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Drawing PR Parallels Between the U.S. and Brazil

Sean Silva

The month of May rocked the U.S. and Brazilian presidential administrations, and both situations make for interesting PR case studies.

In Brazil, leading meat producer JBS submitted an incriminating audio tape of President Michel Temer as part of a plea bargain agreement with Brazil’s government. The tape contains recordings that implicate President Temer in a bribery-driven cover-up concerning illegalities surrounding JBS owners Joesley and Wesley Batista, both of who have since resigned from their posts. Recall that Temer himself took over as President last year following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, who was ousted for financial mismanagement. There are several notable developments from a PR perspective.

First, we are reminded about just how powerful the media can be. News of the Temer tape was broken by O Globo, a leading Brazilian newspaper days before the recording was made public. Once the story broke, the BOVESPA plummeted to a level where it triggered the circuit breakers at the exchange. Second, we must acknowledge President Temer’s response to the news. Temer labelled the audio tape as fabricated, denied any wrongdoing (he went as far as to author an op-ed for renowned newspaper O Estadão denouncing the news), refused to resign, and even asked that the investigation be suspended.

Around the same time, in the U.S., outrage broke out over President Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey, who was investigating whether Russia impaired the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections. A memo written by Comey was later made public, in which Comey stated that President Trump asked him to shut down a criminal investigation of the since-fired security advisor Michael Flynn. President Trump was equally quick to deny all wrongdoing.

Beyond their more basic internal communications blunders, one could argue that both cases illustrate varying degrees of failed message control. While an instant denial is able to make quick headlines, neither President seemed to benefit from this approach.

In today’s age of information sharing, public speakers who fail to communicate transparently will draw more scrutiny to the issue at hand. In a world of uncertainty and often muddled facts, being authentic and genuine is more important than ever before, particularly as everyday citizens take a more active role as public watchdogs.

In President Trump’s case, his messages have often contradicted themselves, which once again proved true during the Comey investigation. President Temer on the other hand has combined a flurry of denials (here’s his Twitter page) with a deflective approach aimed at re-focusing public attention towards driving the country forward, particularly with the various reforms he was close to passing.

Despite these efforts, neither President has escaped the public calling for their impeachment, which reaffirms the notion that building credibility is not about capturing lightning in a bottle but rather a methodical, diligent and strategic process. 

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