Rendon Group gives Public Diplomacy a Bad Name

August 27, 2009

A recent news story revealed more less then positive actions by the public relations agency the Rendon Group.  The Rendon Group has a long a profitable association with the US government.  Its most recent activity was helping to assess journalists to be embedded in Afghanistan.  The Rendon Group reviews stories written by the journalists and classifies the content as positive, negative, or neutral of the military.  US officials say the information is not used to deny access to journalists. 

“The military says no reporter has been turned down. ‘We have not denied access to anyone because of what may or may not come out of their biography,’ said Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a public affairs officer with U.S. Forces Afghanistan in Kabul. ‘It’s so we know with whom we’re working,”’reports USAT writer Michael Winter.” http://bulldogreporter.com/ME2/Audiences/dirmod.asp?sid=2436B6EB9392483ABB0A373E8B823A24&nm=&type=Publishing&mod=Publications%3A%3AArticle&mid=8F3A7027421841978F18BE895F87F791&AudID=213D92F8BE0D4A1BB62EB3DF18FCCC68&tier=4&id=25DDD0D6845A4E478E5D5C1AF8873842

 

Later US officials said they were considering a change to evaluating if the content of the stories was accurate or not.  Starts and Strips, a US military publication, claims one of its reporters was denied access in Iraq because of one of these story content backgrounds by the Rendon Group. http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=64348   

  

But the story brings back unpleasant memories for the Rendon Group as the media and bloggers recall their involvement with the Iraqi National Congress, an ex-patriot opposition group to Saddam Hussein formed in the 1990s.  The concern is that the Iraqi National Congress was and remains a frontgroup built in large part by the Rendon Group.  Moreover, intelligence provided by this group, including weapons of mass destruction, was used to justify the US invasion of Iraq.  However, the evidence was faulty.  The Rendon Group is reported to have trained the members of the Iraqi National Congress on their intelligence.

Many claim the Rendon Group was simply using perception management.  The US Department of Defense defines perception management as follows:

“Actions to convey and/or deny selected information and

indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective

reasoning as well as to intelligence systems and leaders at all levels to influence official

estimates, ultimately resulting in foreign behaviors and official actions favorable to the

originator’s objectives. In various ways, perception management combines truth

projection, operations security, cover and deception, and psychological operations. See

also psychological operations.” http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/new_pubs/jp1_02.pdf

The downside of perception management is that is gets confused with public diplomacy.  However, public diplomacy has or should have concern for the truth while perception management is about results, not truth.  It is part of information warfare so everything is fair game.  Public diplomacy, on the other hand, is aligning with public relations and should be based on truth—the ends should not justify the means.  The actions of the Rendon Group raises ethical concerns as it gives an insight into a rather dark and disturbing application of public diplomacy and public relations.

 

Here is how the Rendon Group describes itself:

“The Rendon Group’s expertise is based on 25 years of political and communications consulting experience, a proven approach to media analysis, and demonstrated success implementing imaginative and multilayered public relations initiatives.

To date, we have worked in 91 countries planning and managing strategic and tactical communications programs across Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The global experience of our seasoned staff maximizes the precision of our analysis and the value of our counsel.

The Rendon Group office in Washington, DC, operates a 24/7 media monitoring watch-center in support of both clients and TRG personnel working on location worldwide.” http://www.rendon.com/about.php

 

 

Questions to Consider

  1.  How is the Iraqi National Congress similar and different from the Citizens for Free Kuwait?
  2. Why might people confuse perception management with public diplomacy or public relations?
  3. What is the danger of allowing the ends to justify the means?
  4. How is perceptions management similar and different to public relations?
  5. Why would people be concerned about how the Rendon Group was evaluating reporters?
  6. Why might accuracy be a better evaluative tool when doing background checks on journalists?
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Whole Foods+ CEO + Healthcare Debate = Boycott

August 15, 2009

Whole Foods has built a reputation around natural and organic foods.  Of course that quality does come at a price but their customers  are willing to pay the higher prices.  You could argue that Whole Foods is a cult brand with a core of devoted customers who sing its praises.  John Mackey is the CEO and does make life interesting for the public relations people at Whole Foods.  In 2007, it was revealed that Mackey, using the alias Rahodeb, was posting favorable comments and about Whole Foods and critical comments about rival Wild Oats (who Whole Foods was trying to buy) on blogs and other online postings sites. (http://www.mpdailyfix.com/2007/07/busted.html)   The Securities and Exchange Commission launched an investigation while whole Food banned him from blogging for a period of time.  He returned with this statement:

“I can’t tell you how good it feels to be able to write in my blog again. Even though I wanted to respond openly and truthfully when confronted by the various accusations of wrongdoing last year, our attorneys and Board of Directors both thought it best for me to hold off while they conducted their Special Investigation and the SEC handled its inquiry. Those matters now are completed with the board affirming their complete support for me and the SEC recommending that no enforcement action be made against Whole Foods Market or me. Now that I’m free to post again, I am going to attempt to set the record straight about my internet postings in the past under the screen name “rahodeb.” I promise I’ll be moving on to other topics, but indulge me while I finally get to share my point of view on this particular topic.” http://www2.wholefoodsmarket.com/blogs/jmackey/

