about a candidate when he or she authorizes brutal TV commercials? What does it say about an electorate which goes ahead and votes for the pit bull candidate anyway? Maybe we really do get the candidates we deserve. And, maybe offensive advertising is one of the many reasons so many Americans have abandoned voting completely.

All I can do is register my feelings by picking up the remote control and switching to another channel. I hate to admit it, but the brutally nasty political ads make, say, the Geico spots, seem like a breath of fresh air in comparison.

Jul 27

To sir with love

How low has our society sunk that former NBA star "Sir" Charles Barkley is now considered a serious candidate to become Alabama’s next governor? Aside from the ego gratification of it, why do actors and jocks get involved in politics? And, more importantly, why do voters take them seriously?Bark

In my mind, the Barkleys, Venturas and Arnolds of the world are taken seriously because:

1.) The current crop of "professional" politicians" may be the worst ever

2.) The best and brightest thinkers in our country avoid political careers because of the intense, pitbull tactics of mudslinging pack journalism

3.) Society seems to be rapidly going to hell in a hand basket and voters probably think a jock or actor couldn’t possibly do worse than the incumbents

And, so, we see the rise of a totally unqualified guy like Sir Charles, who says he is considering a run because "he wants to help people." How noble of him. Sir Charles originally said he was a Republican, but recently changed party affiliations because, he said: "…Republicans have lost their minds."

How statesmanlike.

Is it any wonder our country’s image is as bad as it is when we elect actors, jocks and political hacks to higher office? Is there any way to ever turn back the clock and somehow convince our nation’s truly gifted individuals to commit their lives to public service?

Not never. Not now. The best qualified individuals simply do not want to subject themselves or their families to the intense scrutiny that accompanies any run for public office. So, instead, they choose the private sector and the country is deprived of their abilities. And we are left with Sir Charles thinking about a Alabama gubernatorial run.

What’s next? Derek Jeter running for mayor of New York? Peyton Manning becoming an Indiana congressman?

Having just spent the past few days in San Francisco, I’m both amazed and appalled at the genuine love and support the locals have for a thug like Barry Bonds. Maybe even Barry can look forward to a political career after he breaks Aaron’s home run record next season. After all, I don’t think there’s any mandatory drug testing for political candidates in California. Hey, he could even take on Arnold in a winner take all gubernatorial epic pitting the Terminator against the ‘Roid King.

This sort of insanity can only happen in America.

Hat tip to Chris "Repman Jr." Cody for this idea.

Apr 12

Talk about waving a red flag at a bull…

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s joyous announcement yesterday that his country has sped ahead in its nuclear development and "…has joined the nuclear countries of the world" may not have been the smartest thing to say if he’s interested in self preservation. Mahmoud

In our positioning and media training sessions, we often talk about "…the message being sent by the speaker is not always the one that is being received by the listener." For example, when Richard Nixon went on national television at the height of the Watergate crisis in order to reassure Americans that all was well, he uttered the now infamous statement, "…your president is not a crook." Talk about a poor choice of words. It immediately undid everything else the beleaguered president was trying to accomplish in that night’s speech and planted the seed of doubt in many previously supportive voters. Clearly, the message he intended to send was not the one American listeners heard.

Returning to the white hot issue of Iranian nuclear development, I wonder what President Ahmadinejad’s speechwriters must have been thinking when they crafted such provocative phrasing? Obviously, they wanted their man to "stand tall" in the Islamic world and be seen as a bulwark against perceived American imperialism. And, I’m sure the speech did just that.

But, at the same time, how must it have been received at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Based upon the current administration’s war record, Ahmadinejad’s comments had to have been the political equivalent of waving a red flag at a bull or pouring gasoline on fire. This group definitely doesn’t need much prodding to pull the trigger. Which, in some perverse, unknown way, might be what the Iranian leader wants anyway. Martyrdom, after all, is a very big deal in the Islamic faith.

