Mr Cruz Goes to Washington

 Mr Cruz Goes to Washington

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Sen. Mark Cruz.

The latest storm to descend on the U.S. capitol is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who blew into town two months ago and has stayed on the front pages ever since. A freshman to the Senate, Cruz’s brash behavior has rankled colleagues on both sides of the political aisle and caught the attention of the press. The New York Times called him “an ornery, swaggering piece of work” , while the New Yorker is asking “Is Sen. Ted Cruz Our New McCarthy?” More Republican-friendly venues, such as the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard, have lauded the 42-year-old’s unconventional starting term.

Freshmen senators traditionally begin their terms quietly, sitting practically unnoticed on committees and casting votes, lemming-like, along party lines. Not so Mr. Cruz. In the news most recently for spitting fire over former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Defense Secretary, he successfully stalled Hagel’s nomination for several weeks. The Texas upstart is creating waves.

Media outlets are divided on their opinions of Sen. Cruz, but they’re all talking about him. During his campaign, the Texas Republican told constituents he was going to shake things up in Washington. So far, that’s one campaign promise he’s kept.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Sen. Ted Cruz. At the beginning of the year, almost no one outside Texas (and even many in the Lone Star State) knew who he was, and now everyone has something to say about him.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Make a splash at the outset. Congress is a big, noisy place and it can be hard to distinguish oneself amidst 535 people intent on doing the same. Unlike the more raucous House of Representatives, the Senate is considered a thoughtful and well-mannered chamber, and it’s too early to tell whether Mr. Cruz’s strategy will serve him well. Ultimately, the junior senator from Texas will need to form alliances to get votes to go his way, but so far his PR impact has been substantial enough to make his colleagues realize one thing: ultimately, they will need to court him as much as he needs to court them.

More Trouble for Martha Stewart: Not a “Good Thing”

 More Trouble for Martha Stewart: Not a Good Thing

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Martha Stewart and J.C. Penney.

Martha Stewart has had more than her share of embarrassing public moments lately. Two of her offshoot magazines had to be co-opted into her regular publication, Martha Stewart Living, due to poor newsstand sales. And yesterday, the head of Macy’s department stores, Terry Lundgren said that Martha made him “sick.”

The cause of Macy’s CEO upset wasn’t Martha’s recipe for dinner, but rather her recipe for success. Stewart allegedly phoned Lungdren in December 2011 to tell the CEO that she’d inked a merchandising deal with rival retailer J.C. Penney. This took Macy’s by surprise. Lundgren thought their deal, struck in 2007, to sell Martha Stewart cookware, bedding, and other products was exclusive. “I was completely shocked and blown away,” Lundgren testified at a court hearing this week,  “I was literally sick to my stomach.” He further testified that Stewart claimed in their phone call that the deal with JC Penney would be good for Macy’s. At that point Lundgren hung up on Stewart.

JC Penney claims the deal was vital to their rebranding and vital to Martha, who also sold them 17 percent of her company. But the legal question and PR problem is how did Martha think she might get away with the deal to sell her home products through a department store, when she already had a deal to do just that.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Martha Stewart, and for J.C. Penney; Macy’s has now won a court injunction to temporarily block Penney’s from selling Martha Stewart products.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Business is cutthroat, but reputations can be preserved by being above board. Sure, everyone loves a dramatic under-the-table deal – in the movies. But in real life the dealmaker comes off as untrustworthy and from the PR standpoint, desperate. Stewart already had publicly-known problems with her corporation; JC Penney’s flagging sales have led to a massive and risky revamp of their stores. Each party needed the other, and each had to know that Macy’s wouldn’t take this lying down, not even on 400 thread-count percale sheets in Blossom Yellow. The repercussions will illustrate yet again that there is such a thing as bad publicity.

On the Red Carpet (Yawn) at the Oscars

 On the Red Carpet (Yawn) at the Oscars

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for PRs on the red carpet.

Was there anything of note to come out of the almost 90 minutes of interviews on the red carpet before Sunday’s Oscar ceremony? All interviews were tightly managed and controlled, with PRs flanking relentlessly both sides of the stars in question. The problem? Heavy PR supervision led to indistinguishable interviews and some mighty dull TV.

The format of the red-carpet interview is set in stone: Say you are having a wonderful time (“This SOOOO amazing!”). Name the designer of the gown you have been sewn into. Thank everyone who contributed to your look, including your best friend and brilliant stylist (usually the same). Say you chose the outfit because it is simultaneously comfortable, beautiful, and, above all, a reflection of who you really are. With a wave of the hand, show the jewelry. Finally, air-kiss the interviewer farewell while talking in a voice normally reserved for teens at a birthday party. Move onto your next interview, guided by your clipboard-carrying PR heavies, and repeat. No wonder host Seth McFarlane’s patter seemed so shocking by comparison.

