More Turbulence for Abercrombie & Fitch

 More Turbulence for Abercrombie & Fitch

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Abercrombie &Fitch and CEO Mike Jeffries.

When is someone going to make a reality TV show about life at retailer Abercrombie & Fitch? The racy clothier (and public company) continues to have more than its fair share of outrageous accusations and legal suits. The latest drama is a lawsuit filed by the pilot of Abercrombie’s corporate jet, Michael Bustin, who claims he was replaced by a younger man. The claim is part of his age discrimination suit that alleges Abercrombie & Fitch prefers younger people – yet another in a growing list of complaints.

The documents filed for the lawsuit make for thrilling reading. Bustin gives an insider’s view of Abercrombie & Fitch’s oddly secretive corporate culture and vaguely culty ways. He includes details of life aboard CEO Mike Jeffries’s corporate jet, on which the flight attendants are male models and everything is rigorously managed to alarming levels of micromanagement.

The 47-page in-flight instruction manual spares no detail, including the seating arrangement of the CEO’s dogs and the precise temperature at which the crew may wear winter coats. The flight crew/models onboard must respond to the CEO by saying “No problem”; other phrases, including “Sure” or “Just a minute” are verboten. Stuff like this would make a great TV show, but for a public company, this sort of PR is a headache.

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Abercrombie &Fitch. CEOs should always be worried about tales from the corporate jet.

The PR Takeaway: Times have changed, and the imperious CEO is out of fashion. For a firm that has so closely monitored its marketing image, there is something genuinely puzzling about the scant attention paid to its corporate profile. The business page headlines regarding A&F have focused for some time on lawsuits and declining sales. For CEO Mike Jeffries, this can only mean trouble. If A&F were a private company, the heat might be lower, but as the file of media cuttings thickens, the life of the controversial CEO inevitably shortens. It’s a PR lesson Jeffries may want to learn sooner rather than later. To read more, click here.

When It Comes to PR, Mike Tyson’s No Pigeon

Mike Tyson Kissing Pigeon2 150x150 When It Comes to PR, Mike Tysons No Pigeon

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Mike Tyson and a comeback that gives the public a new way to think about him.

Boxer Mike Tyson recently told the Financial Times (FT) that by the age of thirteen, he had been arrested no less than 38 times. His life was one chaotic downward spiral. A rape charge led to him serving three years in prison; he ran through a $400 million fortune; there were endless drugs, arrests, more arrests, and then, the coupe de grace: biting off Evander Holyfield’s earlobe. How to stage a PR comeback from all of THAT?

Tyson pinpoints the exact moment he became the “baddest man on the planet.” At fifteen years of age, bullied relentlessly (hard to imagine), and a lover of pigeons (even harder), Mike Tyson had one of his prized pigeons killed by a taunting bully. Tyson fought back, and from that moment, his descent into one helluva scary guy was guaranteed.

Tyson’s second epiphany, this one leading in a different direction, occurred much later. Tired of sleeping with a never-ending procession of prostitutes and having multiple STDs, he turned to veganism as a route to good health.

The former ear-biting prizefighter now speaks publicly about his non-meat eating lifestyle, and his love of pigeons. “My pigeons, they were there for me,” he says. “They’ve never let me down. Easier than people.” The world got its first incredulous glimpse of the kinder, gentler Tyson in his reality show Taking On Tyson, and again in his sold-out one-man Broadway show, The Undisputed Truth, directed by Spike Lee. The Mike Tyson of yesterday has turned the page and is writing a whole new chapter.

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Mike Tyson and a comeback that gives the public a new way to think about him.

The PR Takeaway:  Turning the page is best explained by a personal epiphany. In PR terms, it explains clearly the what and why of a seminal moment. Fighting a bully made him realize his own power. One too many prostitutes made him realize that salvation lay in veganism. The constant throughout it all? His love of pigeons. Apparently, Tyson was the misunderstood gentle giant. Now even the Financial Times wants to write about him. Who would have thought? Now watch the endorsement contracts come through.

To read more about Tyson, his turnaround, and his pigeons, click here.

Is Mike Tyson a canny PR manipulator, or is the public feasting on his foibles? Give us your PR verdict!

Sex and the Single Gurley Brown

 Sex and the Single Gurley Brown

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Helen Gurley Brown.

What is the PR secret to staying “on- message” and in the public eye for over forty years? The death this week of Helen Gurley Brown (HGB), former Editor- in-Chief of Cosmopolitan and author of once scandalous books, provides some clues. Since the 1970s, she never stopped preaching the same message. And women in particular, kept on listening.

Feminists were never quite sure where to place HGB. Some staged a sit-in at her offices in protest during her editorship of Cosmo, while others lambasted her “teenage immaturity.”  She certainly knew how to scandalize, claiming “I’ve never worked anywhere without being sexually involved with somebody in the office.” Did this include her boss? “Why discriminate against him?” was her tart reply. Cheeky!

