What's a PR bailout? It's a necessary, fundamental, and substantive change in an individual, organization, or institution that has lost its way, which requires a program to communicate the change and thereby redeem the entity's reputation. Here, in no particular order, are my picks for the top six of 2009:
Financial services industry: The current economic crisis was the result of poor lending practices, securitization of risky loans, collapse of the housing market, ineffectual oversight, greed, and bad judgment. It seems some lessons still haven't been learned. The AP recently asked 21 banks – each of which had received at least $1 billion in TARP funds – how that money was used. Not one could provide “even the most basic ac-counting” for the bailout money.
The SEC: Like traditional banks, the shadow banking system borrows short and lends (or invests) long. But they do so by means of derivative instruments that enable them to evade regulatory constraints, like reserve requirements. The SEC – created by Congress in the wake of the Crash of 1929 – presided over 2008's global financial crisis. To date, it has done nothing to reassure investors that it is actively protecting their interests.
The Republican Party: According to the Gallup Organization, the image of the GOP went from bad to worse following the recent presidential election. Of Americans polled in November, 61% reported having an unfavorable view of the Republican Party. (In contrast, only 39% of respondents reported an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party.)
In recent years, some members of the GOP have violated the trust of Americans by appearing to put power, money, and political expediency first. The party needs to rebuild its relationship of trust with the American people before it can hope to rebuild its image.
Ford, Chrysler, and GM: Much scorn was heaped on the heads of Detroit's Big Three when they chose to take private jets to Washington for a congressional hearing. The real problem was much deeper and more serious: high costs, quality issues, lackluster design, and the fact that all three automakers have long been out of touch with their customers, and, consequently, unable to give consumers what they actually want.
Detroit: As the Big Three go, so goes Detroit. The population of this once vibrant city has shrunk to less than half what it was in the 1950s. Motown needs to aggressively pursue an industrial development campaign – fueled by PR and marketing – to attract companies with an interest in green technology and provide new opportunities and skills for its people.
USA (as a global brand): Re-search conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project – most recently before the 2008 presidential election – has shown a steady decline in the nation's image following the invasion of Iraq.
In fact, the US was perceived negatively in all 24 countries in which the Pew conducted its study. It will take some effort and time for the new administration to restore the equity in the US' brand, which was squandered throughout the past eight years.
Kenneth Makovsky is president of Makovsky & Co.