PRs are notorious for picking and choosing which journalists will be granted interviews – those who are friendly to their star client, stay on script, and will allow the roll call of designer names to be dropped in lieu of a decent quote. But is this good PR? Why oh why can’t someone be allowed to occasionally go off script?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for PRs, who just might be doing their jobs too effectively, making glittering celebrities seem positively dull.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Leave some wiggle room for spontaneity. The most surprising thing about the Oscars was how utterly unsurprising the almost 90 minutes of interviews were before the show started. Nothing wrong with an upbeat tone, but why not have the client differentiate herself from the pack? This might mean the occasional tough interview, or even snarky comment. Sometimes the best PR is packaging the product so that all bases are covered. In other cases, when blessed with a witty, intelligent client, let the cards fall where they may. News is news when something surprises. PRs should consider giving the Twitterverse something to really tweet about.

Vatican Can’t Stop PR Woes

 Vatican Cant Stop PR Woes

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Vatican.

What could be in the Vatican dossier? That is the question on the media’s collective mind as rumors continue about the contents of the 300-page dossier complied by Vatican officials into the Vati-leaks scandal. What is already well known is that the report details an underground network of gay clergy, allegedly blackmailed by a rival faction within (or possibly outside) the Vatican. Throw alleged nefarious dealings with the Vatican Bank into the mix, and no wonder the recently resigned Pope has a PR headache larger than his ceremonial headdress.

The upshot? Rumors abound that the Pope resigned not due to failing health, but because the repercussions of the recently complied dossier are so damaging he thought it better to return to a life of isolated prayer. Not true, says a Vatican spokesperson, who has vehemently denied media reports, claiming they are “unverified, unverifiable, or completely false.”

Meanwhile, the Vatican is hurriedly making changes to its top management. It announced a new head of the Vatican Bank and moved one of the bank’s former heads to a new unrelated role. Vatican PR says these changes are unconnected with the dossier and is accusing the media of trying to discredit the church and its government. No one can say for sure, but if the Vatican was a publicly traded company, its stock would now be at all time low.

THE PR VERDICT: “F”(Full Fiasco) for a woeful week for the Vatican.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Start from the beginning. From the moment Pope Benedict said I quit, Vatican PR has been fighting an uphill battle. Conceding that his sudden resignation was a surprise, Vatican PR immediately created fertile ground for rumor and speculation. When a company changes management and chooses a new CEO, there is usually a plan in place to help the transition look seamless and unremarkable to the outside world, no matter what went on behind closed boardroom doors. What happened here, at one of the world’s oldest organizations? That’s as mysterious as the contents of the dossier, but for the Vatican, the problems look set to multiply like loaves and fishes.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the Respect for Marriage Coalition. In PR, nothing succeeds like the element of surprise. The ambiguously named Respect for Marriage Coalition pulled the proverbial rabbit out of its hat this week with the launch of a million dollar advertising campaign aimed at promoting the legalization of gay marriage. Obama’s inauguration comments are inevitably featured, but the TV advertisements and full page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post  and Wall Street Journal contain a far bigger surprise: Dick Cheney, Laura Bush, and Colin Powel relaying the message “Freedom means freedom for everyone.” The sound bite has already reverberated around the web world. An unlikely PR coup that nobody saw coming.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) TO Joe Biden. The vice president is known for what admirers say is a no-nonsense way of talking and detractors call regular meals of shoe leather. Earlier this week, during a Facebook “town hall” meeting with Parents Magazine on gun control, Biden advised a participant who was concerned about protection. His advice? “Buy a shotgun,”  He meant that shotguns are better than assault-style weapons, and, in typical Biden style, he related a homespun personal story – in this case, telling his wife that if intruders were afoot, two shotgun blasts would scare them off. Mr. Vice President, this was a town hall meeting about gun control for Parents Magazine readers, not Garden & Gun subscribers. Sigh.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO Lance Armstrong. After finally agreeing to come clean to authorities about doping his way to seven Tour de France wins, Armstrong announced he would testify – but only to an international tribunal. What’s the problem? No such tribunal exists. Nor, it seems, does any pure intention on Armstrong’s part to tell the truth. It’s become clear that teasing about testifying is only to get the US Anti-Doping Administration to lift the lifetime ban on Armstrong competing in professional sports. If he testifies, they may lift the ban; however, he’ll also face civil and criminal suits and charges. For the moment, the only way he can get through this now-galling fall from grace is to abandon thought of competition. That might lead to a different strategy, but at the very least it will keep him from appearing in this category again.

