William Dentzer

About William Dentzer

William Dentzer, a San Francisco-based writer and communications/media consultant, has managed corporate communications and media relations at global firms such as UBS, Bain & Company, The Associated Press, and British consultancy Arup. He previously served as a mayoral press secretary and was a longtime political reporter and columnist with the Gannett newspaper chain in New York.

Romney Rips Police Chief for Obama Slur

Romney Romney Rips Police Chief for Obama Slur

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR PERFECT) for Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney might not have been a particularly awesome Presidential candidate (or a particularly enlightened pet owner), but in matters of basic human decency, his bona fides are unassailable. So it was appropriate and magnanimous of him to sound off over the weekend in defense of the man who bested him in 2012, Barack Obama.

Romney, in a statement to The Boston Herald, excoriated Robert Copeland, the rural New Hampshire police commissioner who was overheard using a racial slur to describe the President – and who, despite widespread and uniform condemnation, initially refused even to apologize, let alone resign. Defending his N-word usage, Copeland said the President “meets and exceeds my criteria for such.” His forced resignation was announced by the town government yesterday.

Romney, who owns a nearby vacation home in New Hampshire, minced no words is calling for Copeland to apologize and resign, in no particular order. “The vile epithet used and confirmed by the commissioner has no place in our community,” he told the Herald. Good for Mitt.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Mitt Romney, for throwing his moral authority around – and knowing he had to.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know when you must speak up. It is as important as knowing when not to. Romney’s remarks about his onetime opponent’s White House tenure and the 2012 Presidential contest haven’t always been supportive or conciliatory. And likely the passage of time hasn’t fully dulled his smarting from the 2012 loss. In the current matter, he could have kept quiet, but likely sooner or later the press would have come calling, expecting an opinion. Romney, among other Obama critics who have also called for Copeland’s resignation, is uniquely credentialed to weigh in: He lives in the community. That made it all the more necessary that he speak out. After all, in the end all politics is local. Along with The World Outside, Romney’s neighbors also deserved to know where he stood.

Netflix Raises Prices – and No One Freaks Out

NETFLIX TV 150x150 Netflix Raises Prices   and No One Freaks Out

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR PERFECT) for Netflix.

This time they warned you – Netflix, that is. The on-demand streaming video service that scored one of the worst marketing and PR flops since the introduction of New Coke when they raised their rates in 2011. They announced a price increase for rentals last week, but this time in a way structured to keep existing customers happy – and investors, too.

You might recall Qwikster, the company’s ill-conceived DVD-only service, spun off in 2011 in the wake of a controversial and unpopular price hike that effectively doubled the cost of rentals. Subscribers rebelled and quit in droves, and Netflix reversed course, killing the service before it ever launched. It then spent much of the next year apologizing and begging customers to come back.

Clearly the company learned something from that experience. This time, Netflix moved methodically, initially raising the prospect of price increases months ago. It firmed up that news in late April with a letter to shareholders announcing a pending increase of “one or two” dollars. The final word came in an email to customers Friday – a $1 bump, but only for new customers, and no increase for existing members for two years. So far, the villagers have yet to light their torches or storm the castle.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Netflix, for taking the time to set appropriate expectations.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Timing is everything – and that doesn’t always mean just picking the right moment. Netflix, looking to avoid another mass stampede of customers for the exits, wisely started telegraphing its intentions on pricing months before actually announcing the increase. This amounted to a period of test marketing, giving both Netflix subscribers and investors time to get used to the idea. Then, by grandfathering in existing customers at the current price for two years, Netflix actually won a measure of goodwill, solely becauset it set expectations of a price increase for everyone. Investors liked the news also, sending the company’s stock up on the increase.

PayPal’s Quick Payback to Ranting Exec

paypal PayPals Quick Payback to Ranting Exec

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to PayPal.

Another weekend, another tech sector exec behaving badly and embarrassing his employer. This time it’s PayPal, whose now-former global strategist Rakesh Agrawal unleashed a series of Twitter rants that were either his parting shot or cost him his job, depending on what you choose to believe.

Tweeting late night Friday from New Orleans, where he was attending Jazz Fest, Agrawal offered up choice expletives for co-workers he thought should be fired or were “useless,” including PayPal’s communications chief. In the remorseful light of morning, he tweeted that he had been using a new phone to “test experiences” and had intended those messages for a colleague. “Note to self,” he added, “don’t test a new phone when sleep deprived after working your ass off for 20 hours a day while on vacation.”

