The Atomic Press Release

August 6 marks the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Official announcement came through a press release issued by President Harry Truman:

Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British “Grand Slam” which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.

The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form these bombs are now in production and even more powerful forms are in development.

It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East…

Arthur W. Page, a legendary figure in public relations, wrote the release. Son of the co-founder of the Doubleday, Page & Co. publishing house, Mr. Page served as AT&T’s VP of Public Relations. During World War II, he oversaw the Joint Army and Navy Committee on Welfare and Recreation and was responsible for numerous communications and morale programs.

Noel L. Griese is the author of a definitive biography on Mr. Page. According to his account, Secretary of War Henry Stimson summoned Mr. Page to full-time duty in April 1945 and briefed him soon after on the Manhattan Project. The Trinity test blast would take place in the desert of Alamogordo, NM, on July 16. Mr. Page was asked to write the release that ultimately would be read to reporters at the White House on the day of the Hiroshima bombing while President Truman was at sea returning from the Potsdam Conference.

Arthur W. Page is credited with writing the most momentous press release in history. Whereas the 1969 moon landing–the 20th century’s other signature event–was beamed live to television audiences, Page’s release alone was the public’s introduction to the atomic age. It is likely the last time a sheaf of paper would change the world.

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V for Victory and Viral

Churchill_VJuly 19 marks the anniversary of World War II’s “V for Victory” campaign. New York Times article of the day describes it as a “nerve war” against the Nazis in occupied Europe. Launched by the BBC, championed by Winston Churchill, and executed by countless brave people in conquered countries, V for Victory was quintessential propaganda. It was also viral marketing in an era when the only computers were a handful of top-secret, room-sized machines (also part of the fight against the Nazis, used to break their coded messages).

The concept began in early 1941 with a BBC radio broadcast by Belgian refugee Victor De Lavelaye. He urged those under occupation to use “V” as a rallying symbol, the first letter in the French “Victoire,” the Flemish “Vrijheid,” and the English “Victory.” BBC editors embraced the concept, and the service beamed the official campaign to occupied Europe.

Per the NYT account, a BBC announcer with the nom-de-guerre “Colonel V. Britton” read a statement from Prime Minister Churchill:

The V sign is the symbol of the unconquerable will of the occupied territories and a portent of the fate awaiting Nazi tyranny. So long as the peoples continue to refuse all collaboration with the invader it is sure that his cause will perish and that Europe will be liberated.

Col.  Britton urged listeners to create “V” graffiti, to chalk or paint the letter on walls and pavement. The “V” theme continued as it was construed as the Roman symbol for the number “5.” Listeners were instructed to read Daniel 5, beginning with the fifth verse–the “writing on the wall” foretelling the downfall of the Babylonian empire that had enslaved the Jews.

Additionally, Col. Britton told the audience to tap out Morse code for the letter “V,” three dots and a dash for the benefit of friend and invader alike. That rhythm mimicked the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth (again, V as 5), a motif likened to “fate knocking at the door,” an extra affront to the Germans that co-opted the greatest work of one of their greatest composers. The first notes of Beethoven’s Fifth became the BBC’s call sign for its broadcasts to continental Europe throughout the war.

V for Victory spread across Europe, as one defiantly drawn or tapped “V” sparked another and another. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels quickly countered, claiming the campaign was a Third Reich invention signifying the German “Viktoria.” The Nazis posted their “V” on banners and newspaper front pages and used Beethoven’s Fifth in their radio broadcasts. It is true brilliance when you can get the competition (enemy) to carry your message.

V for Victory was viral marketing. A major media platform, the BBC, created the spark and the people did the rest. The great communicator of the age, Winston Churchill, continually flashed the V sign for photographers, maintaining his role in the movement. Seven decades before social media let people strike blows against dictators and report from battlefields, V for Victory gave voice to Hitler’s involuntary–and temporary–subjects.

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Three Examples of Bad PR, Q2 2014

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Controversy about the treatment of veterans is as old as the nation, from the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783 which drove Congress from the then-capital of Philadelphia, to the Bonus Army of 1932 protesting economic conditions, to revelations in the 1970s and 1980s about the harmful effects of Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War. In short, the federal government has historically lagged in addressing veterans’ needs.

Recent revelations of excessive waiting times at VA hospitals and coverups of those lapses constitute a spike in a chronic crisis regarding the VA’s healthcare services spanning several presidential administrations. As frequently seen in scandals, misconduct to conceal misconduct–secret lists tallying true wait times for veteran patients, retaliation against whistleblowers–fails its intended purpose and only intensifies the public’s outrage. An official report pointed to a “corrosive culture” at the VA, underscoring the the foundation of public relations: the cultural integrity of the subject organization.

The scandal has prompted multiple resignations in the VA’s top ranks, including Secretary Eric Shinseki who received White House support to the end of his tenure. President Obama nominated former Procter & Gamble CEO and West Point graduate Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary.

Hillary Clinton: “Hellish.” “Disastrous.” These are descriptions of Hillary Clinton’s recent tour to support her book Hard Choices. Many considered the tour to be a trial run for another campaign for president in 2016. If so, the experience has exposed “flaws in the machinery,” per Bill Clinton’s former press secretary, Dee Dee Myers.

Missteps in media interviews have punctuated the tour and cast doubt on Ms. Clinton’s preparedness as a candidate. The signature quote:

We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.

Critics howled and supporters winced as Clinton seemed to blithely ignore the many millions in speaking, consulting and book fees that were essentially guaranteed her family upon Bill Clinton leaving office. In subsequent mitigation attempts (i.e., damage control), she admitted her comment was not “artful” but still asserted that she and her husband were “not truly well off” compared to other wealthy people.

Other interviews on Benghazi and support of gay marriage have been shaky as well, the latter prompting a “testy” exchange with an NPR reporter. Pundits have been quick to point out that she has not campaigned (officially or unofficially) in years and that the last time she did, she lost in the primaries to Barack Obama. Ms. Clinton’s poll numbers have dropped from their highs, but she still handily beats all potential GOP contenders in hypothetical matchups.

Dr. Oz: In June, Mehmet Oz, physician, author and TV host, found himself in America’s hottest hot seat: appearing before a senate panel on Capitol Hill. In the same forum that saw Dick Fuld answering for Lehman Brothers’ collapse and Akio Toyoda apologizing for Toyota’s defects, Dr. Oz testified about endorsing dietary supplements on his show.

Oz has touted supplements such as green coffee extract, raspberry ketones and Garcinia camboja as “miracle” weight loss products. Sen. Claire McCaskill said to the doctor, “I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true.”

Oz defended the products and his actions with statements that included:

My job is to be a cheerleader for the audience when they don’t think they have hope.

I have things I think work for people. I want them to try them so that they feel better, so that they can do the things we talk about every day on the show [like diet and exercise].

When I can’t use language that is flowery, that is exulting, I feel like I’ve been disenfranchised.

Oz told the senators that he has toned down his language but will still endorse dietary supplements on his show. He has faced heavy criticism from lawmakers and commentators, but it is too soon to say if his sponsors and audience feel the same way.

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