If a regime change in Tehran is the ultimate outcome of yesterday’s inflammatory speech, I can tell you one thing: we won’t be interviewing any newly-unemployed Ahmadinejad speechwriters anytime soon. And that’s one message that should be unequivocal to the listener.

Mar 16

In life, timing is everything

You’ve got to respect the timing of Eliot Spitzer’s latest move. The New York attorney general and gubernatorial candidate lashed out at H&R Block yesterday for allegedly selling inappropriate savingsEliot_spitzer  plans to hundreds of thousands of income tax filers.

Spitzer’s accusations come exactly one month before Federal income tax returns are due and will undoubtedly do a number on Block’s business. As for Spitzer, the move makes him look like a champion of the working class who, he says, were the primary target of the company’s "scheme." It’s a smart positioning for a candidate who, up until now, has earned his fame by bringing down the hoi polloi of Corporate America. With yesterday’s announcement, Spitzer can begin a mass appeal that can be backed up by definitive actions on his part.

As for Block, Spitzer’s bombshell is the latest blow in a series of legal debacles. To their credit, though, Block is aggressively speaking out and smartly positioning their CEO, Mark A. Ernst as lead spokesperson. A crisis of this magnitude clearly calls for the CEO to be front and center, demonstrating his involvement and communicating his messages.

Regardless of the outcome, Spitzer is the winner in this communications battle. He delivered his announcement at the right time and aimed it at exactly the right constituency he needs to reach. This guy is no blockhead.

Dec 21

Where’s Ronald Reagan when you need him?

The two-day-old NY transit strike is officially at an "impasse" and neither side seems to have the smarts, strength or savvy to solve the problem.

In my opinion, Messrs. Pataki, Bloomberg, et al, should take a page out of the Gipper’s play book and start acting like genuine leaders.

Back in 1981, our nation’s air traffic controllers did exactly what New York transit workers did Air_strike_2 yesterday: they walked out. But, unlike his contemporary counterparts, Reagan didn’t equivocate or rattle his saber. He gave the striking workers 48 hours to return to work or risk losing their jobs. The controllers held fast and so did Ron. He replaced them with management personnel and military air traffic controllers, while simultaneously initiating a nationwide job search for a whole new group of controllers to fill the vacated positions. It worked. The nation’s air traffic system continued to function and life went on as usual (except that tens of thousands of air traffic controllers found themselves permanently unemployed with no transferable job skills).

As Reagan might say if he were alive today, "Mr. Bloomberg, tear down those picket lines." Let’s give the transit workers 48 hours to get back on the job or risk losing their livelihoods. In the meantime, let’s get management personnel lined up and beg, borrow or steal qualified transit workers from other sources (i.e. Other cities, etc.).

It’s high time our leaders stopped allowing unions to hold our country and its economy hostage.

Dec 06

This time it’s personal(ity)

Over in the UK something rather remarkable happened today. The 250,000 members of the Conservative Party, a largely aging group of upper middle class and establishment types, recognized that the reputation of their party needed an overhaul and duly elected David Cameron as their new leader. David_cameron_at_2005_conservative_party_1

While the election of a new Conservative Party leader has become a regular fixture in British politics since Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 1997, Cameron’s election represents more than just another chapter in the leadership merry-go-round. For 26 years the Tories (as the Conservatives are commonly known) had just two leaders, Cameron however will now be the fifth man in eight years that Blair has faced in the House of Commons.

So what’s the fuss? Why is this man different? On paper Cameron represents everything the Tories are trying to get away from, he is a well spoken, Eton educated establishment man. Cameron’s opponent, David Davis grew up in a single parent household on a tough estate and has many years of Parliamentary experience under his belt. While many respect and admire Davis, it is Cameron, the young telegenic communicator that has galvanized the imagination of the party. Moreover, Cameron and his team have learnt the lessons of Blair’s successful media management.

