The day I entered the Oval Office

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For my spring 2014 semester, I´m going to take my Media Relations class. I didn´t want to take it in my first semester, because I thought I had enough experience dealing with the press, after 4 years of doing it in my past work. This post is about one of those experiences, in my opinion, one of the most awesome: The day I went to the White House and the Oval Office.

I’m going to start from the beginning. When the meeting of the President of Chile with President Obama was confirmed, we started to plan the trip. One week before the event, I traveled to DC with two more persons of the advance team, as usual. The President was traveling with a group of 25 journalists, so you there was a lot of work to do.

One of my missions was to find a point of contact of a counterpart for every activity the President was going to attend, including his meeting with Obama. The day we visited the White House with the advance team, I met my counterpart from the US Presidency. We started to talk about the procedures for the press in the meeting and we agreed that it was going to be done the same way we managed the meetings between Presidents in Chile. Only a few number of journalists were going to be able to attend, with preference for cameras and photographers. I thought it was going to be difficult to agree on the numbers, but my counterpart was really flexible with it. So, 8 persons were going to enter to the Oval Office.

Once the President arrived to the US with the media, I met with them to make an overview of the operative program and the logistical aspects. To define who were going to enter, we made a draw: 2 spots for TV, 1 spot for radio, 1 spot for printed media, 2 photographers and 2 official cameraman. The problems started when the radio journalists said that they wanted to go live from inside the White House, what was really unfair for the other radios that didn’t have access to it. Finally we came to an agreement.

So the day came. We arrived at the White House 2 hours before the meeting. After passing the security checks we waited in the Press Room, until I received a call saying that the President was on his way to the meeting. We saw his entrance, and then start making a line to enter the meeting. My counterpart asked me to talk with the Chilean media, because they were a little anxious and inpatient, something logical for such an important event.

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After 1 hour of meeting, the signal came. We were directed through different stairs and hallways, until we came to a big closed door: The Oval Office. A security official opened for us, and we came in. Both Presidents were still talking, and once the media was all set up, they both started their remarks in English.

What happened next was one of the most unexpected things I could ever imagine. I prefer to leave you a video about it that tell it with my own words: You know, an image worth more than a thousand words.

 

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The other crisis communication plan

 

It seems like the only topic when speaking about crisis communication and politics in these days is located in Canada. Yes, you all know what I’m talking about, because we’ve all been hearing about this guy and his adventures: Rob Ford.

I’m not going to waste your time making a summary about the situation, but the facts are clear: The major of Toronto was accused of smoking crack, he denied everything for 6 months, and then an accusatory video came out. After all this, he finally admitted he was on drugs, but there he is, still in his office, even after admitting doing something illegal. Impossible for the US, but it’s really happening next door.

The most incredible fact is that his reputation is untouchable, and because of the good economic results the city is getting, he hasn’t been pressured to quit in the way he should. For me, this is the main reason he’s still at office: pure negligence of their political adversaries. What does this means? That Ford has been smarter than the others, knowing from the beginning that his controversial style is the one that differentiate him.

Going against all forecasts, Rob hasn’t followed almost any rule of Crisis Communication, but he has still succeeded. Earlier this week I read a post in PRSAY of Daniel Tisch, describing which were the principles that Rob Ford failed to follow during these 6 months:

  1. Tell the truth – early.
  2. Tell the truth — comprehensively.
  3. Don’t hide behind your lawyer
  4. Don’t attack your stakeholders when you apologize – particularly when they have more credibility than you.
  5.  Focus your apology on your audience.
  6.  Admit the problem, and propose a solution.
  1.  Don’t set up unrealistic expectations.

Now, the debate is open: Which other rule do you think the major of Toronto hasn’t followed and why do you think he has succeded with his strategy?

 

Our Friendly Adversaries

 

Last week, the third presidential debate took place in Chile. This time, Michelle Bachelet did participate, but didn’t say much either. But the big news about this event was not an idea a candidate had, or a fight between both of them. The most attractive and newsworthy thing occurred in backstage.

There, in a space reserved for the accredited media, the press Secretary of one of the candidates went crazy with a journalist, because of an information she published in Twitter a few minutes ago, and tried to attack her. Finally, everything got confused, the press Secretary was kicked out of the TV Studio, and once the debate was finished he was fired by the candidate he represented, Franco Parisi.

This was the story that inspired me to write a short post about the relationship between PR specialist and journalists, not only in politics, but in every business areas. This incident reflects the importance of having respect for both parties, understand their jobs, and, most important, to respect what they do.

On one hand, journalists must understand that the PR specialist works for his organization and that his duty is to look for a third party endorsement to enhance its reputation. On the other hand, the reporter has to bring news to his editor, so he will be always looking for something that can help him.

In my class with Professor Fraser Seitel, who always talk about the reporters as our “friendly adversaries”, we have spoken about certain rules that are useful when dealing with the media, that can be summarized in:

–          A reporter will always be a reporter, so never let your guard down

–          Never think that a reporter has a personal thing about you or your organization just because he’s not writing positive things about it.

–          Treat the reporters professionally, honoring their deadlines and being available for them.

–          Know what news is, and always try to sell things that can be valuable for the reporter

–          Always clarify with them if you understand the same for concepts like “Off the record”, “Background”, “Not for Attribution”.

–          Talk when not selling, in order to build valuable relationships

–          Be informed and read every day what the reporters are writing in your field.

Will you add any other rule that can help building relationships between PR professionals and reporters?

Fun every 4 years

 

Politics are not fun. At least most of the times. But every 4 years, when presidential elections come, everybody start to be into politics and to have an opinion. This is when the fun starts. You can discuss about politics in your Sunday table and nobody will look at you as a boring guy, but only for this short period.

