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Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide
Oct 07

Reading List

If you are going to read one magazine this month, I highly recommend the current issue of The Atlantic — especially Jim Fallows’ article on wiring western China, the short article on whether wind power is the next ethanol and the article on the 1958 Giants-Colts NFL championship game. The cover article on John McCain is also worth reading.

I was in Minneapolis last week for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative conference.  While the Twins’ run to the MLB play-offs was great theater and dominated the headlines and newscasts, ultimately the Twins didn’t make it to the play-offs (even if I got to sit in on a meaningful game btw. the Twins and the ChiSox at the Metrodome).

The other REALLY big thing on TV was the Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken.  The ads were everywhere.  Franken’s ads (his and the DNSC funded ads) went after Coleman for his role in his initial support for the Iraq War (which the candidate has backed away from). The DNSC is relying on ads featuring the parents of a dead Iraq War veteran whose mom lays the blame for her son’s death at the senator’s feet and a dad who says “Norm’s gotta go” and a less effective testimonial from a Minnesotan businessman who attacks Coleman over high gas prices. 

Unfortunately, the first ad sound like a bad parody of “Fargo” (which puts Minnesotans on the defensive when you point that out) more than anything else. The Coleman and NRSC ads focus on Franken’s temperament and Franken’s record as a sometimes blue comedian and talk show host (lots of bleeps).  There is also a mostly positive ad that focuses on (bipartisan) solutions that benefited the state. My take: advantage Coleman. Although there are 1.5 pro-Franken ads on the air for every pro-Coleman ad, the Minnesotans I spoke to said Franken’s temperament was a defining issue.

Advantage Wall Street…

The U.S. House of Representatives held its first hearing today on the Wall Street collapse of Lehman Brothers.  Watching the hearing today on CNBC, I have to say it was a PR disaster for Rep. Henry Waxman and the Democratic-controlled Committee (not that some Republicans asked equally stupid questions).  That is because a lot of the coverage focused on what Waxman said in his first round of questioning.

That rightfully angered (perhaps too polite a word) many on Wall Street and other places because the questions had less to do with what went on and had more to do with class issues of how much Richard Fuld made over the past 15 years and what he did with the money he made (earned is still subject to some debate). Given Lehman didn’t lose money until last year, see this clip from CNBC of this example of Wall Street outrage — forward to about 4 minutes in where Sue Harrera talks to reporter Matt Nesto.  It is here:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/15840232?video=879793181&play=1

(Unfortunately, the clip only works if you are using IE and the latest Mister Softy plug ins.)

My take: Go Matt, Go.

Senor Independent (previously known as CNN’s Lou Dobbs) also had a field day at Waxman’s expense on his show tonight. Alas, CNN has not put up a clip as of now.

Long story short,  I want to quote “The West Wing’s” White House Press Secretary C.J. Craig.  When asked how to short circuit a legitimate investigation, she answered, “This is a job for the House of Representatives.”

At the time, the barb was directed at the Republicans who controlled the House.  But now it shows that the House Democrats are equally (if not more) stupid.

As PR types, we are often asked what it takes to get an letter to the editor published in a major paper.  There are many things that go into it, but creativity is always helpful.  Here is a great one from Wednesday’s Financial Times….

From Mr. Jonathan P. Kahn

Sir, Citibank’s woes have been in large part blamed on the failed business model of trying to be every bank for everybody or, as Wall Street likes to call it, a financial supermarket.

With the purchase of FleetBoston, MBNA, USTrust, Lasalle and now, Merrill, Bank of America is defying conventional wisdom and, in choosing to walk down the aisle yet again, has become the Elizabeth Taylor of financial institutions.  Hope it has better luck.

Jonathan P. Kahn

Great Neck, NY, US

Also, it appears that the PTBs at the University of Virginia have further clamped down on free speech.  Should you have wished ask Coach Al Groh about his team’s 45-10 loss to UConn on the 1-2 team’s radio network, you would have been forced to submit it by text or by e-mail — no live calls where you might say something that hurts the coach’s feelings.

Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald had an interesting article — actually two in one — on cable nets dominating political coverage as of late (such as at the conventions) and on why the end of the Bush Administration will not mean the end of Fox News.  The nut paragraph is here.

For years, hostile TV critics and political columnists have been writing that Fox News was some kind of weird transitory political phenomenon, the video equivalent of Pet Rocks or Ross Perot, that would soon disappear. Isn’t it time to start acknowledging the obvious — that Fox News is here to stay?

