FEET FIRST: Discarded weekly by millions of farmers in the UK, chicken feet and pig trotters could be worth millions if exported to China

Published in FOCUS magazine in March 2014.

China is one of the top ten biggest food and drink markets for the UK – and its growing fast. In the first half of 2013, exports from the UK to China grew 126 per cent, reaching £102 million. In December, British meat producers accompanied David Cameron as part of his trade visit to China in an effort to promote the sale of various meats, including
chicken feet and pig trotters – both Chinese delicacies.

Chicken feet are fried, seasoned and eaten as a snack, while Chinese eat pig trotters in a stew, braised, or on a stick. Exporting these products is already big business for the US, Brazil and Argentina; for the UK, the market potential is huge. Exporting pig trotters alone could provide UK farmers with an additional £7.5 million a year. This is dependent, however, on whether the relevant permits and regulations will allow such sales in China in the future – an on-going area of discussion.

As the world leader in breeding economical pigs, Britain is in a unique position. Their meat is considered high quality and British pigs eat less, grow faster, and reproduce more quickly than Chinese pigs. These factors make a British pig half the cost of its Chinese cousin.

Other countries have already used their low production costs to compete in the Chinese market. In 2012, China imported 231,700 tons of chicken feet, worth £214 million; in the first three quarters of 2013, 169,000 tons came from the US alone. In the United States, chicken feet are worth around two cents, but the Chinese can sell them for U$S0.42. The UK selling
chicken feet to China could add an extra 15 per cent of revenue, or £1.50, per chicken in profit, to the already £4.4 billion UK poultry industry.

To find out more, click here.

A TUSK TASK: As the world’s biggest consumer of illegal ivory, the potential future extinction of African elephants may hinge on China

Published in FOCUS magazine in May 2014.

The rise of China’s middle class means people can spend their disposable incomes on cars, electronics, and tragically, ivory. Principles of feng shui state that ivory disperses misfortune and drives out evil spirits, while Chinese culture declares it symbolic of wisdom and nobility. Either way, it makes a great gift. Furthermore, ivory, or xiangya literally translates to ‘elephant’s teeth’; consumers are not often aware that elephants must die to harvest their tusks.

Many see the commodity as a safer investment than the questionable housing market, bringing about its nickname of ‘white gold’. China’s increased involvement in Africa’s infrastructure over the past decade has streamlined the ivory trade supply chain, making it easier to illegally ship between Africa and Asia. In October 2012, authorities confiscated four tons of ivory, valued at US$3.5 million, from two cargo containers in Hong Kong, followed by 1.4 more tons two months later. Since the ships had passed through various ports to disguise their origins, Interpol believes organised crime was responsible.

In 1989, an international treaty banned the trade of ivory, killing the business in China. With ivory shops closing, the initiative was hugely successful. Once again, elephant populations grew. However, a 2008 exception to this treaty allowed Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana to sell an ivory stockpile to China and Japan for US $15 million. With this new supply, both the Chinese ivory industry and international ivory poaching were reborn. In 2013, 25,000 elephants were killed in Africa, equivalent to three per hour – worse than before the 1989 ban. Today, all ivory sold in China is supposed to have come from the 2008 stockpile or before 1989 – items over 50 grams are required to have a certificate of provenance.

To read more, click here.

Driving Vanity

As published in FOCUS Magazine in the September 2013 issue.

The Chinese gathered in the art deco auction house near Shanghai’s iconic bund are not seeking priceless antiques or cherished celebrity memorabilia. Instead, hopefuls are here for a more practical reason – to buy a license plate. To curb traffic congestion and air pollution, the Chinese government has rationed license plate distribution in its largest cities such as beijing, shanghai, guangzhou, and guiyang, causing prices to skyrocket.

Established first in Shanghai nearly 20 years ago, the programme sees today’s Shanghainese buying license plates that cost rmb 90,000, three times as much as a cheap car – for example, a Zotye Z100 comes in at rmb 24,000. Hopefuls hire middlemen, who double as scalpers, believing their expertise will give buyers an edge in the online and in-person auctions. As a country with 220,000 driving fatalities a year, locals pay high premiums for plates with lucky eights representing prosperity and avoid those featuring unlucky fours symbolising death. To crack down on scalping, the shanghai municipal government requires winning bidders to keep their license plate for at least three years.

