Nov 01

Which witch is which? Wiccans aren’t sure when it comes to Christine O’Donnell.

The following is a special election eve guest blog from friend and former co-worker, Peter Engel.

Peter once dated a witch and, if given the chance to debate Delaware Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell, tells me he'd confront her with the following riff on Lloyd Bentsen's classic remark to Dan Quayle" "Ms. O'Donnell, I knew a witch. And Ms. O'Donnell, you're no witch."

Enjoy the blog and be sure to vote tomorrow for your favorite witch, warlock or druid…

When I worked for him back in the mid-Nineties, RepMan took much amusement from the fact that I dated a woman who called herself a practicing witch. While it’s been over 15 years since that ended, hIconurle still enjoys dredging that up, even though she’s not Christine O'Donnell.

But O'Donnell ended up playing a role in an exchange between Steve and me in his blog post about poor service in a Boston Panera Bread. O’Donnell’s increasingly outrageous statements about “dabbling in witchcraft” or her awful "I'm Not a Witch" TV ad brought up a question like this: why haven’t practicing Wiccans jumped into the fray to denounce O’Donnell for creating misperceptions about them? Why haven’t their spokespeople taken to 24/7 cable media outlets, the blogosphere, or NPR/PBS-type outlets to chastise O’Donnell and opportunistic media outlets for belittling their deeply-held beliefs? 

It turns out that they really don’t feel a need to. A conversation with Rachael Watcher, national public information officer for the California-based Covenant of the Goddesses, revealed that being a part of the noise doesn’t fit organization’s communications strategy. Watcher doesn’t see how bloviating on Fox News Channel is consistent with what Wiccans are about.

 “There are legitimate questions raised about the Wiccan religion and witches,” Watcher said, ”shouting for ourselves doesn’t do us any good.”

There was already a lot of information available about the Wiccan religion and witches. But the high school experience O’Donnell has described – the one that “didn’t involve blood and stuff” – has Watcher perplexed.

“Whatever it is she ran across, it’s not our religion,” said Watcher. “What’s come out has been so ridiculous. Right now, it’s just the media looking for sensationalism.”

So what IS the Wiccan religion about? Wicca, or Witchcraft is the most popular expression of the religious movement known as Neo-Paganism. Based on nature and respecting the Earth’s elements, Wiccan revives ancient Pagan practices and beliefs of pre-Christian Europe and adapts them to contemporary life. Wiccans believe in God and prayer, honor all religions and want the world to be a better place. There are over 800,000 Wiccans in the U.S, with several local and regional organizations to be found through the Internet or word of mouth.

The Covenant of the Goddess, non-hierarchical and governed by consensus, has members in North America, Europe and Australia. According to the Institute for the Study of American Religion, it’s the fastest growing religion in Canada, and it’s coming up fast in the U.S.

Here’s what it’s NOT about: Satanism, flying broomsticks, pointy hats, boiling pots, Samantha and her mother Endora, stealing, killing (not even flies), lying, men who call themselves warlocks, or working 'black magic.'

While Wiccans feel anything but victimized by O’Donnell’s statements or the current hubbub, they do see a need to do more education and remove common misperceptions. After the election, Watcher hopes that Covenant of the Goddesses and the worldwide Wiccan community will have a less frenzied environment to build awareness about their practices and beliefs, and demonstrate how mainstream they really are.

The Wiccan religion builds its reputation through spiritual experience; they aren’t particularly eager for publicity in the traditional sense. While that probably won’t mean business for agencies, their communication strategy of first tuning out the noise is refreshing.

I’m Repman and I approved this guest blog.

Peter Engel has over 20 years experience in marketing communications working with clients in automotive, business-to-business, consumer marketing, education, financial services, healthcare, media, real estate and technology. Peter lives happily in New York City and no longer has nightmares about his experiences working with Steve and Ed at Earle Palmer Brown.

Oct 27

“We are sorry the guy died, but what can we do?”

United Arab Emirates Swimming Association executive director Ayman Saad was direct and to the Products_image2-2660-d point when asked to comment about the death of 26-year-old American swimmer Fran Crippen this past weekend. He sighed and said (Saad?), “We are sorry the guy died, but what can we do?” What can one do? The answer is: a whole helluva lot more than the UAE Swimming Association apparently did.

Crippen was competing in a 10 kilometer open water race in the UAE and, according to a top official with FINA, an international organization governing swimming, likely died from overexertion. The ever-sympathetic Saad, added: “This guy was tired and he pushed himself a lot.” Oh. 

Other swimmers disagreed with Saad’s moronic observations. The winner, Thomas Lurz, said it was far too hot to even hold the competition. "The water was amazingly hot. There were many swimmers who had serious problems in the water,’ said Lurz. Several swimmers complained of dehydration and disorientation after swimming in the warm water and three were taken to the hospital. The UAE Swimming Association said the water was 84 degrees at the start of the race. Many other swimmers have said the water temperature was more like 90 degrees! Man, that’s bathtub hot.