 


  

 

After both party nominating conventions and with less than two months until Election Day, here are nine things we now know about the candidates running for president and vice president:

 

  • Sarah Palin can “field dress” a moose
  • Barack Obama is not a Muslim
  • John McCain owns a lot of houses, he’s just not sure how many
  • Joe Biden’s son is a lobbyist (the lowest form of life in this year’s election narrative)
  • Sarah Palin is married to the “first dude”
  • Barack Obama now wears a flag pin, but didn’t for a while
  • John McCain has seven top advisors who were “Washington lobbyists”
  • Sarah Palin’s 17 year-old unwed daughter is pregnant
  • Sarah Palin’s husband had a DUI arrest 20 years ago (okay, I think we actually may already know too much about Sarah Palin)

These trivial tidbits of information have two things in-common – each has received extensive coverage in the mainstream media (and unending attention in the blogosphere) and none of them have anything to do with the candidates’ ability to lead the country.

 

This dynamic is by no means unique to the 2008 election and it is the subject of quadrennial hyperventilating by pundits wringing their hands over the state of America’s democracy.  But the disconnect between what matters and what is covered has never been as pronounced, or as damaging, as it is this year.

 

With two wars, a deepening recession, a health care crisis, global warming and $4/gallon gasoline all awaiting the next president and an American electorate that overwhelmingly feels the nation is “on the wrong track,” what passes for political discourse is a discussion of flag pins and lobbyists.  Something has gone seriously amiss.

 

As always in politics, there is plenty of blame to go around. 

 

Certainly the candidates and their campaigns play a major role in trying to focus attention on the trivial and deflect attention from more difficult or controversial issues.  There is also always the hope that one of these trivial issues will take hold in voters’ minds and play a pivotal role in determining the outcome (think about Al Gore’s sighing during the first debate against George Bush – meaningless until the conventional wisdom took hold that it was a sign of Gore’s unrepentant arrogance).

 

Among losing campaigns there is always a tendency to blame the voters, and it’s probably true that voters get the politicians and campaigns that they deserve.  That said, by all indications voters this year are looking for concrete solutions to the very real problems the country faces.

 

Finally, there is the media.  In an election that has generated so much interest for so long, there is tremendous competition among media outlets and the digerati to be the source of political information. 

 

One would hope that this competition would result in a better product.  Instead this competition has led to a significant “dumbing down” of the campaign coverage; a race to the bottom to see who can uncover the most innocuous but potentially salacious details about the candidates, their families, advisors and pets.

 

The mainstream media appear to believe that the way to beat back the onslaught of the blogosphere is to emulate them – focus on the trivial, the prurient, the outrageous rather than the substance.  This is a battle that the mainstream media simply cannot win.

 

Rather than trying to outshout the bloggers, the media might find their vanishing relevance restored by focusing on the substance of the campaign.  Reporting and analyzing the very real differences between the McCain and Obama approaches to taxes, health care, energy policy and Iraq would not only provide a public service, but re-establish the media as a trusted source of important information. 

 

Each campaign has spelled out specific policy proposals in all of these areas.  The problem is no one is reporting on the policy differences, so it’s hard for us humble voters to find them behind all the noise created by flag pins, lipstick on pigs and field dressing a moose.

Time’s Bryan Walsh weighs in on Al Gore’s “We” Campaign.  Translating his review review into a numerical score, I estimate he gives it between a 5 and a 6.

Given Time’s support for an activist green agenda, I would have expected a better rating from the magazine’s environmental reporter.  However, his criticism of the campaign ties in nicely with the findings of the Forrester study I referenced earlier — namely it doesn’t make the case for significant change in lifestyles (which Americans are not predisposed to do so far) nor does it have a call to action for those who aren’t already predisposed to Gore’s “act now or else” message.

In addition, the fact that the one specific example referenced in the article talks about ad with Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton, two long irrelevant charlatans whose heyday was in the 1980s, demonstrates that the campaign has problems beyond just “the ask.”

Update:  Google’s Eric Schmidt offered his own plan to solve global warming on September 8.  You can read Matt Nauman’s story in the San Jose Mercury News here.  I won’t comment on the merits of the plan, but the key sentence in the story is here:

The fight against global warming is a big deal, Schmidt said, and he doesn’t understand why more people don’t realize it.