Beijing’s system is more egalitarian but less economically efficient. The city presents 20,000 new plates a month; drivers can either win one through a lottery or pay a rmb 100,000 flat rate. Meanwhile, guangzhou took a goldilocks approach, offering 50 per cent by lottery, 40 per cent by auction and 10 per cent to cars certified as environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

Note: this is a preview of the full article

What You Can Learn About Debating From Last Night’s Debate

Please note: If you are looking for yet another assessment of the content of last night’s debate, please look elsewhere. This focuses on tactic.

Here are the lessons we can learn from last night’s debate:

  1. Be confident. This carries into many of the points below, but is the most essential trait. It is hard for others to trust in you, if you do not trust in yourself.
  2. Have Passion. This is one of the strongest emotions. As put by Rochefoucauld (English translation) from his experience in the French court: “The simplest man with passion will be more persuasive than the most eloquent without.”
  3. Always smile. You are a winner and should appear as such. Towards the end of the debate, it is very clear who is happy to be on stage and who is miserable. Do not appear defeated or the audience will consider you as such. Watch each candidate’s expressions as they listen to their opponent.
  4. Be concise. Although stories can be very effective in speeches, with their appropriate timing and punctuation, in debates only keep relative details. Any other detail detracts from your point. We do not need to know you grew up with your grandmother or when she died, we need to know how hard she worked, how independent she was, and how Medicare today would impact her. Having one story to continually reference, as Obama later does, can be useful and make an issue relatable, but that story needs to be tailored to its purpose. Mitt Romney effectively uses concise story telling to support his argument on the affordable care act: “It comes from my experience. I was in New Hampshire and a woman came to me and said, ‘Look I can’t afford  insurance for myself or my son. I met a couple in Appleton, Wisconsin and they said, ‘we’re thinking of dropping our insurance, we can’t afford it. And the number of small businesses that I have gone to that are saying they are dropping insurance because they can’t afford it. The cost of healthcare is just prohibitive.” Here he references only the relevant supporting details, showing that individuals and small businesses are impacted by healthcare costs.
  5. Follow the rules. If you do not follow the rules, you are seen as a cheater. Listen to the mediator. If the mediator says you are out of time, you are out of time. If it is not your turn to speak, do not speak. Acting as if you are above the rules shows neither humility nor respect.
  6. Vary eye contact. When you are at the punch line, look the camera right in the eye and say it with chutzpah. This was most effectively used in the closing speeches.
  7. Organize your points. Take a deep breath. Gather your thoughts instead of jumping in unprepared and unorganized. Just because you have talking points does not mean they fit in this moment of the debate or in the context anymore. For instance, Romney states he supports well thought-through regulation and that he wants to repeal Dodd-Frank and replace it. Obama misaddresses this comment and references pre-debate statements about repealing Dodd-Frank as a way to show Romney’s disinterest in any regulation. This talking point needed to be modified in order to become an effective response.
  8. Remain on message. In his discussion seven minutes into the debate, Obama addresses Medicaid, schools, oil, tax breaks, companies going overseas within his allotted two minutes. It is better to focus on one area and explain yourself fully than lose the audience in various topics. This leads to my next point on how to combat this tactic.
  9. Stay Engaged. When Obama spoke of various subjects, Romney was able to address each point because he took notes, which he referenced in his rebuttal. As your opponent runs out of time, jot down a primitive outline of key topics you will discuss so you have some structure before your clock starts ticking.
  10. Remember your audience. If you are going to talk about Bowles-Simpson, make sure you can briefly explain what it is and how it relates to your argument. How many people in the audience know the details of Bowles-Simpson? You want your audience to be able to follow your points. When Mitt Romney discusses his program for Medicare in which seniors can choose between public and private sector programs, he very simply lays out his views. Instead of bogging down the audience in technicalities, he holds their hand in understanding his philosophies. Make sure your audience can follow you.
  11. Make comparisons. Help people relate to facts and statistics. For example, Obama mentions oil companies receive $2.8 billion in tax cuts every year. Romney successfully takes this number and makes it relative. He points out that Obama gave $90 billion to companies in green energy; that is 50 years of oil tax cuts or 2 million new teachers.
  12. Use strong references to support your views. When discussing Medicare, Obama says he does not support Romney’s view, but strengthens his argument by saying AARP also disapproves of Romney’s plan. Furthermore, to show you are not buried in your party’s back pocket, referencing great ideas from the other side can be tactful, such as Ronald Reagan (by Obama) or Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff (by Romney). In addition, Romney also took the Cleveland Clinic, originally mentioned by Obama, to show his own point. If your opponent has already established the legitimacy of something, using it to describe your point is more effective.
  13. Practice and prepare. Go in front of the mirror, no matter how awkward that may seem, you need to feel comfortable working through the twists and turns of your arguments, finding where there might be dead ends or missteps to your point. This will build your confidence and trust in yourself. On healthcare, Romney had a list of points; his presentation is smooth, without linguistic slipups. You can tell he knew this would be a key topic, prepared an outline, and practiced his two-minute presentation on the issue.