Within hours, PayPal tweeted that Agrawal, just two months into the job, was on vacation permanently, adding: “Treat everyone with respect. No excuses. PayPal has zero tolerance.” Not one to leave it there, Agrawal answered that he had actually quit Friday to start his own company. He followed that Sunday night with a series of since-deleted F-bomb tweets directed at – well, everyone – and then a promise of a “logical explanation” for the last two days. Please, don’t bother.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for PayPal, for a quick public display of disaffection with a self-destructing employee.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Move fast in matters of reputation. Lasting damage can occur literally at the speed of light. PayPal’s fast, direct response established Agrawal’s separation from the company, then pivoted to stress the firm’s zero tolerance for behavior or opinions like his. Companies have different policies on employee tweeting, but to a tech firm like PayPal, pre-screening tweets would run counter to Silicon Valley’s libertarian ethos and would never fly. The individual empowerment of social networks gives those with an axe to grind an instant platform to air their grievances. Companies need not hold back in responding.

NBA Head Calls Time Out in Responding to Racist Remarks

silver NBA Head Calls Time Out in Responding to Racist Remarks

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

The recent racist rant of Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, has drawn universal condemnation and outrage – from his own players right up to President Obama. Advertisers, including Mercedes Benz and Virgin America, quickly withdrew sponsorship. The ravings appear to be less of headache for Sterling, who the New York Times referred to as the “worst owner in professional sports,” than for the NBA and its rookie commissioner, Adam Silver.

A tape recording emerged last weekend of Sterling telling his mistress over the phone not to bring black people to his team’s games. Numerous media were quick to inventory Sterling’s history of racist pronouncements. PR then, for such an inveterate bigot, is not much of a concern.

Not so for Silver, a lawyer who has been with the NBA for over 20 years but became commissioner only in February. He called the recording “truly offensive and disturbing” and promised swift action, but then retreated to lawyerly restraint, citing the need for due process. Faced with a volatile situation with ramifications for all of sports (if not beyond), Silver was right to call time out.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who needs to run the clock out a little before taking his shot.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Take time to breathe in a crisis. What is important is not necessarily urgent, and vice versa. The ball is in Silver’s court now, which means he controls the clock. Acting rashly could lead to a costly turnover. Amid uniform denunciation and calls to separate Sterling permanently from professional basketball, Silver is facing an unprecedented predicament and needs time both to build a case for action and let the dust settle. Sterling has sued the NBA before and most certainly will again in the face of any disciplinary action from the league. Silver, with owners, players and fans among his constituencies, needs time to set up the final play of the game.

Snowden’s “Trap” for Putin Misses Its Mark

Vlad Snowden Snowdens Trap for Putin Misses Its Mark

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden is raising questions about state-sponsored citizen surveillance. No, this is not a repeat from last May. The former National Security Agency contractor, whose classified disclosures exposed a host of US global surveillance programs, is proving himself to be an equal opportunity agitator by taking aim at his homeland-in-exile, Russia, and his putative host, Vladimir Putin.

In what was widely dismissed as a propaganda stunt for the Russian president, Snowden showed up on Russian television on Putin’s annual call-in meeting with the nation. Appearing via a video link, Snowden asked Putin whether Russia spies on its citizens like the US does. The former KGB agent responded that Russia’s “special services are strictly controlled by the state and society, and their activity is regulated by law.” He added, for good measure, that Russia has neither the money nor the “technical devices” the US has.

Snowden himself followed up with a newspaper column to explain the ulterior motive for his appearance: He was hoping to trap Putin with a question that “cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program.” His motive, he said, was to spark a debate over Russia’s own surveillance programs. Fat chance of that happening in his adopted land.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Edward Snowden, whose naïve idealism could be his undoing.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Don’t believe your own hype. Edward Snowden wants to expand his crusade, doubtless fortified by world reaction to date. Whether hero or traitor, though, his stature in either capacity doesn’t travel well, nor might it live long. His disclosures of US spying did, in fact, ignite an international debate. No chance of that same scrutiny happening in Russia. Nor is Putin likely to care much if Snowden’s “trap” sparks global condemnation. Just ask Ukraine.

McCarthy invites scorn with anti-vaccine disavowal

jenny mccarthy 650x487 McCarthy invites scorn with anti vaccine disavowal

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Jenny McCarthy.

Looking to remake your image? Probably best not to try rewriting history, especially in the digital age. Ask Jenny McCarthy. The “View” co-host and onetime Playboy model has long been known for opposing vaccination, claiming that vaccines are related to autism and other ills, are overprescribed and generally responsible for more bad than good – all this counter not only to prevailng wisdom but also to decades of medical and scientific evidence.

With the recent resurgence of childhood diseases like measles , mumps and the like, perhaps McCarthy thought it was time to massage her record, which she did in a weekend op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times. “I am not ‘anti-vaccine,’” she stated unequivocally in her opener – followed by about 500 equivocating, obfuscating words and some selective omission.