Maker’s Mark: Mistake, or Marketing?

 Makers Mark: Mistake, or Marketing?

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Maker’s Mark.

Maker’s Mark, one of the best-known American bourbon whiskies, has gotten more than its share of media attention recently. First, the small-batch distillery announced that global supply shortages were forcing it to produce more of its sweet spirit. To do this, the company said it would reduce its alcohol content from 45% alcohol (90 proof) to 42% (84 proof). Since bourbon lovers tend to like their alcohol, customer response was swift and unhappy. Aficionados questioned the company’s commitment to producing quality whiskey, and many threatened to switch brands. Within days, the spirit maker reversed its decision and issued a deeply humble statement that said, in part: “While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision. You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.”

It would appear that Maker’s Mark senior management learned a lesson from Coca-Cola’s infamous marketing debacle of the 1980s, when the soda maker abandoned its wildly popular flagship product in favor of “New Coke.” Three months later, facing full-scale revolts from both customers and bottlers, they were forced to return to their original formulation.

Or…was this all a grand publicity stunt? Bourbon, made only in the United States (Kentucky, specifically) has recently enjoyed growing popularity in Europe and Asia. Internet chat boards are rife with speculation that the quick backpedal suggests Maker’s Mark never intended to actually change their product. Instead, conspirators whisper, this “mistake” has successfully highlighted their name and commitment to a high-octane product in a time of rising global demand.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show). Strategy or stunt – really, does it matter?  Either way, people are talking about Maker’s Mark.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Never underestimate the affection for a brand icon. With its distinctive square bottle and red wax seal, Maker’s Mark has become one of America’s leading liquor brands. At a minimum, intensive market research should have been conducted before pursuing such a significant change. That said, management recognized the error and fell on its sword swiftly enough to limit serious damage to the brand. Cheers!

Passengers Launch Lawsuits Against Carnival Cruises

 Passengers Launch Lawsuits Against Carnival Cruises

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Carnival Cruise Lines.

The ship of the damned, Carnival Cruise Lines Triumph, lurched into port last Friday after days of horrendous conditions at sea. The luxury cruise ship suffered a fire early into its voyage and lost all power, leaving nearly 4,000 passengers and crew in the dark, with limited food and water, no air conditioning in sweltering temperatures, and toilets that quickly overflowed into the hallways.

There was little surprise that after the ground was kissed by passengers, lawyers were called, and as early as Sunday, lawsuits were being filed against Carnival. The first claimed Carnival “failed to provide a seaworthy vessel and sanitary conditions” with the plaintiff seeking compensation for “physical and emotional harm, anxiety, nervousness and the loss of enjoyment of life.’”

Carnival’s fine print states that the cruise line “shall not be liable for emotional distress and mental suffering.” However, that doesn’t cover physical damage. A second suit now cites physical injuries, including severe dehydration. It’s likely these will spawn further suits; one passenger mentioned during a morning show interview that she’d broken her ankle in the dark. Lawyers are at the starting line.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Carnival Cruise Lines. The cruise from hell may be over for the passengers, but it’s ongoing for a company still reeling from the ship-aground disaster in Italy.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Taking action speaks louder than simply saying “I’m sorry” . Carnival Chairman and CEO Micky Arison apologized via loudspeaker on the cruise liner when his defeated Triumph was towed into port, but passengers were in no mood. An indication of what could have been done came when passengers took time from detailing wretched conditions to praise the crew for taking good care of them, when they were suffering even more. The issue at sea went on for days with those aboard Tweeting about worsening conditions. What else might have been done? Why not airlift more food and water, no matter the cost? Or, make a bold and unprecedented move to show how much the CEO cared by airlifting him onto the ship and joining the passengers in hell. What a PR impression that would have made! He might have been as uncomfortable as his fellow passengers but that might have paled in comparison to the questions he now faces from Carnival’s board as it fends of a flotilla of lawsuits.

PR Fit for a Princess

RADZTRUEELEGANCE 150x150 PR Fit for a Princess

PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Lee Radziwill.

The New York Times‘s redesigned T Magazine was published this weekend, and what a bumper issue: luxury advertisers, clever art direction, and a cover story on Princess Lee Radziwill, Jackie Kennedy’s equally famous and glamorous sister, who once married a Polish prince. With a somberly chic black and white cover, the headline quietly stated “True Elegance.” And so began the love-in to Princess Lee, published over several pages.

The first question of the first interview publicity-shy Lee has given in a long time? “Were you always aware of your beauty?” Lee responded immediately, “From the word go.”  This was an article that read more like a fawning press release than a NYT feature.  For Princess Lee, this was a PR dream come true.