If anyone wants to improve their debate tactics, I would recommend reading “Getting to Yes: Negotiation Agreement Without Giving In” by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

Please post any thoughts/comments for discussion below:

Trusted, Reliable Business Partner?

As published in Lëtzebuerger Land on July 13, 2012. Full Version PDF.

In February, the Luxembourgish government presented “Le Luxembourg vu de l’étranger” on the results of their fall 2011 quantitative study on the perception of Luxembourg, having surveyed 554 decision-makers and actors working with Luxembourg. Of those surveyed, 82% think Luxembourg has problems with its image. In addition, 85% of those surveyed think that the reputation of the country is a key asset in attracting business. How valid is this assumption? Can a business-friendly image be negative?

Through my qualitative study as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Luxembourg this past academic year I have researched the nation branding of Luxembourg through over 20 qualitative interviews with public and private sector communication strategists. Based on this research, it became clear that the country is positioning itself as a trusted, reliable business partner. This strategy is commonly used by B2B firms in the private sector, but Luxembourg can also competitively argue that the country is very business-friendly, both globally and relative to its European neighbors.

During my research, when asked for Luxembourg’s top 3 values, the top three responses were: stability, quality of life, and multiculturalism. Different values are key for different sectors, but the most business-related was stability. In recent history, very few countries worldwide can compete with Luxembourg’s record of political stability, and the Euro Crisis has only strengthened this asset relative to other E.U. member states. Since the introduction of general suffrage in 1919 (except during the Nazi occupation and the legislative period of 1974-1979), the Christian Social People’s Party has been in power in Luxembourg. In addition, Jean-Claude Juncker has been Prime Minister since January 26th, 1995. By comparison, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is seen as flip flopping from a free trade to welfare state stance, making it difficult for companies to predict how Germany’s future policies may impact their profitability. Furthermore, Juncker is trusted as a down-to-earth politician who will not be involved in any scandals, such as that of President Christian Wulff, anytime soon. As put by an interviewee in the culture sector: “Everyone knows Juncker won’t be found with beautiful things or on the yacht of some mogul. They trust him; he has lived in the same house for 30-40 years. He will say ‘Hi’ to you on the street.” In addition, the election of French President François Hollande has rocked the boat, as he declared he will raise taxes. On top of its political stability within the regional business community, Luxembourg is already known for its fiscal stability, a trait that came up many times in my nation branding interviews.

When François Hollande declared a 75% tax on incomes over 1 million Euros, British Prime Minister David Cameron took the opportunity to welcome these high earners to Britain, although history proves Luxembourg may be a safer bet. Other countries may follow France’s example and increase taxes not only on individuals, but also on firms, as they attempt to grapple with their national debt. As put by an interviewee from the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade: “You know what the regulatory framework of the country is, and there are no abrupt changes. I just came out of a meeting with a company who wanted to come to Luxembourg because every time there is a change in government in France, the policies change dramatically, and you have to rebuild your business case. That’s not the case in Luxembourg.” In addition, since VAT taxes were introduced in Luxembourg, the country has always had the lowest rates in the E.U., making domestic supply tax rates the lowest available in the E.U.

