Crisis Management from Obama to Toyota

Welcome back!
Life is busy as always. I'm just back from Calgary and on my way Monday to Fort Worth, Texas. The word crisis is over-used, no question about it. But it is a word that seems to apply when one thinks of President Obama, and the unprecedented recall by Toyota. Are there any linkages? Perhaps not, but in this posting I will explore what, in my view, are some contributing factors and lessons to be learned. As I hope many of my faithful subscribers know, that I do not indulge in partisan comments. Instead I try to stay neutral to the individual's political party and focus instead on their actions and words.

So here goes.

The Obama Crisis - Danger and Opportunity

Hard on the heels of the Democrats' defeat in the 'sure-bet' Massachusetts Senate special election, and its implication for the passage of his signature Health Care Reform bill now in House-Senate Conference. His unfavorables now exceed his favorables. The lustre and aura of 'change' has been diminished and with the mid-term election year in play, the window for Congressional support has narrowed markedly. So what went wrong?

First, he expended his significant political capital on the wrong issue. Health care reform has a long history of politicization and division. Bill Clinton learned that it can be disastrous for a Presidency for many reasons; the invasion of mega-millions from the health insurance lobby and others; the complexity of any Bill creates a cornucopia of opportunity to shred it piece by piece; the deep-seated American distaste for government-run anything was easily triggered in this debate. Few would doubt that he intended to deliver on his health care promises of his campaign. However, one suspects that the timing of this issue had more to do with the state of Sen. Ted Kennedy's health than it was through the mastery of political timing. Nevertheless he accepted his blame for not explaining it well enough.  It was convoluted, confusing, and almost impossible to explain in 2 minutes, let alone 30 seconds. Even Mr. Obama said, "the process left most Americans wondering, what's in it for me?" Right on.

Secondly, he seemed to mis-read the public's visceral anger and anxiety over the crashing of the economy. Even those who have their jobs are fearful that they, their children or grandchildren might lose theirs. Yet only now is he focusing on the four letters that they really care about: J-O-B-S.

Thirdly, he seemed to lose sight of his signature 'brand' which helped him get elected. The Obama appeal was - and will always be - change that we can believe in. Change in the status quo. Change from 'politics as usual.' His Administration supported the Bush Administration's bank bail-outs and unprecedented stimulus spending. It was no doubt significant in staving off an even worse economic meltdown, but it hurt his brand of 'change'. And what he ended up supporting - bank bail-outs - is what the public absolutely hated, and reinforced by news that the banks and investment companies were resuming their huge year-end bonuses.

Fourthly, the President has to realize that his prodigious communications talents get over-shadowed by the power of perception. Reagan's perception of being a fiscal conservative over-shadowed the fact that under his Administration, deficits and the size of government increased exponentially. Kennedy's perception of maturity and strength emerged only after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Jimmy Carter never over-came the perception that he was weak and devoid of an optimism that is in the American DNA. [In contrast, note how Obama always strikes a hopeful chord - even as he lays out the problems.]

The Chinese word for crisis includes two characters - one meaning danger and the other opportunity. The President needs to focus, do what he says, and say what he does. Focus on a few issues and succeed in them. Will he be able to do it? Only if he sees the opportunity that it presents - to redefine himself and his core values. As he said in his speech, "To Democrats I would remind you...people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills. To Republicans leadership ...Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's  not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens - not our ambitions. Let's show the American people that we can work together." That's good, but he is going to have to demonstrate it - not just through words, but through actions. Hence his meeting last Friday with House Republicans in a question-and-answer session, and his promise of monthly sessions. He has to turn that talk into bi-partisan agreement.

Those values and character traits that made him so attractive to independents have become blurred and he needs to bring clarity to them - before his opponents permanently cast them in the minds of the American public.

An interesting little thing occurred in the speech as the President criticized the Supreme Court decision allowing corporate campaign contributions. Notice Justice Alito's shaking of the head and mouthing (twice) 'not true'. Highly unusual to say the least.