Having shocked America with her thesis that unmarried women not only had sex but also enjoyed it, the NY Times recently wrote that she spent “the next three decades telling those women precisely how to enjoy it even more.” Bottom line, her aim, she said, was to tell women “How to get everything out of life — the money, recognition, success, men, prestige, authority, dignity — whatever she is looking at through the glass her nose is pressed against.” So it wasn’t just about sex after all.

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for HGB. Her message was simple: Kick off the conversation with headline-grabbing sex, but broaden into “having it all.” No wonder she was still listened to.

The PR Takeaway: Lasting success comes from wrapping a simple message into a wider discourse. Weighing in at 100 pounds all her life, HGB was a socio-political heavyweight, talking about sex in the wider empowered context of “having it all” and being your best. The mistress of the sound bite, HGB was famous for her motto, “Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere.” Back in 1970, she was already speaking to the Sex & the City zeitgeist, perhaps even helping to create it. Forty years later, her message still resonates; no small achievement for someone who was supposedly just talking about sex and the single girl.

To read more about HGB, click here.

Did Helen Gurley Brown help to objectify or liberate women? Give us your PR Verdict!

 

 

 

 

 

The Romney-Ryan Tango

 The Romney Ryan Tango

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) so far for Paul Ryan.

How do you PR package 42-year-old Paul Ryan for vice president?  And what’s the PR dynamic for his running with Mitt Romney? Father-son? Teacher-pupil? Firebrand-moderate? Or just great pals? This choreography will be more carefully planned than the finals of Dancing With the Stars.

Both political sides are excited by the Ryan announcement. Ryan rouses fiscal conservatives – at last, said the commentators,  a candidate who has built his reputation on fiscal discipline. Democrats, on the other hand, think they have been handed a political gift. “The man who wants to end Medicare” is now their political rallying cry.

A generation younger than his potential boss, Ryan has the charisma and energy to appeal to voters. His positioning is that of the Young Turk brimming with ideas, energy, and conviction. Romney may find himself playing second fiddle to a younger deputy with stronger, more headline-grabbing ideas. Where does that leave Romney: agreeing with Ryan on all matters, or being the more moderate, generational elder? How can the  younger, pushier brand, Ryan, compliment and not overshadow the more seasoned brand of Romney?

The PR Verdict: ”B” (Good Show), so far, for Paul Ryan and his opening salvos. His youth, vigor, and ideological commitment seem to have energized his party. The PR work is now to position both candidates as being not only on the same page but having the same level of firepower and conviction.

The PR Takeaway: Brands need space. Ryan has captured the headlines with some radical views, and his brand is becoming clear. For Romney, his own brand positioning needs to reaffirm who is running the show – a public tango where Romney needs to be seen in the lead at all times. Romney’s faux pas on the day of the announcement, when he introduced Ryan as the “next President of the United States,” could be a portent of a potential PR problem. Romney, for the sake of his own candidacy, needs to make sure that he is seen as being in charge of the ideology, as well as the campaign.

Is Paul Ryan a wise or radical choice for Romney? Give us your PR Verdict!

Dept. of Financial Services to Standard Chartered: “J’accuse!”

 Dept. of Financial Services to Standard Chartered: Jaccuse!

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for New York’s Dept. of Financial Services. Great splash, but now what?

What’s the fastest way to generate a headline and claim your PR moment in the sun? How about a surprise PR missile in the middle of a sleepy summer? Announce to the media that colossal wrongdoing has been uncovered, and presto; you now have more publicity than TomKat’s divorce.

Top marks, then, to New York State’s Department of Financial Services (DFS), who late on Monday stunned the markets with an accusation that venerable British bank Standard Chartered was hiding some $250 billion worth of transactions with the Iranian government. Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of the DFS, gave the media a summer gift by calling Standard Chartered a “rogue institution.” He said the firm “carefully planned its deception” of US authorities using “fraudulent” procedures and “forging business records” to stage a “staggering cover-up.” Markets were stunned. Shares in Standard Chartered fell more than 16 percent, and the bank’s executives – as well as other bigwig US regulators, were caught unaware by the revelations.

Eight long hours after the headlines had been screaming of criminal activity, Standard Chartered limped out with a statement. The firm rejected the accusations and said “well over 99.9 per cent” of Iranian transactions complied with US regulations. The sums of money were nothing like $250 billion, more like  $14 million, said one source, a result of  “small clerical errors,” nothing more.

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for New York’s DFS. Great splash, but now what? Where is the chorus of other regulators outraged at this alleged wrongdoing?