One interviewee emphasized another benefit to business is the country’s social stability based on the tripartite system. The tripartite model is viewed as a unique Luxembourgish program between the government, employers, and unions. It is an example of how the government actively participates in attempts to find solutions between businesses and employees: “Instead of battling labor, [the government tries] to find a solution. Compared to France with all the strikes, this is an advantage for Luxembourg.” However, recently the system has encountered difficulties.

The size of the country also decreases the amount of red tape and difficulties business may have in working with the government. As put by an interviewee in marketing:

[In Luxembourg] administrative distances are short and uncomplicated for business [… When coordinating with the German government,] they have to go through the city then the regional government to get anything done. In France, everything has to go through Paris, so it takes forever. If I need something [in Luxembourg], I call the lawyer at the ministry and he tells me who to contact, and I call them and get a person on the phone.

This system is much more efficient than dealing with the bureaucracies of larger countries. Furthermore, communication strategists advertize how the size of the country allows for easy access to decision-makers. As put by another private sector interviewee: “One thing appreciated by foreign CEOs is they have the direct number of the Minister. You are easily in touch with whoever you want.” The flexibility of policy is also advertized in that the government is open to suggestions from the private sector if processes can be made more efficient or if new policies could provide new opportunities in new niches.

However, foreign media outlets often misconstrue the Luxembourgish government’s flexibility in helping business. An example is in 2010 when Strategic Airlines, a cargo airline, had its license revoked by France and three weeks later received a license from Luxembourg. As put by a private sector interviewee:

You had a report on ‘20 heures’ on FR1, [which in general] said, ‘It’s Luxembourg as usual, you come, you pay, you get what you want. They don’t look at the maintenance, the dedication of the staff, etc.’. The thing is a cargo airline never gets on TV because no one is interested in this. Here, all of a sudden, it was a main feature.

This story would normally not be a top story and does not necessarily deserve media attention. However, the story was framed as scandalous in the French press, stating that the French government was “angered” and “shocked” that Luxembourg would make its own decisions on giving a license to the company.

Thus, Luxembourg has a very strong argument as to why business should invest within its borders, but its major issue is awareness. As mentioned by an interviewee from Luxembourg for Finance: “It is not a favorability problem, it’s an awareness problem. You don’t have to travel very far to find people who don’t know what Luxembourg is. It is terrible, but it is true.” Thus, the future of branding Luxembourg as a place to do business may need to focus on the basic step of gaining of awareness from business professionals abroad. This is already a focus of the Luxembourgish government, but will take time to grow. For example, the 2010 Shanghai Expo was a major success for Luxembourg. The pavilion was one of the most visited and one of only five that was not demolished after the Expo. These Expos are a cost-effective way of advertising Luxembourg. Luxembourg does not have the financing to compete with large countries in advertising spending. As put by an interviewee in marketing at the Commission de Promotion des Vins & Crémants de Luxembourg: “If we wanted to do advertisements in the Paris metro, we would only have enough money for 2 advertisements. In France, they have budgets a hundred times our budget. That’s a huge impact.” Both the private and public sector are aware of this. As described by an interviewee from Ville de Luxembourg: “So far it does not make any sense to make these huge advertising campaigns to bring to countries because it is just too much spread. I think the one-on-one approach, conferences, road shows, to a professional audience is the most successful.” Thus, the main focus is a more one-on-one targeted approach as opposed to mass media campaigns.

Unfortunately, these awareness efforts take time, but even if a few companies relocate to Luxembourg, it could have a strong impact on the economy of the country. However, the country has a strong argument as to why it is a trusted, reliable business partner in Europe. France having lost its place in January, Luxembourg is one of only four countries, the others being Germany, Netherlands, and Finland, which still has a Standard & Poor’s Triple-A rating. Also, in 2011 public deficit made up only 2.4% of the central government’s budget, down from 2.6% in 2009 and 2010, and in the country never experienced a recession in the 2008 financial crisis. Thus, Luxembourg has a unique value proposition to attract foreign business; its difficulty is attracting the attention of the global business community.

Trusted, Reliable

The Elephant in the Room: Euro Crisis, Financial & International Tax Reform Spell Trouble for the Modern Fairy Tale of Europe

While the vultures circle Europe, the second highest GDP per capita country has been able to continue business as usual, not having experienced a recession during the 2008 financial crisis. Filled with suited up bankers and bureaucrats, this country of about 500,000 is the second largest investment fund center in the world. The buses have padded seats and the bus drivers are grumpy despite their 30,000 Euro average wage. The streets are clean and often live music can be heard from the Place d’Armes square. In between the gare and the city runs the Vallée de la Pétrusse where one can peak at trimmed French-style gardens and abundant green, while the country’s golden lady keeps watch over the city center.

As private capital flees the Mediterranean tempête even the safest bets are not so safe anymore. As of France losing its Standard & Poor’s triple-A rating in January, Luxembourg is one of only four eurozone countries still holding the title, the others being Germany, the Netherlands, and Finland, but dark clouds are producing a perfect storm even over the little paradise of Luxembourg.

Luxembourg depends heavily on international business, more specifically service exports, as the third most open economy in the world. In 2010, 38 percent of Luxembourg’s GDP was based on the financial sector. This number does not take into account all of the services associated with banking including insurance, accounting, law firms, etc. that cater to the tastes of the purse-string holder banks that call the country home. However, new regulatory reform and the Euro Crisis are chopping away at the trunk of the economy.

In March, a European Commission draft paper, the Ucits V directive, singles out Luxembourg as inadequately protecting investors. This inadequacy was most visible in the use of Luxembourgish Ucits cross-border investment funds to channel money in the 2008 Madoff Ponzi scheme. Although Luxembourg’s authorities insist that accommodating regulators have not increased the country’s attractiveness for investors at the expense of France and Ireland, the country holds 31 percent of the 5.6 trillion Euro Ucits global market. In addition, the Euro Crisis will hit Luxembourg harder than the crises in the past. According to the President of the Association des Banques et Banquiers Luxembourg (ABBL), Ernst Wilhelm Contzen, “the golden days are over.” Luxembourg invested 1.3 billion Euros in Greek banks and in the past year bank profits have been down 25 percent. Furthermore, the financial sector accounts for about 30% of tax revenues as a percentage of the state budget. Thus, the government has looked for other venues to diversify its economy and settled on its most reliable trick: favorable tax policy.

In 2009, the country was placed on the OECD’s grey list as a tax haven, but has since been removed. Having learned its lesson, the government promotes business just slightly on the right side of legal in order to remain competitive, attracting multinationals scrounging to avoid taxes. However, this new venue is also under attack. With social movements, such as Occupy Wall Street and the Association pour la taxation des transactions financières et pour l’action citoyenne (ATTAC), lobbying for companies to “pay their fare share” and developing countries putting the same pressure on the G8, this source of revenue will lose profitability as regulatory reform ensues. To understand Luxembourg’s role in the international tax policies of the world’s biggest corporate players, these companies cycle money between Luxembourg and less tax friendly countries. For example, to avoid the UK’s 28 percent tax rate, GlaxoSmithKline opened a new company in Luxembourg that lent the UK headquarters 6.34 billion pounds, which was repaid in 124 million pounds in interest, which the Luxembourgish government agreed to tax at less than 0.5 percent. Through its subsidiary in Luxembourg, which employs only a few dozen, Apple is able to route 20 percent of iTunes’s worldwide sales, which exceeded $1 billion, through this quiet country, helping it achieve its 3.2 percent global tax rate in 2011. Thus, this adds to the perfect storm of economic disaster facing the country.

Luxembourg is positioned as the “negotiator” of Europe, but this corporate tax haven image is dampening this effect. Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, is head of the Euro Group, where the Finance Ministers of members of the eurozone discuss pressing issues to be presented to the Economic and Financial Affairs Council of the Council of the European Union. This is ideal for the country so as to make sure, despite its size, it can have its say in upcoming reform. The country also uses its multilingualism and political neutrality to punch above its weight at the European institutions.

According to an upper level official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “The ‘honest broker’ is a kind of thing we are trying to do when we chair the E.U. In most areas, we don’t have direct interests when compared to most countries where the issues are too close to their national interests.” The country also uses its multilingualism, since Luxembourgers are taught in French and German, to help broker deals between its powerful neighbors of France and Germany. However, the press on its multinational tax policies will chip away at these relationships. Luc Frieden, the Minister of Finance, said he did not want Luxembourg “to live at the expense of other countries to whom [Luxembourg] owes so much and with whom Luxembourg works well”. Thus, the multinational tax policies and Ucits criticisms may bleed over and deplete Luxembourg’s political strength within the European Union.

The Nation Branding of Luxembourg

As a culmination of her Fulbright research in Luxembourg, Van Nest presented to the national government’s nation branding working group. For the research, Van Nest conducted over 20 interviews with branding decision-makers including private sector companies (e.g., Head of Corporate Communication), trade associations (e.g., President, Head of Marketing), and government officials (e.g., Luxembourg City Manager, Director Generals, Counselors). This was matched with analysis of marketing materials, in French and English, in preparation for interviews and as primary sources to understand current national identity. Chaired by the Service Information et Presse, she shared her findings with top government officials selected to drive the country’s nation branding efforts.

The ‘Coolness Factor’ & Social Media: Politicians Pump Up Their Image Through Viral Communication

With the growth of social media, the ‘coolness factor’ is gaining importance as a way to frame a politician’s image. When I say ‘coolness factor’ I mean trying to use one’s personality to create a deeper connection with one’s constituency. An example would be Hillary Clinton submitting her own ‘Texts from Hillary’.  Through the growth of social media, this has become an effective push communication strategy as followers want to share this content.

That being said, the “Coolness Factor” is not something new and has been effective in the past. This played a role in Kennedy’s success in the first Kennedy-Nixon debates where people who listened on the radio voted Nixon as the winner, but the 70 million television viewers, able to see Kennedy’s charisma and smooth delivery compared to Nixon’s sweaty make-up free face, viewed Kennedy as the winner. Post-losing against George W. Bush in 2000, Al Gore gained much publicity for going out and partying in New York City, shocking people with his sweaty armpits and dance moves that highly contradicted his prior boring, lock box-syndrome rhetoric. Meanwhile, George W. Bush seemed like a fun-loving guy with whom you would enjoy having a beer. Furthermore, in the past, Obama has used this technique successfully, dancing on Ellen, using the Shepard Fairey “Hope” image, and putting on the “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration” (which I attended, luckily before security started turning people away).

In the current election, the “coolness factor” has hit many highs and lows, Herman Cain misquoting the “Pokémon: The Movie 2000”  fitting into the latter. As put by David A. Graham, “Cain repeatedly reached for snappy, glib, inspirational phrases—often, it seemed, without having thought them through. It was apparently the legacy of his years as a motivational speaker, a sector in which empty but punchy quotes are the coin of the realm and are seldom quarried for their original source.”

With the two current front-runners, both seem to be awkward. As put on the popular TV show Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough points out that, “we’ve got two possible major candidates who are awkward,” also stating that President Obama “doesn’t seem to genuinely like being around people.” However, Obama’s team has been very successful at amping his “coolness factor”.  Most recent examples include having the President submit a NCAA tournament bracket  on ESPN, releasing a campaign soundtrack, singing at the Apollo,  and pounding a janitor.  All help him appear down to earth and connected to the everyday American.

Mitt Romney has had difficulty channeling the “coolness factor,” appearing a bit socially awkward in many of his public appearances and thus some saying he needs a “swag transplant.”  An article by Frank Rich in The New York Times says, “When forced to interact with actual people, he tries hard, but his small talk famously takes the form of guessing a voter’s age or nationality (usually incorrectly) or offering a greeting of ‘Congratulations!’ for no particular reason. Richard Nixon was epically awkward too, but he could pass (in Tom Wicker’s phrase) as ‘one of us.”

Thus, is “coolness factor” more important today than ever before now that is so easy to share content online? How can it be channeled to the correct audience? An example might be Bully Pulpit Interactive’s Ed Lee “2 Legit” video which used Facebook zip code targeted advertising to drive young voters in the tech industry in San Francisco to watch the video, gaining 33,000 views. However, the video might not be as appreciated by other voter segments. Successfully targeted viral marketing may be the new secret weapon to win over hearts and minds. Still questions arise on how it can be targeted successfully, when is it going too far for the mainstream, how to correctly connect to key viewers, and when it crosses the line of unprofessional (such as the POTUS calling Kanye West a jackass).

How to Address the Public After an Affair: Lessons Learned from Bill Clinton, Edward VIII, John Edwards, and Tiger Woods

In a recent documentary, “Clinton,” the director Barak Goodman revisits the Lewinsky scandal finding that Bill Clinton confided in Dick Morris, asking him for advice. Morris conducted a poll to assess how to best handle the situation. He found that Clinton could be forgiven for the sin, but not for the cover up, and thus should admit to the scandal. Unfortunately, Clinton did not take this advice and attempted to address the issue on his own terms.

Throughout history, time and time again, public figures have allowed their personal lives to impede on their duties as a figurehead and role model. After such digressions, the response is usually an apology speech with the opportunity to command the public’s attention, make a petition, and potentially recover from their mistakes. Unfortunately, the majority of these speeches fall short. To recover from a personal failing, a leader cannot expect immediate forgiveness but promise to show they have learned their lesson through action, accept that their status does not exclude them from the norms and standards of their time, admit that their criticism is warranted, and set a plan of action for their role and behavior going forward. As we can see from prominent examples of such speeches, these things prove remarkably hard to do. Still, no matter how hard one tries to cover the fact, she or he will discover that their unsuccessful attempt to address properly their failings will forever hinder their ability to lead.

A successful apology speech needs to acknowledge that the speech itself is not enough to merit forgiveness. It cannot order the audience to move on, but instead promise that a change has occurred, and that going forward, better behavior will prove the lesson has been learned. During his abdication speech on December 11, 1936, Edward VIII directs Parliament, the royal family, and the British people, to understand his decision: “But I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the empire, which, as Prince of Wales and lately as King, I have for twenty-five years tried to serve.” By starting with but I want you to understand, he is commanding the people to agree that his decision to leave office is the best for the country. The public’s opinion is not something he can control. John Edwards takes a similar approach in his statement regarding his affair with Rielle Hunter: “If you want to beat me up feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself.” He insists the public does not have the right to comment on his decision, since he is addressing it himself.

President Clinton in his  “I Misled People” speech takes a similar approach insisting, “It is time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives and get on with our national life. The country has been distracted by [the Lewinsky affair] for too long.” They argue that the public should move on, and not question their statements of defense. This is not a successful argument. You cannot command the public’s understanding. You have to prove you have learned your lesson. Tiger Woods make a stronger argument after his affairs became public. He acknowledges his apology is not enough, and that only his actions can lead to his forgiveness. This shows a change in character unlike the others. He is not insisting he is entitled to forgiveness, but requesting the opportunity to prove himself as changed.

After a speech admits that it cannot grant forgiveness, it also has to admit that the speaker is not exempt from the standards set by society. In Edward VIII’s statement, he claims he has the right to define the standards to which he is held. He states: “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.” In his opinion, he alone can decide if it is impossible for him to fulfill the burden of being king, therefore putting his interests before those of his entire country. This is the crux of his argument, that he is a victim, being forced to choose between the woman he loves and the throne, and that only he can decide what is necessary for him to be a good king.

Tiger Woods addresses the same issue, but admits he was at fault for not following the norms set by society. Woods promises to solve his problems, staying within society’s standards by admitting he “ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by” and that “these are issues between a husband and a wife,” framing that his resolution should and will be private as set by society’s standards. Furthermore, he comments on his personal thought process saying, “I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in. I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply.  […] It’s up to me to start living a life of integrity. […] Character and decency are what really count.” Unlike Edward VIII, Woods shows that he is subject to the expected norms. He reflects on the teachings of his religion, commenting on Buddhism’s principle that cravings only lead to an “unhappy search for security.” Edward VIII argues the opposite, implying he cannot be happy without Mrs. Simpson, saying how his brother has a “matchless blessing” of a “happy home with his wife and children.” This weakens Edward VIII argument since he is saying the normal rules for the royal family are wrong and that the rules are at fault instead of him being at fault. Through Wood’s admittance that he has broken the rules, and that he must change his views, he strengthens his argument. Edward VIII attempts to frame himself as a victim, neither showing that he has changed nor that he respects the rules of the British system.

It is not a surprise when the press pries into all aspects of public figures’ lives. During an apology speech, a public figure does not have the right to claim to have become prey to the press. After committing an act that hurts those close to them, they cannot turn around and claim to be a victim. John Edwards’s weakens his argument by attempting to frame himself in this way, “I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need help.” He claims he has been stripped bare, indicating he is a victim now that the press has revealed his secrets. This implies he is angry with the press not only for exploiting his secrets, but also for uncovering them in the first place. Indicating he is angry that he was caught does not help his argument that he has learned his lesson. Edwards and Clinton feel the excessive criticism is unwarranted despite their behavior.

At first, in Clinton’s “I Misled People” speech, he uses a similar argument that he can command his treatment from the people, claiming that his affair is private, between him and his family, and that the public does not have the right to know what in the President’s personal life may be affecting his ability as a leader. Clinton mentions the press’s treatment again in his “I Have Sinned” speech, but then spins the argument: “bounds of privacy have been excessively and unwisely invaded. That may be. Nevertheless, in this case, it may be a blessing, because I have sinned.” This strengthens his speech since he admits he has done wrong and that he may deserve his criticism. After having an affair, it is hypocritical to criticize others for causing one’s family pain. In order to show this genuine effort, there needs to be an evident transfer in self-awareness, proving that the public figure no longer puts themselves before all others and their responsibilities as a figurehead.

A good apology speech establishes the public figure’s future role. The goal of Edward VIII’s statement is to provide a defense that will allow him to receive positive treatment as the first ex-king. No one has filled this role before, thus he must define his future role, and hope that the Parliament, royal family, and the British people will accept his decision and treat him with respect in the future. He attempts to receive their graces by complimenting the comfort provided by his family and the kind treatment from the Parliament and the British people. He blesses his brother as new king. However, he neither addresses his future role directly nor explains why he should be treated well.

Clinton gives a list of his actions going forward in “I Have Sinned:” instructing his lawyers to prepare a “vigorous” defense, continuing to change his behavior for the better, and increasing his focus on leading the country and fighting for worldwide peace and freedom. Although the first point is mainly self-driven and hurts his argument, he reasserts his devotion to the people’s goals.

Edward VIII undermines his commitment by saying, “I now quit altogether public affairs and I lay down my burden.” By using the word burden he implies he saw his opportunity to serve the people as an unwanted, negative obligation. A good speech needs to be explicit, providing an action plan of steps going forward that will be taken to make a change. The apology speech is only a promise, but proof comes from action. The speech needs to provide an action plan going forward that the figure must be held accountable to do to prove they are attempting to change their behavior.

The petitioner needs to be self-aware, show genuine understanding and regret from their mistakes to prove that the lesson has been learned, and that their behavior will change in the future. Overall, Tiger Woods had the best speech, addressing elements of an effective apology. He set the stage to continue his career; however, he must hold to his commitment through his actions. The others failed in that they did not prove they were aware of their egocentric nature and take responsibility for their behavior. A good apology speech includes an acknowledgement of past mistakes, ability to genuinely admit fault, and a plan of action going forward to solidify the future role of a political figure.