Toyota's PR Disaster - Not a Pretty Sight
The record recall by Toyota, coupled with pulling its new cars off the lots, have created a breath-taking plunge of trust in the Toyota brand. It is stunning to contemplate how damaging this has been to the once highly valued Toyota brand. How did the Toyota leadership accomplish this? I would submit the following reasons:
1. They no doubt let the lawyers' lead their response. The fears of litigation often trump courageous action on behalf of consumers. In spite of serious accidents and deaths, they claimed that it might be due to floor mats; not sticky accelerators that led to these fatalities. Hhmmmmmm.
2. They didn't move quickly enough. They waited and waited - hoping to avoid the day of reckoning. Well when that day happens, the longer one waits the worse the 'reckoning' will be.
3. Where was the Toyota president? I didn't see him anywhere, did you? I guess it wasn't important enough to reassure their customers and dealers. Where was the apology? Sorry I must have missed the memo.
4. Finally, their solution is unclear. Given its sheer magnitude, it is going to take a long time to solve it. What should their customers do in the meantime?

A fine mess indeed! Hope your week goes better than Toyota's!
Until next time......


Hits and misses from media to politics

Welcome back!

With the incredible tragedy in Haiti, it makes it a challenge to blog on the usual media and political circuses that surround us. If you haven't got around to donating, click the Canadian Red Cross or  the American Red Cross. Or a charity that you trust to get all the money there and fast. While I'm at it, regardless of one's political leanings, you've got to admit that the Canadian and American governments kicked into gear in record time which is one of the few blessings out of the terrible disaster.

Then there's televangelist Pat Robertson, who never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Take a look at his comments on the Haitian disaster, and you'll see why. The really sad part is that Robertson's comments get a tremendous amount of media coverage instead of the enormous outreach efforts by the Catholic Church, Protestant churches and people of all faiths - as well as those who don't act out of faith - just plain old compassion for a nation in desperate need. Pat it's time to retire!
And now onto totally important inane matters that help to keep us sane.....

In my last posting I had blogged on the NBC late night fiasco. A few forests have been felled reporting on it but I haven't seen anything on the very clever PR move by Conan O'Brien.  Since he took over the audience has dropped from 5 million to 2.5 million and yet he is coming out smelling like roses since he released this statement.

How did he accomplish that?
First, he cloaked it in the right context - "no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I've been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I've been absurdly lucky." PERFECT

Once he set the context he made clear his [unselfish] motive in fighting NBC for trying to push the Tonight Show's slot to 12:05 -  "Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future." BULLS-EYE

Finally, he makes his ask: "It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both." SIMPLE AND REASONABLE

By all accounts, he wrote it himself! Jay Leno's supporters are few and far between, making him look like he is only self-interested and going back on his word. I wonder who his advisors are?


How not to answer a question at a news conference. 

Check out California Republican Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's attempt to not answer the question at her news conference:

As a rookie to politics she can be forgiven. However, the lesson here is that you have to address the question before you are given the license to bridge. Perhaps she thought that the answer would be far worse than the 'dodge'? Tell the truth even if it hurts. The public is more forgiving of the truth than of sounding like the 'same old/same old' politician.

Until next time....


The Buck Stops with Obama

Welcome back!

Late Night TV Shuffle

Jay Leno is mercifully shifted back to late night after floundering around in prime time with a show that had no business being in prime time. Instead of creating a new format, he ended up trying to shoehorn his standard late night show where it clearly didn't work. Conan O'Brien lost the audience lead, that Leno had bequeathed him, to David Letterman so he is fortunate that his Tonight Show will just be pushed back to 12:05 a.m. [Hey who said scandals aren't audience builders?] Let's hope that NBC's programmers replace it with some intelligent scripted shows and not try to paper the time slot with more mindless reality shows.

Obama Takes Responsibility- Will it be Enough?

Well, the political and institutional fall-out has continued from the attempted Christmas Day bombing. [The fact that it was combined with a huge number of Holiday air travelers of course made it far worse than it was.] What is interesting to note is how President Obama responded. At first he left it to Homeland Defense Department Secretary Janet Napolitano whose instinct seemed to be to reassure the American public that things were in control. Her famous 'the system worked' clip clearly irritated (although context got quickly lost) as the first instinct of the public is that they want to hear their leaders convey a strong sense of outrage mixed with determination [think Giuliani after 9/11] once something like this happens.