The PR Takeaway: Be careful what you wish for. Great job in getting the headlines, but now comes the tough part! Despite the nicely packaged and damning sound bites, it could be lonely out there for NY’s accuser as UK politicians begin to comment that this issue seems more about undermining foreign banking firms than substantive wrongdoing. This story may no longer turn on straightforward “did they or didn’t they” facts, and instead become a wider issue regarding PR grandstanding and regulatory overreach. If that’s the case, the splashy headlines might have been better delayed until all the other regulators were in the pool.

UPDATE: OUCH! Since publication, Standard Chartered have now agreed to a puzzling $340 million penalty. Rather embarrassing for the bank that was so outraged over being publicly shamed for what it said was only $14 million dollars of faulty transactions.  Now the firm has agreed to pay $340 million in penalties… hmm… does this math add up?

Should the DFS have waited until they had backup, or were they right to go ahead and shout “J’accuse!”? Give us your PR Verdict!

When Plastic Politicians Face the Nation

berlusconi surgery 150x150 When Plastic Politicians Face the NationKirchner cosmetic7 150x150 When Plastic Politicians Face the NationPUTIN SURGERY2 150x150 When Plastic Politicians Face the NationQaddaddfi surgery1 150x150 When Plastic Politicians Face the NationKIn Jong UN cosmetic 150x150 When Plastic Politicians Face the Nation

As the US elections edge closer, what is the PR obligation for a candidate to look his best? What price beauty? And who on the world’s stage might have already succumbed to the vanities of the knife?

Vanity Fair  thinks this an issue worth discussing. An article on the magazine’s website identifies who of the world’s leaders are most likely to have had “work done,” with a top Manhattan surgeon on hand to give his view. The undisputed winner, hands down, is former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, while Cristina Kirchner of  Argentina, with her signature bee-stung lips, seems an almost certain runner-up. The jury is out on Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who just seems to take a good photo–or do Botox injections give him that rested appearance? Kim Jong Un of North Korea seems the biggest puzzle. If he has had plastic surgery . . . It really doesn’t seem to have helped. Money back for Lil’ Kim?

And what should a politician’s PR minder say when word of facial work on a head of state leaks out? What is the right PR way to handle a candidate’s cosmetic improvement?

“Medical reasons” seems the most convincing explanation, which Berlusconi initially used. He had ample air cover: Italian officials said he underwent procedures to repair damage sustained in 2009 when he was hit in the face by a protestor. But then, Berlusconi gave his own game away when he said, “Improvements are a way of showing respect to those who share your life, your family.” So the hair transplant wasn’t a result of the protester’s attack after all? He gets high marks for being forthright about going under the knife.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Silvio Berlusconi and his ongoing cosmetic makeover. His work is never done, but at least he gave himself ample PR cover to go back for more.

The PR Takeaway: Honesty is not always the best policy. For the Kremlin’s strongman or Libya’s former dictator, collagen puffed bee-stung lips might provoke the hardest ridicule to suppress. Electorates are inherently suspicious of peacocks, and whether for a democratic candidate or a dictator, admitting to plastic surgery seems an unlikely electoral winner. From a PR point of view, this is one case where the “Never apologize, never explain” rule might be the way to go.

To see who else might have gone under the knife, check out Vanity Fair’s gallery here.

Should politicians admit to having plastic surgery? Should they even get it, since the results are usually obvious? Give us your PR Verdict!

 

The Gore Vidal Sound Bite

 

gorevidal21 The Gore Vidal Sound Bite

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Gore Vidal and the aristocratic one liner.

America lost one of its great aristocrats this week.

Writer and historian Gore Vidal passed away in his Hollywood Hills home Thursday, after a long illness. Obituaries praised the life of one of America’s intellectual heavyweights but none could ignore his snappy, grand and imperious tone ;  it’s what stole the coverage.

Gore Vidal was famous for many things – among them his one-liners.  Though he would have hated to be described so, he was in some ways the PR Dream: able to create publicity without looking like he was trying.  A withering one liner guaranteed him centre stage in any debate.

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Gore Vidal and the art of the perfect sound bite.  In honor of the master, a sample below.  Valuable tips concerning how to live life according to Gore Vidal:

There is no one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.

I am exactly as I appear. There is no warm loveable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.

Love is not my bag.

Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.

It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.

Never have children, only grandchildren.

Write something, even if it’s just a suicide note.

 

 

 

Joan Juliet Passes the Buck on Vogue

 Joan Juliet Passes the Buck on Vogue

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Joan Juliet Buck.

Pity poor Joan Juliet Buck, Vogue stalwart and roving editor, who has come under intense scrutiny following her now infamous Vogue article on Asma Assad, wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad. Written and published shortly before civil war broke out, Buck’s glowing profile, entitled “A Rose in the Desert,”  now looks impossibly ill judged. History will remember Asma as the consort of a ruthless dictator, and Vogue as being on the wrong side of the story.

