The Politics of Realpolitik

I’m a dreamer. My novels all have happy endings, or relatively so.

I believe Ukraine’s dream of an independent, free and less corrupt society will come true. I believe it will stand in stark contrast to Russia where good people swim in a pool of evil.

I feel sorry for my Russian friends, some of whom are misguided, but most simply cowed by the Kremlin.  The fact or life is this: To be brave and outspoken in Russia means house arrest, at a minimum.

Being optimistic does not mean someone like me is not a realist. Pragmatism comes with having gone around the block more times than famed stock car driver Richard Petty circled Darlington 500.

In my view, there are three things of which I am reasonably certain in the current war situation: 

1.) While one can be thankful Ukrainians are not dying as long as a cease fire holds, it is not a solution. It leads to another frozen zone and gives Vladimir Putin room for all sorts of mischief.

2.) The Lizard of Oz in the Kremlin will never give up the Crimea he stole from Ukraine in his political lifetime, which is probably his total lifetime. There is no sanction that would force him into doing this.

3.) Ukraine will not get into NATO for many years, though Russia is clumsily pushing Ukraine toward that direction. There are persuasive arguments why it should not be a member (and why it should), but the fact is this: NATO doesn’t want Ukraine at this time.

Given these “realpolitik” thoughts, they should be top-of-the-mind in any discussions aimed at ending the war and the bloodshed.

As for Crimea—bound to be a Russian albatross--Ukraine should negotiate for payment for stolen property in exchange for basic amenities—mainly water-- from Ukraine proper.   However, such a deal should not be based on Russian energy. Ukraine, as it is with Europe, needs to be on the fast-track for energy independence, no matter how much it hurts.

Putin has loaded both barrels of a shotgun and shot himself in the foot. He thinks of Russia as a great power. Its economy is the size of California. Its output is $2 trillion compared the G7’s, $35 trillion.

Economically, it’s a puny country—and given the current missteps by the giant ego in the Kremlin—the nation is in a death spiral. This is not a prediction. It’s just damn obvious.

Russia’s punishment for aggression will be a lack of market for its only sizable industry, gas and oil, not to mention having lost a brother nation that choose democracy over tyranny.  Also, those sanctions—great and small—should remain in place until hell freezes over or Putin is removed, whichever comes first.

The argument, of course, is that Putin will not stop at Crimea and, indeed, he has flooded both tanks and soldiers into the east.

I hate red lines, but this should be it.

The international community needs to realize that tribal conflicts in the Middle East are important—as is Israel’s security--but stopping Russia from invading sovereign nations is the most vital decision the free world has faced in 70 years.  Defensive weapons must be forthcoming from the West.

On the issue of federalization of the east, that should be off the table. No one needs another frozen zone, least of all the people within those poor, neglected areas of Transdinester, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.

However, self-rule on regional domestic issues—such as electing local governors — is what democracy is all about.


It seems to me the obvious shouldn’t be so elusive. 




Meeting the Media: Some Pointers



The story goes that entrepreneur Richard Branson walked up to a bank of cameras at a news conference and, addressing the journalists, quipped: “I sure hope you have questions for all my answers.”

The reporters laughed. They shouldn’t have. 

Branson had every intention of delivering his messages and had no plans of going beyond them. The Branson story is an old one. I have used it in media training for years, and even did a cartoon on it for the old Ukrainian Observer.  

It is the job of newsmakers to deliver their messages. It is the job of the media to ferret out news.  Often, these two assignments are on the same wave length, but not always. 

Having worked both in the PR and the journalism worlds, I recognize various myths and truths associated with the interaction of legitimate news and well-intentioned newsmakers 

  • “I got only bad questions at the news conference. “ This is a common complaint when an interview didn’t come out as well as expected.  The fact is, however, there are no bad questions, only bad answers. 

  • “All that reporter cared about was selling newspapers.” Journalists rarely make the connection between the job they do and selling newspapers or air space.  They just want a good story. 