The fact that it actually happened over Canadian airspace, by the way, largely went unnoticed in the media. [What a lot of people on both sides of the border don't realize is that the people in Detroit are actually NORTH of Windsor, Ontario!]

So the President kicked into gear two days later and began to send a tough message that something was clearly wrong with the intelligence system and this got reinforced as more and more information came out about the 23 year old Nigerian 'underwear bomber' whose own father begged the C.I.A. to do something about his son. This information really ratcheted up the outrage factor and the President had to keep abreast of it.

Hence the speech today from the White House. When a leader steps up to the plate and admits that 'the buck stops here' (the famous quote from 'Give 'em hell' Harry Truman) it demonstrates leadership. Did it work? Take a look at this MSNBC piece contrasting the Bush and Obama approaches to admitting fault and taking responsibility.

All politicians can learn from that!

Until next time, hope your 2010 is going better than the Messrs. Obama, Leno and O'Brien!


Happy New Year!!!

Welcome to a new year and a new decade. I vote to call it 'twenty-ten' NOT 'two thousand and ten'. How about you? It rolls off the tongue quickly and cleanly, rather than the cumbersome mouthfuls of the past decade's years. I say good riddance to the entire decade while I'm at it.

Just to get last year's unfulfilled New Year's Resolution out of the way first....okay I didn't lose 35 pounds! There I've said it. I had thought that by posting for all to see my goal, then the 'shame incentive' would kick in - forcing me to do it or risk the ridicule of all my faithful readers. Boy was I wrong! The threat of shame only has a limited effect in altering human behavior, after all. So this year, I will merely repeat my goal. Three measly pounds a month. Is that so tough? Uh...yeah. But I'm going to do it anyway. Check this space next year.

Random Thoughts on 2009

The Obama honeymoon is over but.....the relationship may still be saved. The President needs to prove his economic strategy is working and that his health care package is going to deliver on what he promised.

I have to admit I was wrong.. when I said that Sarah Palin leaving the Alaska Governor's office was a mistake. She wrote the best-selling book of the year and has packed venues across the country in her never-ending speaker's tour. Who would have thought it? Although it still does nothing for her experience deficit.

Michael Ignatieff hit the bottom this year but....he may yet recover. He needs to carve out what he and the Liberal Party stand for and connect with voters who still don't know him.

I'm so fed up with.....reality shows. I don't care about Jon or Kate, Octo-mom or Balloon Boy, the Kardashians. [Although I did meet Gene Simmons and was pleasantly surprised at his seriousness as a dad. Go figure!]

The best crisis management of 2009....David Letterman.

The worst crisis management....uh....that would be....Tiger Woods! [Who has got to be very grateful for...Charlie Sheen.]

The greatest musical performance from a political leader.....Stephen Harper...with a little help from his friends. I predict he will have one more showbiz move in him before the year is out!

The best political insider book of 2009.....'The Audacity to Win' by David Plouffe. Strategy, discipline and inclusion beat experience and money.

The most embarrassing new television series involving a failed politician.....former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura.

The most overplayed mawkish media coverage in 2009....the death of Michael Jackson. A sad life doesn't get any better with such 'de-coupled from reality' coverage by CNN and others.

The movie that proves every 'auteur' director needs a tough producer....Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglorious Basterds'. It started as a gripping, intense movie and flatlined into farce in the second half. Not even good farce.

My favorite song of the year.....'Never Forget You' by the Noisettes.

Most poignant and memorable remembrance and funeral of 2009.....that of Sen. Ted Kennedy. A fine tribute to a larger-than-life individual.

Predictions for 2010

1. There will be no Canadian federal election this year. Spring 2011 instead.
2. President Obama will be forced to fire a senior official or Cabinet Member.
3. Canada will win major gold at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
4. Conrad Black will have his conviction thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court.
5. Gordon Brown will be replaced by David Cameron as the British Prime Minister.

How do I know these things, you may well ask. Have I ever lied to you before?

Until next time.....Happy New Year!