But now Buck is fighting back. Sick and tired of having her name ridiculed as the author of the ultimate PR puff piece, she has broken her silence and given her version of how the article came about. It seems her editors at Vogue  misinterpreted the Arab spring as a storm in a teacup, as did the rest of the world. Buck’s explanation makes compelling reading. Published on The DailyBeast with an accompanying broadcast interview, Buck portrays herself as a writer uneasy with what she has been tasked to do but who went on regardless.

The blame, it seems, lies in equal parts. Buck is very clear that politics and foreign relations were not her area of expertise. She writes that she visited Syria “and understood nothing.” Though not entirely seduced by her hosts and wary of phone taps and hacks into her laptop, she was more concerned with filing her story than exploring simmering discontent. Buck paid the price, with Vogue severing relations with her after more than twenty years.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) to Joan Juliet Buck for an insightful and fascinating read. She lets the facts speak for themselves. No one is covered in glory.

The PR Takeaway: In matters of setting the record straight, focus less on blame and more on letting facts speak for themselves. Buck has endured substantial personal and professional ridicule since her article was published. Her version of events is a thrilling read. She portions little blame but makes the point that it’s easy to be wise after the event. The Assads were visited by Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Sting, Angelina and Brad, and Francis Ford Coppola during their PR push. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; Buck’s reputation may not be so damaged after all.

 

Team Romney’s Big Kiss-Off

 Team Romneys Big Kiss Off

The PR Verdict: C (Distinctly OK) for Romney spokesperson Rick Gorka.

Rick Gorka, mind your manners. Gorka, Mitt Romney’s press spokesperson, is in the news for losing his temper on Romney’s already rather problematic foreign tour. Having generated negative headlines in the UK and in the Middle East, the Romney campaign now finds itself in the media spotlight again because Gorka, its spokesperson, told journalists to “kiss [his] a**” and “shove it.” Now, is that any way to behave–especially for a spokesperson?

On the other hand, who can blame him? This tour has not been the most wildly successful of trips. Gorka’s not-so-friendly advice to the press corps came after journalists fired questions from behind a rope. Reporters from the New York Times, CNN, and Politico.com yelled questions about Romney’s European gaffes, wanting Mitt to respond. Gorka, on his last nerve, told them exactly how he felt.

The media went wild, Mitt looked embarrassed, and Gorka made personal apologies to the journalists concerned the next day. Any harm done? Hard to say. Everyone has an off day, and if Gorka has media relationships worth anything, one might hope this will be forgiven. What seems the bigger issue is the media’s complaint about access to Mitt himself, and that might be worth a rethink.

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Rick Gorka. At least he said “sorry” quickly and turned the page, but is there a wider issue at play?

The PR Takeaway: Apologizing is the easy part. The persistent complaint from the media is that Romney has simply been unavailable for much of his grand tour. In this latest blowup, the journalist yelled at Gorka, “We haven’t had another chance to ask a question!” Since Romney’s tax issues put his PR team on alert, the media have been complaining about restricted access. Romney did not address members of the press flying with him on any of the three charter flights–two that lasted more than four hours. One sure way to annoy the media? Ignore them. And for that, Gorka may be apologizing for some time to come.

UN Secretary Moon Eclipsed at Olympics?

 UN Secretary Moon Eclipsed at Olympics?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Ban Ki Moon.

Should the Secretary General of the United Nations take PR lessons from the world of celebrity publicists? The head of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon (BKM), arguably the figurehead for the global community, made a puzzling appearance at the Olympic opening.  Was it good for the UN brand?

First up, BKM carried the Olympic flame through central London, wearing a white tracksuit, smiling and waving pleasantly to the crowds. He then surfaced again on Friday with a small cadre of team members carrying the Olympic flag to mark  the end of the ceremony. News reports said he was participating to promote an Olympic truce between warring countries during the games.

He stood second in line, carrying the flag and sharing the limelight with the founder of UK civil liberties group Liberty, Ethiopian athlete Haile Gebrselassie, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and Brazilian environmentalist Marina Silva. Impressive company, to be sure, but shouldn’t the office of the Secretary General of the United Nations be afforded higher status?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Ban Ki Moon. Let’s face it the rules of the maitre d’ apply: Where you sit and who you sit next to are key. It shows how important–or not–you are.

The PR Takeaway: Visuals really matter when that’s all you have. Editors of major fashion magazines are notorious for insisting on front row seating for the runway shows. If not, it’s a no-show from them, on the basis that any other placement devalues the magazine’s brand. Tough talk, but an effective policy that invariably gets them the right positioning. For the sake of the UN brand and its global influence, why not insist that Ban Ki Moon be placed, at the very least, next to the UK Prime Minister and the Mayor of London? Or how about with the head of the Olympic federation–two organizations with shared ideals? With the world watching, BKM’s rightful place was up on the podium, not in the trenches. BKM might want to speed dial Vogue front-row-center editor Anna Wintour before accepting the next invitation.