  • In an advertisement for his CNN program, Larry King Live, the former host remarked: “A good interview is when the person being interviewed answers the question asked.”  No. A good interview is when news is made. 

  • “I went off the record, but they quoted me just the same.”  Never go off the record on really sensitive matters that would embarrass you if they were printed or broadcast. 

There are cases, of course, where the newsmaker has his or her idea on what to make news and the journalist wants to ask about something else entirely, or pursue a totally different angle. 

This is a legitimate arena for mental combat and where effectively communicating messages is important. 




Taking Aim at “Universal Truths”


I mark my tenure in public relations/advertising/marketing from the first day I walked into the office of the man who was to become the leader of the U.S. Senate, and he put me in charge of communicating his public persona to the world.  That was in late 1976.

During those decades, that which was common place, in my view, has changed because the world changed—primarily in technology having to do with the internet and instant communication. When I joined the wire service UPI in my 20s, the motto was “a deadline every minute”. Now it’s every second.

In my view, some of the changes:

Public Relations: I refuse to call it public relations. It doesn’t say what we do. I call it Public Accountability.  It is not about spin and perception. It is about reality and truth. . It is about solving problems—and not putting another coat of polish on a problem.  It has nothing to do with creating phony front organizations, which has become a stable or international PR firms.  In Ukraine, it is also not about purchasing good press. That’s just for stupid and lazy PR people.

Gross Rating Points: Large companies and marketers still live and die with gross rating points to measure media effectiveness. That’s a fool’s gambit and has very little to do with making contact with your consumers. It is simply inefficient numbers. True, if you reach enough people, you will eventually sell more through awareness. But that’s like using a blunderbuss to go gnat hunting. Today it is not about waving at your consumer in the darkness of night, but tapping him on the shoulder, turning him around, and shaking his hand. GRPs doesn’t really measure this.

Focus Groups: A Focus Group is the equivalent of getting a group of people together on a street corner and asking their opinion. If you get 10 groups together with specific sets of demographics, you, perhaps, come up with some subjective answers—or maybe more questions. Too often in Ukraine, focus groups are used and the sole determining factor in choosing a strategy. This is what I call Russian roulette decision making.  The main use of a focus group should be to define questions for an extended quantitative survey.  I hang on the words of the ad great David Ogilvy who said too many marketers used research like a drunk hanging on to a lamp post. Focus Groups too often represent the lamp post.

PowerPoint: PowerPoint was invented for people who couldn’t memorize their own birth date or Social Security number and who couldn’t put together two pieces of a two-piece Lego set. You need to be the star of a presentation, and not some silly software program. That’s one thing we can do for you in a short time—wean you away from PowerPoint and put the focus back on you, your messages and your personality.

From time to time, I like to get these things off my chest.


Crisis Marketing: A Right and a Wrong Way.

With 40,000 troops poised to invade and with pro-Russian separatist causing havoc in Eastern Ukraine, the last thing a company needs to do is react in terms of commercial marketing strategies not relevant to the times. 


Such an approach at best is a zero-sum game (so why do it) and at worst becomes parody and the company is ridiculed as having a tin ear during the new nation’s greatest crisis. 


Of course during times of currency devaluation and fewer consumer hryvnias going to what might be considered non-essential product, there is plenty of room for technical and aggressive marketing as to price, placement and supply. 


However, in times of crisis, there are creative communication avenues for companies in terms of what I call Public Accountability, particularly when it comes to people issues, and aligning the company with the general mood of the public. 


Before embarking on a marketing strategy during a national crisis, the key question the company should ask itself: “Is this approach relevant or will it be considered a frivolous marketing ploy to sell product.”


In other words, it is not the time for a candy maker to rush out with new, heavenly chocolate “Maidan Bars” at a discount price.


However, sponsoring and branding a new “We are the World” style video with Ukrainian singers with the object of also raising money for the families of heroes killed on the Maidan—would enhance an image and do some good. 



