Thursday, February 23, 2006

UAE ports deal -- Another PR disaster

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:28 PM |  

Chad “the Elder" posts on the sale of U.S. ports to United Arab Emirates --
From a national security/economic/war on terror perspective the decision to approve the DP World ports deal may very well be entirely defensible. I've heard a lot of good arguments from both sides of the issue and it's obvious that we need further discussion to clarify matters. Frankly at this point, I don't know enough about all the particulars to conclusively declare it good or bad and I think many people freely opining on it are talking out of their pieholes.

But I do know that from a political position, it's a friggin' disaster. The reality of whether this is a good deal or not doesn't matter because the perception out there is that it isn't. And in politics it's all about perception.
Chad is right on both counts, but that’s the end of the story. Although it is true that “in politics it’s all about perception,” in reality, it’s all about the right thing to do. I agree with Chad; I don’t know enough to make that call, but if the Bush team thinks it’s the right thing to do, I do know that they should have gone ahead regardless of public perception. It’s better to have a bunch of pissed off bloggers than to lose an ally (if that is the case), especially in the Middle East.

That said, the Bush administration has absolutely no comprehension of public relations. The handling of the ports deal is one example, but the bigger fiasco is the terrorist surveillance program.

Coming from a corporate communications background, I can tell you that any good corporation has one or more crisis communications plans in place that broadly cover the procedure for handling the media should a bad event or bad news happen.

Were I in the room when the terrorist surveillance operation was being planned, after the decision to go ahead was made, my first comment would have been “Okay, what are we going to say when this program gets leaked?”

Spokespeople would have been identified. Key opinion leaders, the people the press would contact for comment, would have been identified and a person responsible to brief them in the event of a leak would have been established. One phone call, and these folks would know exactly what to do. All of the anticipated objections would be laid out and answered. The president’s speech would have been written and approved so that within hours of the leak he could be on the air with an explanation. You get the picture.

Same scenario with the ports deal. It’s been in the works for a while. Where’s the logical procession of information? Why is the administration reacting instead of being proactively communicating its position? Who’s the point person? Why is the president telling us we’ll understand as information is released instead of releasing the information we need to understand?

Communication is not rocket science, but if it’s not done right, as the Bush administration is demonstrating, you’re gonna blow up on the launching pad all the same.