The post was a defense of his actions but ended with:

“I wish to apologize to all the stakeholders of Whole Foods Market—customers, Team Members, investors, suppliers, and our communities. I am truly sorry that all this has happened and put a negative spotlight on our company. If I could get a “do over” on this one, I certainly would choose not to have ever participated in the Yahoo! online financial communities. Unfortunately, I cannot undo the past. I can only learn the many valuable lessons that are here for me to learn and try to do better in the future. Thanks to all of you who have continued to support me and Whole Foods Market. I’m excited about what the next few years will bring as we fully integrate the Wild Oats stores and Team Members into Whole Foods Market, and expand our stores and our mission into additional communities while continuing to satisfy and delight our current customers.”

Flash forward of August of 2009.  John Mackey writes an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal about healthcare reform entitled “The Whole Foods Alternative to Obamacare.” You can see the entire op-ed at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052970204251404574342170072865070.html. Mackey identifies himself as co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods and uses the company’s name in the title of the op-ed.  The op-ed is a logical presentation of his ideas on how healthcare should be reformed and his concerns with the proposed changes. 

The response to Mackey’s op-ed has been mixed.  Many support his position.  Others take great exception to his words.  Those against Mackey have proposed a boycott of Whole Foods.  Their Facebook site quickly reached over 6,000 followers (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=119099537379).  The liberal web site Daily Kos helped to promote the boycott as well  (http://allspinzone.com/wp/2009/08/14/whole-foods-boycott-picks-up-steam/).   The marketplace of ideas was in full swing over the op-ed with both sides expressing their views on the issue. 

Whole Foods found itself sucked into the vortex of healthcare reform.  Not exactly the best place to be when you are not a company strongly affiliated with healthcare such as insurance or pharmaceuticals.  The following message appeared on the company’s Facebook page:

“We would like to thank our customers and shareholders who have let us know their thoughts regarding John Mackey’s op/ed in the Wall Street Journal. Many people, including John, feel passionately about this important issue.

First off, whether you agree with John or not, our 50,000+ Team Members who live and work in your communities will continue to work hard every day to bring you the best natural and organic products available. We hope you will continue to give us the opportunity to serve you.

While there are differing points of view on this issue, John believes certain aspects of the current proposals before Congress would jeopardize our company’s ability to continue providing our sustainable health insurance plan. Whole Foods Market pays 100 percent of the premiums for our full-time (over 30-hours) Team Members, about 89% of our workforce. Additionally, those Team Members get to vote for their new plan options every three years. John does not want to see that changed.

Finally, John absolutely does care about his fellow citizens who do not have health insurance, and he is in favor of health care reform. He believes that the proposals he put forth will provide access to sustainable health insurance for more people.

We recognize that there are many opinions on this issue, including inside our own company. As we all sort through this together, we thank you for sharing your opinions with us.”

http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=whole+foods&init=quick#/note.php?note_id=120455171970&ref=mf

Because of the op-ed, Whole Foods as a company is affected by the issue and issues management efforts.  As with his blogging, Mackey is creating reputational concerns that the public relations department will have to address.  The CEO is making like interesting for the public relations people.

Questions to Consider

  1.  Why did the op-ed create a reputational concern for Whole Foods?  Be sure to consider the characteristics of typical Whole Food consumers.
  2. Would you classify the situation as an incident or crisis and how would you justify that classification (Chapter )?
  3. If Mackey had suggested the op-ed at a meeting, what advice would you have given him and why?
  4. Would if have made any difference if Mackey had not identified himself so strongly with Whole Foods in the op-ed?
  5. After reviewing his op-ed, who would you evaluate it in terms of ethical advocacy?
  6. How might Mackey’s past lack of transparency have an impact on this situation?
  7. What messages might Whole Food create to address the situation?
  8. What was the utility in using Facebook for the response?
  9. What response might you anticipate from angry consumers to the Whole Foods message on Facebook?  Why would you anticipate that response?

The Withheld Distracted Driver Information

July 21, 2009

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had data from research as early as 2003 showing the dangers of distracted drivers. This included information on cell phone use while driving. A key finding was that even headsets did not help. The conversations are the distraction, not using your hands to operate the cell phone. The information was not distributed to protect funding. Distribution could have been viewed as lobbying. You need to read the stories to make sense of that one. “The research findings were obtained by the Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen through Freedom of Information requests, the Times said. The newspaper posted the documents on its Web site Monday night.” http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090721/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/us_cell_phone_study
This raises a number of issues for public relations.

Questions to Consider
1. Why was this risk information not communicated to constituents? Tax money funded the collection of the data so should not tax payers know the results?
2. What types of public relations problems does this create for the government?

3. How would you try to handle the situation now from a PR perspective?

4. What ethical issues and concerns do see in this case for communication?

5. Who benefited from this information being withheld?

6. Who was harmed from this information being withheld?

To see the document go to http://documents.nytimes.com/documents-from-the-u-s-department-of-transportation-s-national-highway-traffic-safety-administration#p=1


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