The writer, English decorator (and Radziwill pal) Nicky Haslam describes the princess as “captivating the public,” “possessing a timeless aura that radiates now-ness,” a “figure of her time, our history.”  Gilding the lily further he added “Lee’s her own harbinger for an iconic future. Our and hers.” It’s a fair guess that Lee was going to love this profile from the outset. Always nice to have a close friend write the article.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Lee Radziwill and her blockbuster profile. She couldn’t have written it better herself.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Radziwill, whether deliberately or by fluke, has followed the golden rule of myth making: say little and focus on the distant past rather than the recent. The latter is often messy and complicated, with contradictory views. Haslam’s profile is geared toward making his subject a living legend. With only passing mentions of “dips into alcoholism” and the very real tragedies and deaths in her life, the article focuses almost exclusively on an earlier  life with sister Jackie and later Jack, her Hampton’s childhood, and later fun hanging out with Andy Warhol. Radziwill, high up in her Parisian apartment where she was photographed, has secured the sort of PR that will keep her as nearly famous as her legendary sister.

To read the article, click here.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and Losers


Iraq fashion show 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Iraq’s Labour and Tourism Syndicate for organising the first fashion and beauty show since the U.S.-Iraq war began in 2003. Held in a small Baghdad hotel, the show is one of several events designed to promote a return to normalcy for Iraqi citizens and restore Bahgdad’s reputation as a vibrant Middle Eastern hotspot. It was even more significant because beauticians were targeted by religious militants during the war and forced to conduct their trade in secret. High marks to the syndicate for recognizing that beauty can, indeed, be more than skin deep.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: F (“Full Fiasco”) to John Galliano. Oy vey! What was the controversial fashion designer thinking for his first major public appearance in NYC this week following his scandalous dismissal from the House of Dior? Fired from his perch because of woefully anti-Semitic remarks that were caught on camera, he turned up at NY fashion week in the garb of a Hasidic Jew. Those in the know said the suit was dark blue, not the customary black, and the look was closer to a dandy than one of the faithful. But everything down to the ringlet curls and large hat was just so, and a bit too-too close for comfort. Defenders claim it’s Galliano’s routine attire, while others are outraged. Bottom line, wasn’t there an easier, less controversial wardrobe choice? John, it’s time for damage control, not further damage.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO Toni Braxton, who announced earlier this week that she would be retiring from her career as a singer in order to focus on acting. Well forget this ho-hum Pope business! As much as we love La Braxton, PR proclamations such as these are unnecessary, and rather transparent bids for media attention. They also invite sarcastic responses, such as this: The world will likely go on without a new release, especially since “never” statements usually start the clock ticking on a comeback album five years hence.



When Coke isn’t the Real Thing

COKENZ2 150x150 When Coke isnt the Real Thing

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Coca-Cola.

Death by Coca-Cola? The Coca-Cola Company is waging a PR battle in New Zealand after a coroner found that its signature Coke product likely contributed to the heart attack and subsequent death of a young woman, Natasha Harris. The coroner said this week  that the amount of Coke drunk by Harris likely created a metabolic imbalance resulting in an irregular heartbeat. He called for Coca-Cola to put warning labels on its products that make clear the dangers of excessive consumption and to consider lowering the caffeine content.

By all accounts, Harris’s Coke addiction was uncommon. She is estimated to have drunk between 6-10 litres (2-2.5 gallons) per day, the equivalent of more than 2 pounds of sugar and nearly 1000 milligrams of caffeine.  Routinely vomiting and having no remaining teeth of her own, one or more of her eight children was reportedly born with no tooth enamel. Even the coroner conceded that Coca-Cola could not be held responsible for Harris’ irresponsible use of its beverage.

When Harris died three years ago, Coca-Cola resisted the implication that its soda could be linked to her demise. This time around, Coca-Cola is saying it is “disappointed” in the coroner’s findings because there is no conclusive proof that Coke was a substantial factor in Harris’ death. Media outlets around the world are unmoved and sceptical.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Coca-Cola. When the coroner says your product contributed to someone’s death – and common sense supports that view – saying “Did not!” is guaranteed to create new problems and additional coverage.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Aim at the perception not the reality. While the coroner’s report may well have legal holes to be later fought in a court, the real battle here is the reputational risk of Coke being seen as inherently dangerous. Coke is not a nutritionist’s best friend but then again, neither does it kill people on a regular basis. A more persuasive statement would have been to point to the coroner’s own acknowledgement and stress that anything, including water, can be damaging when it’s taken in such dramatic excess. With a response like that, Cocoa Cola may only have had to deal with one day of troubling press coverage and not the multiple it is now facing.