Two reactions:

-      I’m not a competitive swimmer, but have competed in many long distance running events where the same exact thing happened. In April of this year, for example, I ran the Long Branch Half Marathon in 90 degree temperatures. More than 30 runners collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital. I stopped four or five times during the run and took a full month to recover from the severe dehydration. Too many race officials such as the ones in the UAE and Long Branch turn a blind eye when it comes to protecting the safety of athletes. They’re more concerned with getting the race started on time and pleasing the sponsors.

-      Saad’s comments have to rank on my all-time top 10 list of stupid remarks. Others would include:

  • “I’m not a witch,” Christine O’Donnell, Delaware Tea Party candidate and erstwhile witch.
  • “We seem to have a major malfunction,” NASA official witnessing the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding in mid flight.
  • “Mission accomplished,” President George W. Bush, declaring the war in Iraq won in 2004.
  • “The Gulf of Mexico is a big ocean,” Tony Heyward, erstwhile CEO of BP, immediately after the massive oil spill had occurred.
  • “I did not have sex with that woman,” President William Jefferson Clinton.

Help me here, Repman readers. What are some other all-time horrific public comments? Let’s create a list and ask Jack O’Dwyer, Paul Holmes or Erica Iacono to publish it. Hey, if we go about this the right way it could become an annual ‘Repman and friends Top 10 most stupid statements of the year’ kind of thing. Alternatively, we could give credit where credit is due and name our list, ‘The Ayman Saad Most Moronic Comments of the Year.’ What better way to pay tribute to that ass?’

So, send me your thoughts. Assuming I collect 10 or more, I’ll issue a press release and ask our crack agency publicity team to pitch it to one of the PR industry trades. I can’t think of a better way to ‘out’ Saad while paying tribute to the late Mr. Crippen.

A tip o' RepMan's the mountain climbing hat to The Danderoo for this suggestion.

Oct 12

Christine O’Donnell is SO not me

I’ve never seen a crazier mix of ill-suited and ill-qualified candidates running for government than Christine-o-donnell-witchcraft the representatives of the class of 2010. We’re stuck with uncooperative Republicans, ossified Democrats and totally bizarre Tea Party candidates. And, the Queen of Hearts of Tea Party candidates (to mix a couple of Lewis Carroll metaphors) has to be Delaware’s Republican Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell.

I won’t waste any time repeating the litany of things she’s done wrong in the past, but I did want to share my POV on her latest campaign commercial.

I see the commercial as a text book example of what not to do. In one fell swoop, O.D. simultaneously sends the wrong message and alienates undecided.

Instead of deflecting (or better yet, ignoring) the videotaped comments she’d made a decade ago about dabbling in witchcraft, this Tea Party temptress instead tackles the issue head-on by announcing, “I am not a witch.”

Sadly, most voters (and, indeed, most Americans) have no institutional knowledge whatsoever. So, when I tell you O’Donnell’s comments evoked a Pavlovian response by echoing similar comments made by another politician 35 years ago, you’ll probably pause and mumble, “Say what?”

It’s true, though. In the midst of the Watergate controversy that would destroy his presidency and force him to resign, Richard Nixon appeared on national television and said, “I am not a crook.” As various journalism, political science and communications academics, pundits and PR types alike have since noted, “The message Nixon sent was not the message voters received.” Instead, by reinforcing the negative, Nixon instantly undermined his credibility. His ill-conceived comments alienated his core constituents, reinforced his opponents’ beliefs and, critically, planted a seed of doubt in the key, undecided voters’ minds.

O’Donnell has done the same thing with her terrible TV spot. First, she tells me she’s not a witch. Thanks for reminding me of that negative, Christine. Second, and even worse, she tells me, “I’m you.”

Here’s the problem with telling me “I’m you.” This clueless candidate doesn’t know who I am. Nor has she taken the time to get to know me. I can tell Ms. O’Donnell that she won’t find me practicing satanic worship in the middle of the woods at midnight. That’s not me. So there’s one immediate disconnect.
 
In addition to repeating Nixon’s mistake, O’Donnell is committing the same gaffe major advertisers such as Yahoo make when they place ads proclaiming, ‘It’s all about me.” Just like O’Donnell, Yahoo has absolutely no clue who I am. They’re blissfully ignorant of my likes, dislikes and hobbies. So, don’t insult my intelligence by telling me otherwise.

I believe that O’Donnell and her Tea Party cohorts are a one-time aberration, created by eight years of W’s rack and ruin followed two years of The One’s remote and inaccessible leadership. American voters are angry, so they’re listening to unqualified whack jobs like O’Donnell. I won’t conjecture on whether she’ll win or lose because, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter. Washington is at a standstill, and more divisiveness will only increase the gridlock.

That said, there are two very important image and reputation lessons to be learned from O’Donnell:
    1.)  Never, ever, repeat a negative. O’Donnell shouldn’t begin her TV spots by reminding us she once practiced witchcraft.
    2.)  Never, ever, tell me you understand me, or are just like me, when you haven’t taken the time to get to know me first.

If the Tea Party is to have a lifespan longer than a May Fly, it needs to recruit candidates who understand fundamental communications strategies. And, speaking of flies, I wouldn’t trust Christine O’Donnell to manage a media training session with the fruit stand guy outside 470 Park Avenue South.

Tip o' RepMan's bike helmet to Catharine Cody for suggesting this post.