In times of crisis, marketing that would be considered normal in peace times, must be re-examined, re-thought and re-cast in term of relevance and who it benefits.


Public Relations: A Dying Profession?

Maybe not dying, but it is in critical condition and on life support. If your PR company is acting and re-acting in the same way it did a few years ago, you’re a passenger in—ripping off an old automobile commercial—your fathers’ Oldsmobile.

And it’s a clunker.
Image is fried air. Reality is where it’s at. It is not about what you say you do, but what you actually do that counts. It is about being somebody, and not just saying you are somebody.
This holds true for agencies and their clients.

This is why we call ourselves a Public Accountability firm. This is not one of those distinctions without a difference. It’s a major, life-changing difference for the business. It is not about getting a mention in a publication or in a broadcast (those are scattered tactics).
It is about impacting change.

In other words, it takes corporate social responsibility to a higher level, and at the same time favorably impacts the bottom line which allows us all to stay in business. It is not about doing well but about doing great, and measuring how this relates to the health of the business.

Public Accountability is about clearly defining the goal, one which too often falls through the cracks when tactics are piled upon tactics. It is about having an end game and not a zero-sum game. It is about marshalling knowledge to reach your public accountability goal.

It is not about the phony creation of third party endorsements, but having real endorsements. In other words, the key words are honesty and transparency. It is not about buying press, but earning press.
It is also about commitment, and that is what Willard is all about.

Lane Bailey, CEO Advocom Group, a Willard Partner

I first met Lane Bailey above a Chinese restaurant in a
lower part of Charleston, WV where one walked with care after dark. That was the place chosen as headquarter of the Rockefeller for U.S. Senate campaign.

In a campaign where we spent $13 million (a lot of money in the early 80s), John D. Rockefeller IV, then governor of West Virginia, probably could have afforded better. But the atmosphere gave rise to a close-knit, combat ready campaign team led by Lane.

I served as communications director, having left a position as director of the U.S. Senate leadership office to help out Governor Rockefeller. Lane did his magic in coordination and overall leadership, and I did what I do in terms of getting the right messages to the right people.
We made a good team, and though it was a close race, it was Rockefeller who was sworn in as U.S. Senator. That was 30 years ago.

Lane went on to become Rockefeller’s chief-of-staff in Washington for many years, later becoming head of the public affairs practice for an international public relations company. Today, he is founder and CEO of Advocom Group, a firm which integrates public affairs, corporate leadership and capital markets.
In Washington, Lane’s reputation is unmatched. He has an uncanny ability to deliver for clients. No one works harder in advocating a client’s position.

After these many years, I am proud to team up again with Lane and with Advocom Group as Willard’s partner company in D.C.

Brains and Brawn: A New Paradigm

I’m not saying we’re all in perfect physical shape. I could lose 10 kilo and still be considered chunky by those prejudiced against the nutritional benefits of beer and an occasional French fry.
However, working from a fitness center like Sofiyskiy has to kick the cranium into gear. You know, healthy body equals a creative mind.

This got me to thinking. The new Willard is actually the same as the old Willard but with an emphasis on more global values when it comes to our clients, our close friends and our team. This meshes with our thought that it is not what you say you do but what you do that counts.

So, here’s the marketing strategy some might think a ploy, a gimmick. But it’s not because it is as transparent as the eyeglasses you wear or the bottled water you drink. We at Willard believe a healthy product goes hand-in-hand with a creative product.

This is why you will see our company roll out varying strategies for clients that include a healthy element within the package of services. This can take many forms: Nutritional planning, personal training, physical therapy, and yes, massages.

In other words, among other things, we believe a morning swim can do wonders for the psychic. It can launch those mind-stimulating endorphins such that your senior team will be goose-stepping into the competitive arena.

So, if you are interested in gaining an edge through a more global, strategic and healthy approach to your business, we want to be there to help you. Or, you can remain as you are—a little winded, a little paunch, a little less…well, you get the picture.
Ask us about the program.

What does this have to do with public relations—or what we call public accountability?

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