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Wanna Get Away? October PR History

When the going gets tough, the tough get going – on a taxpayer-subsidized vacation. And that’s exactly what the executives at insurance giant AIG did in September 2008, when they flew out for a relaxing vacation at the swanky St. Regis hotel in southern California. And boy, did they need it: Just six days earlier, AIG had received an $85 billion government bailout. Apparently they converted it into traveler’s checks.

To their credit, the AIG execs made the most of their trip, spending a whopping $440,000. The tab included $10,000 in bar bills, $1,400 in salon expenses and $23,000 at the spa, where they racked up thousands of frequent-rubber miles.

AIG’s Most Excellent Vacation hit the media in early October and was a PR disaster. The New York Daily News may have summed it up best with their headline: “AIG big shots get $500G vacations on taxpayers’ dime.” And when it was reported that rooms at the St. Regis ran up to $1,200 a night, one Congressman pointedly remarked, “That’s more than some of my constituents pay on a mortgage payment on homes they’re now losing.”

To their defense, AIG had planned the trip before the bailout. They also tipped generously, spending another $3,000 of (taxpayer) money. And whenever possible, they used a Groupon.

But give AIG credit for being consistent. Just three months before the bailout, they fired the CEO — and gave him a $15 million parachute. And in 2014, another AIG CEO sued the government, complaining that the bailout was not generous enough. Meanwhile, several other executives are still hoping for a lucrative movie deal offer from Oliver Stone.

All of which should help PR pros remember: You never want to have bad optics. But if you do, at least make sure your room has a nice view.

This Month in PR History

By: Jeff Rodriguez, GFW PRSA Historian

August 1968: There is no sure-fire way to win a Presidential election. But there is a pretty reliable method for losing one, and it was clearly demonstrated 50 years ago this month when Democrats gathered in Chicago to nominate their Presidential candidate. Conventions are supposed to help bring the party together, but this one was a political — and PR — disaster.

To be fair, 1968 was a tough year for everyone. MLK and Robert Kennedy both had been assassinated, and the Vietnam War was tearing apart both the country and the Democrats. Many delegates arrived in Chicago angry at the party, and they were joined by an “army of protesters” outside. Nervous city officials responded by surrounding the convention hall with steel fence and barbed wire, and the main doors were bulletproofed. As CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite said, the hall resembled a police state.

Most people have heard about the “riot” instigated by the Chicago Police; on August 28, tempers flared and the cops began clubbing protestors, journalists, even passers-by — “unrestrained and indiscriminate police violence,” as an investigation later reported. The media — those still standing — covered much of it. The New York Times called it a “pitched battle,” Newsweek called it “The Battle of Chicago” and The Washington Post called it “an atmosphere of hatred.”

But for Democrats, the scene inside the hall was just as significant. Angry delegates booed and yelled at each other and at least one delegate, with cameras rolling, was forcibly removed by security officers. Then when NBC’s Dan Rather attempted to interview the delegate, he was grabbed and pushed down, bringing a new definition to the idea of “on the ground reporting.” And when a Senator spoke out against the police violence, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley was seen on camera yelling something he later claimed was “You faker.”

There is disagreement about how much long-term damage the convention did to the Democrats, but here are two telling stats. First, in 1964, LBJ won 61 percent of the vote; four years later, Hubert Humphrey got less than 43 percent. Second, while Democrats had won eight of the 12 previous elections, they lost seven of the next 12. Probably not the best metrics.

No doubt the Democrats who gathered in Chicago that summer were hoping for some “in-conventional” thinking, but the riots and inner conflict were a bit more than they had bargained for. And as every PR pro knows, if you want to beat an adversary, the first step is to not beat on each other.

PRSA July Luncheon

You developed and executed a successful communications campaign. The client loved it, the media was all over it, and – best of all – you far exceeded your performance goals. Yet it didn’t make the cut at the Worthy Awards. What went wrong?

Carol Murray, APR, marketing communications manager for Blue Zones Project – Fort Worth, will discuss the critical components of an award-winning entry and share what went into “The Superpowers Campaign,” last year’s Best of Show winner at the Worthy Awards. Then hear some dos and don’ts gleaned from judging other chapters’ award entries.

When: Wednesday, July 11, 2018 11:30 AM  – 1:00 PM

Where: Colonial Country Club 

Register here.

Join us for our next GFW PRSA luncheon on Wednesday, June 13, at Colonial Country Club!

For the past 25 years, Ruth Fitzgibbons of Richards Partners, the public relations arm of The Richards Group, has been on the front lines with a variety of clients who unexpectedly found themselves in the glaring light of uninvited media scrutiny – at a terrible time. Television cameras on your doorstep are bad, but a Twitter storm may be even worse. This program will offer the 10 Commandments of Crisis Communications (with color commentary from personal experience), plus some best practices and do’s and don’ts with earned and social media.

When: Wednesday, June 13, 2018 11:30 AM  – 1:00 PM
Central Time

Where: Colonial Country Club 

Register here.

GFW PRSA March Happy Hour

Mark your calendars for the Greater Fort Worth Chapter of PRSA’s March Happy Hour! Join us at World of Beer on Thursday, March 22, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. to catch up with peers and enjoy a refreshing drink. The cost is $5 per person (appetizers included).

When: Thursday, March 22nd, 2018 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM (CST)

Where: World of Beer, 3252 W 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76017, USA

Dress Code: Business Attire


Register here.

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