Bad or misguided PR campaigns, perhaps…

I was going to write a post regarding MSNBC’s decision to drop Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews from their position the cable network’s political coverage anchors for the rest of the year.  However, I have to admit I agree almost 100% with what Jeff Bercovici wrote on his Portfolio.com media blog and about 80% of what the Kansas City Star’s Aaron Barnhart’s writes in his column on TV Barn.

ESPN the Magazine’s Rick Reilly writes about an attempt to stifle free speech and free expression on a college campus that should know better.

Some background.  The University of Virginia made a major investment in Al Groh, the former New York Jets head coach, that included big bucks and a potentially long-term contract that included yearly options to renew and big bucks for Groh every time it was.  After several years where the Hoos made it to second tier bowl games (two trips to Charlotte and trips to Boise and Nashville), the team missed a bowl appearance in 2006.

The 2007 season started with a 23-3 loss against unheralded Wyoming.  That led to calls for the firing of the head coach (including a prominent sign on campus that was torn down by campus police).  While the 2007 season was much better than expected (record: 9-4), it ended with embarrassing losses to hated cross-state rival Virginia Tech (a loss made worse by the University’s willingness to bend over backwards to show solidarity with the Hokies after the tragic campus shooting in Blacksburg earlier in the year — something that drove football fans who pay big bucks AND are required to contribute to the university’s scholarship fund to guarantee season tickets furious) and Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl.  Needless to say, fans and donors weren’t happy.

The 2008 campaign started with a 52-7 blowout loss to the #3 USC (Trojans, not Gamecocks) that got national coverage.  This lead to escalated calls for Groh to be fired.  But the university seemed to continue to wrap itself in not upsetting the coaches and players as an excuse to stifle dissent, however mild.

In some ways, this is worse than some attempts to stifle free speech and free expression in the name of political correctness.

Oh, and for the record, I went to Drew University, a school without a football team.

Matt Nauman of the San Jose Mercury News had an interesting article while I was on vacation regarding consumer attitudes about “being green.”  Long story, short (for when the link disappears)–

Even consumers who identify themselves as environmentalists don’t always act on those beliefs, a new study shows, put off by high prices and the hassles of buying green products. And a Santa Clara University researcher says negative feedback in how-green-am-I surveys sometimes keep people from taking positive steps.

Nauman bases his article on two surveys, the first by Forrester Research.  That study found…

most people said they recycle paper, bottles and cans (63 percent) and have bought energy-efficient light bulbs (57 percent). These are actions where the hassle factor is low.

But just 14 percent said they’ve brought toxic materials to a community recycling center, just 11 percent recycled their last TV or PC and only 7 percent say they’ve paid more for an energy-efficient appliance.

“These actions have a much higher hassle factor,” [Ted] Schadler [of Forrester] said. “And asking consumers to spend a premium on a green product is the most hassle-filled commitment at all.”

The second survey, done by Amara Brook of Santa Clara University for a paper presented at an American Psychological Association, found…

the apparent disparity between attitude and action. While a majority of Americans consider themselves environmentalists, just 13 percent have contributed money to green causes and only 14 percent use alternative transportation, according to past studies.

That suggests, she writes, “that only a small minority of those who want a healthier environment and consider themselves environmentalists engage in environmentally sustainable behavior.” Knowing how to increase those actions is “essential” for future improvement, she said.

“We need to recognize that people have a limited time to think about and deal with these things. Asking people to even spend a little more time (on green issues) is a big deal.”

These surveys validate some of the other things that I’ve posted about the so-called “greening of America.”  I readily admit to being a skeptic, not becuase I am a global warming denier, but because I think the marketers of the global warming crisis have done a poor job of creating a sense of urgency in the minds of most Americans (outside of the folks on both coasts) that global warming merits the sort of effort they say is necessary to effectively combat it.

This failure explains why Americans were so willing to change their long-standing opposition to drilling on the outer continental shelf when gas prices spiked (forcing policy flip flops by both Sen. Obama and the House Democratic leadership) or why Americans haven’t been willing to pay extra to buy carbon offsets when they fly.

Moreover, now that we are in an economic slowdown, those efforts will be even harder.  All one has to do is to look across the Atlantic to see how Great Britain’ efforts have faltered.

Of course, this is my view.  The Mother Ship (Ogilvy & Mather, for non-Ogilvy readers) has a different view and has founded a sustainability consulting agency, called the Greenery, to help global companies “create mission-based brands.”  You can read their take on this issue at their blog — The Greenery@Ogilvy.

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide