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When the PR stunt backfires

August 2nd, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

I think most of you have read some articles, seen some posts or video clips or at least heard about Sylvi Listhaugs latest PR-stunt – a ”near-migration experience” in the Mediterranean Sea.


If our English readers have not, here is a short recap; Listhaug who is the Norwegian Minister of Migration and Integration, has a conservative immigration policy and went viral this weekend after a provocative PR-stunt. The stunt in itself was quite harmless and could be seen as an effort to soften her image as the hardcore politician in Norway who wants to tighten the immigration law. However, it was made worse by her comment that it must feel great (for immigrants) to see that kind of a rescue boat when floating in the water once she was pulled out of the water.


Of course the whole thing went viral and in its very culmination it is hard to know if this is something to act on, or if it is best to wait out the storm.


The reactions showed no mercy in Norway, the spokesman for Norway’s national organization against racism, Zahir Athari, claimed that Listhaug was ridiculing those who have drowned in the Mediterranean. A refugee from Afghanistan, told Dagsavisen that Listhaug is ”Norway’s answer to Donald Trump, an elegant elephant in a glass house.”


Even the British comedian John Oliver ridiculed Listhaug on his Last Week Tonight show on HBO calling Listhaug ”An Aquatic Cheeto” among other things. Listhaug herself has claimed she only went along with the rescue crew’s invitation to experience how they worked, when she visited them at sea.


Whatever her aim, the Norwegian media knows Listhaug, and as one of many articles suggest this does not necessarily harm her reputation, only strengthens the opinion one had about her previously. She is a strong politician with many conservative ideas which you either hate or love. Much alike Trump. So the stunt will not harm her in Norway, only confirm your opinion on her.


But what about the international reputation? And whose reputation gets harmed on a larger scale? Her political party does not get much spotlight, instead Norway’s general view on immigration is questioned.


Interestingly enough Listhaug is quite popular in international media, especially in the U.S., Germany, Turkey and Poland, countries greatly involved in immigrant debate. Since December she has appeared in almost 1000 news stories in those 4 countries only. If we study the numbers closer to the PR stunt we can see that countries not interested in her at all previously, now have suddenly picked up the story. France, Greece, Romania, Italy, UK and Slovenia with little or no publicity in earlier months have now published over 150 articles, mostly from a negative angle. To give you a wider perspective, she has appeared in almost 1900 news articles in the last 5 months, nearly 550 of those are about the PR stunt.


International audience do not know Listhaug as we do, and don’t just laugh off this as an unfortunate comment, ill-translated by the media. So the question here is – is this a media crisis to handle, if so, how to approach it? Or is it just better to wait out the storm and hope the bloodcurdling waves have not damaged Norway’s reputation too much? I don’t have all the answers here, but depending on your long-term PR plan, it might be a good idea to at least pick up the remaining driftwood before moving on to the next publicity event.


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