Tony Blair’s rebranding of the Labor Party into New Labor propelled the party to three electoral victories, now, with David Cameron at the helm, the Tories have a similar opportunity for success. As for Cameron’s critics who claim he is all style and no substance, well, only time will tell, but even if that is true, perhaps style is all that matters anyway?

Hat tip to Carl Foster in Peppercom’s UK office for his thoughts.

Nov 11

Marge: let’s hold off on relocating to Dover

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s election results and the decision by Dover, Pa., voters to oust all eight Board of Education members who had supported the teaching of "divine intelligence" in town classrooms, televangelist Pat Robertson issued a warning. In effect, he told Dover residents not to be surprised if their town was visited by a variety of plagues as a result of their decision to continue supporting the teaching of evolution in schools. Robertson

Now, I don’t want to go near such an inflammatory issue as "evolution vs. divine intelligence," but I do find it interesting that a leading, right-wing Christian spokesperson, whose political agenda is to win over "undecided voters" to the cause, would make such an incendiary comment. Why alienate the more moderate-thinking mainstream electorate with such a fire-and-brimstone statement? I can’t remember too many recent examples of organizations wishing to attract undecided voters or customers by using such scare tactics. But, who knows? Maybe Robertson is at the cutting-edge of a new marketing strategy.

As for residents of Dover, I’d keep an eye open for signs of any late-season locust visits.

Nov 08

The Mayor as CEO

Entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg, he of the eponymous information services empire, seems assured of easy re-election as mayor of New York today. Yet, two years ago, this political neophyte’s approval ratings hovered around 30 percent. Bloomberg

How did he rebound?

Simply put, he made himself and his senior managers accountable. One of the cornerstones of the Bloomberg Administration is applying business management techniques to governing the city. He dispensed with the isolated offices that the mayor and commissioners occupied in City Hall, substituting a bullpen of cubes with him at the center. (Andy Grove pioneered this concept at Intel years ago). He introduced the concept of customer service by instituting the 311 service, which enables New Yorkers to access and request city services and information at all times. Perhaps most importantly, he won control of the city’s school system from the state’s unaccountable board of political hacks, staking his mayoralty on turning it around. Though much remains to be done, improvements are already apparent.

That is not to say he is the perfect manager. He ignored his "customers" by insisting on bringing the Olympics to New York and building a billion-dollar stadium on the West Side, despite widespread opposition. Early in his term, he raised taxes on already overtaxed property owners by more than 20 percent. A reformed smoker, he hurt small businesses by pushing a smoking ban through the City Council.

Still, New Yorkers know who is in charge. Though Bloomberg’s re-election bid is helped by the fact that his opponent is a bland, old-style liberal Democrat, citizens recognize that their city, when managed well, works. While this is not a political blog and I don’t endorse candidates, I can certainly endorse Michael Bloomberg’s management style as a model for public officials everywhere.

Oct 19

Detail Disoriented

Westchester County (N.Y.) District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, now famous (or, is she infamous?) for her 32 seconds of silence while delivering her campaign announcement speech due to a misplaced page, has once again shot herself in the foot.

This one is a real beaut. In her fundraising outreach, Pirro’s crack team inadvertently mailed a note to the candidate’s opponent, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. To add insult to injury, the letter was addressed to "Hill’s" old address at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. Talk about database mismanagement!

To paraphrase the Chinese proverb, Pirro’s credibility is dying a death by a thousand cuts. As she makes one mistake after another, voters will surely lose faith in her ability to manage the bigger issues.

The devil is, indeed, in the details. We routinely host "meet the media" luncheons at our office. Almost without exception, one of the biggest complaints reporters have of PR firms is the correspondence they receive replete with misspellings, incorrect titles and addresses, confused genders, and other careless and unnecessary errors.

Image and reputation constitute a total package that goes far beyond style and substance to extend to the tiniest of details, including an updated mailing list. One can win the battle but still lose the war by making too many foolish mistakes.