Presidential elections are coming in my country in one more month. So I wanted to take advantage of this, and involve some of my classmates in one of the most exciting things campaigns have in Chile: jingles.

So today I’m not going to write about the candidates or the election. I’m going to present you the jingles of the presidential candidates, so you can vote for your favorite. I know all of them are in Spanish, but you can make your judgment about the music or how sticky they are. Here they are:

 

1. Franco Parisi

2. Marco Enriquez Ominami

 

3. Evelyn Matthei

 

4. Michelle Bachelet

 

So, after revising all of them, which was your favorite?

 

 

Do you think that, in general, this jingles sound like the ones from American campaigns?

 

The Rose Garden Strategy

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Last night, the first chilean presidential debate took place, where 8 of the 9 candidates to become the next President of the Republic tried to explain their ideas in a TV forum.

Why only 8 of 9? Because one of them, who leads the polls and who’s the favorite for next November’s election, Michelle Bachelet, didn’t want to go, arguing she had acquired previous commitments the same day, at the same hour.

As I learned yesterday, while watching the NY mayoral debate, what Bachelet is doing is, what they call here in the US using “The Rose Garden strategy”. In simple words, her team is trying to project a triumphal sensation, making her look superior than her opponents, just because she’s in the first place. It’s like she’s saying “They don’t deserve to debate with me”.

As Bachelet was already President of Chile, and didn’t made a good government, she certainly has a weak side that can be attacked by their opponents, who, back at the polls, will try to take her down with those arguments.

As this said, it’s kind of understandable that she didn’t want to participate, although it brought her critics in Social Media and, of course, for the other candidates. But, other issues show that Bachelet’s campaign is not only afraid to debate, but also to participate in any activity where she can be compared to their competitors.

An example of this? A very famous hot dog restaurant chain in  Chile, Domino, organized a contest, inviting all the candidates to participate. The challenge was to create their own hot dog, with the ingredients they like the most. Each of the creations will be offered by Domino to their customers, with the name of the candidate.

Guess what, when they came back to the candidates to know their recipes they received only 8 answers. Bachelet campaign didn’t want to participate, arguing they didn’t have time to care about the issue.

Maybe this was seeing as a trivial decision by their staff, but in the end it showed something much more disturbing. She doen’t want to be judged by the public opinion at any matter, even if it’s about a hot dog.

Of Coffee and Guns

 

A break from politics, but not from communication and PR. Since I heard about this topic, I really wanted to write a post about it. It caught my attention because of how purely American the discussion is. For me, as a foreigner, is hard to understand how coffee and guns can come together and finally unleash a PR crisis. I’m talking about Starbucks, and the lessons we got from the announcement of its new gun policy.

The story, as I get it, goes something like this. During its whole history, Starbucks declare itself as a neutral company on weapon carrying. This means, everyone could go into a Starbucks and get his Latte with a gun in his pocket. The policy was defined by local laws of each state.

What started to happen is that pro-guns organizations felt themselves really comfortable in Starbucks stores, so they began to organize meetings there and to upload pictures of them with their guns and, of course, their coffee. They even went one step further, celebrating the Starbucks National Appreciation Day, with hard consequences.

Suddenly, the company found itself in the middle of a political stage, as a main actor in the gun carrying discussion, with the image of a pro-weapon company. What does this brings? Of course, bad reputation.

The company knew they had to take actions, and they surely did. On September 18th, the CEO, Howard Schultz, wrote an open letter on the company’s website, making a respectful request to clients to leave guns before entering a Starbucks store. He was very clear that he was not banning guns and that nobody would kick clients out of the store if the carry a weapon, saying that weapons “were not part of the Starbucks experience”.

How a simple letter does becomes an example about good PR practices? Here are some hints:

  • The company made a principled stand, this means they showed which values represent them and what they stand for
  • This made that media talked about days about Starbucks values, without asking it
  • The CEO put action before communication, to avoid any mistakes
  • The letter was written by the CEO, which reflects the importance the company gives to this matter
  • They were the firsts, and with this, they set a precedent to the industry. Now their competitor will have to ask themselves what they stand for and how they communicate it.
  • They released the letter one day after the shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard, when public opinion was more susceptible to accept a change.

For all this reasons I think this is a great example of how a simple, but very good decision, can be vital improving a company’s image and building its reputation.

PR and foreign governments, an ethical issue?

 

In this post, I will address an issue that has been very discussed in the PR world in the last weeks. The question is simple: is it ethical for PR Agencies to work for foreign regimes that are accused of human rights abuses and other forms of bad behavior?

In times where there still are countries managed by dictators who can pay big amounts of money, it´s interesting to see if, under the ethical perspective, agencies should or not accept this kind of clients.

As a relevant precedent, we can look at England. The PRCA has elaborated a voluntary code of conduct for PR agencies, that states that they should refuse to act for a client if realize that his behavior is unethical. This code also encourage agencies to disclose all the clients they work for. This is a relevant factor, but is only a voluntary code, not a standard code or a law. But, it’s relevant because if not respected, another kind of punishment can affect the PR agency: A social punishment by the media.

This polemic has risen after the publication of an op-ed of the Russian President in the New York Times. This article, that supported his position on the Syrian crisis, was published with the help of a PR firm in New York, Ketchum, that has been working with the Russian government for several years.

In my opinion, we see several interest when we analyze this kind of problems. Without any doubt, the main interest of a PR agency that works for a foreign government is the high revenue they can get. The client’s interests are the improvement of their reputation and to validate their regimens to the international community. For this reason, it’s vital that agencies can recognize their clients’ interests.

On the other side, the human rights organizations main interest is to make aware and look for protection from the international community against abuses that governments can commit and to maintain the balance for political power.

Which of this interest do you think should prevail, in order to take the best ethical, but also practical decision?