McCarthy was immediately called out. A Time science writer she name-checked in her article penned a piece to fact-check her record, including previous statements. “You are either floridly, loudly, uninformedly antivaccine or you are the most grievously misunderstood celebrity of the modern era,” he wrote. “Your quote trail is far too long—and you have been far too wrong—for the truth not to be obvious.” In seeking to correct the record, McCarthy only confirmed it.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Jenny McCarthy, whose attempt at reinvention needs a shot in the arm.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Don’t run from your record. Whether for calculating PR reasons or with true sincerity, McCarthy might have had a change of heart about vaccination. But with her record of outspoken advocacy, she cannot possibly remake herself out of whole cloth. A better approach, if her motives are genuine, would be to show how her views have evolved. And blaming the media? Please. Like anyone else in the public eye, McCarthy cannot control how her public positions are defined. In PR, as often in life, before you can change, you must accept where you are.

Tech VC Plays Nice with Anarchist Group

kevinroseprotest Tech VC Plays Nice with Anarchist Group

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Google venture capitalist Kevin Rose.

The class warfare clashes between San Francisco’s tech-nauts and tech-nots continued this weekend with a protest outside the home of Google Ventures general partner Kevin Rose. But rather than escalate tensions, Rose, who also founded Digg, the news aggregator site, defused matters by establishing common ground with his detractors.

Descending on Rose’s Potrero Hill neighborhood Sunday, the anti-techies brought banners and flyers denouncing Rose as a “parasite” who “directs the flow of capital from Google into the tech startup bubble that is destroying San Francisco.” Identifying themselves as fed-up service workers and members of anarchist group “The Counterforce,” they outlined an agenda far bigger than spoiling a venture capitalists’s Sunday afternoon. In what amounts to a ransom note, they demanded that Google donate $3 billion “to an anarchist organization of our choosing. This money will then be used to create autonomous, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist communities throughout the Bay Area and Northern California.”

Rose, to his credit, responded with restraint, taking to Twitter to say he agreed  “that we need to solve rising rents, keep the SF culture, and crack down on landlords booting folks out” and that all San Franciscans “definitely need to figure out a way to keep the diversity.” Now, about that $3 billion…

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Google’s Kevin Rose, who kept his cool and didn’t play into a possible PR trap.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Called out in public? Don’t lash back. Not only might your antagonist be trying to goad you into doing or saying something foolish, you also don’t stand to win sympathy and support with a churlish response. Consider the messenger as well as the message. The Counterforce’s anti-tech manifesto reads a little unripe and more provocative than proactive. Rose, who has made a horrendous public gaffe before, might have learned from it. He comes off here as eminently reasonable and eager to seek common ground with a fringe group he doesn’t need to antagonize.

Google Saying Spying Allegations “Hard to Imagine” Calms No One

googlelogo Google Saying Spying Allegations Hard to Imagine Calms No One

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Google.

Much haranguing and hand-wringing has come in the wake of revelations of internet spying by the government, with the possible complicity (or willful ignorance) of the tech world’s biggest firms. But what if those firms themselves are spying on users and defending it as a right ot service? We’re looking at you, Google.

Michael Arrington, the tech venture capitalist and blogger who founded the industry-tracking Techcrunch blog, wrote recently “about that time Google spied on my gmail” in response to leaked information he received. The alleged breach, which Arrington is “nearly certain” occurred, drew a direct response from Google’s general counsel, Kent Walker, who answered the “serious allegation” noting that although Google’s terms of service “might legally permit such access, we have never done this and it’s hard for me to imagine circumstances where  we would investigate a leak in that way.”

Such equivocacy hardly quells concerns, but Google is not alone here. Arrington’s initial post came in response to word that Microsoft spied on Hotmail users in the interest of corporate security. (Other firms have also been cited.) But Microsoft followed its initial double-talk defense with an unambigiuous avowal that going forward it would not read user emails and instead refer matters to law enforcement when necessary. No word yet on whether Google got the message.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Google, whose top lawyer’s spying denial didn’t do the job.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Watch legalese. Google’s response here points up the dynamic tension between good lawyering and good PR. Corporate lawyers and imageminders both claim their firm’s best interests at heart. But in answering public criticism or accusations, the two sides  must work together to craft the right language. Lawyers shy away from absolute statements that might come back to haunt in litigation, while PR pros push stronger language that puts matters to rest. Each instance must be weighed on its own, keeping in mind that a non-denial denial satisfies no one.

Google Co-Founder Shows Why Honesty Isn’t Always the Best PR Policy

larrypage Google Co Founder Shows Why Honesty Isnt Always the Best PR Policy

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Google’s Larry Page.

Google co-founder Larry Page has a chronic voice condition that forces him to speak not much above a whisper. But what he says can still raise the roof.

Page, who is worth $32 billion, sat for an interview with Charlie Rose last week in Vancouver and confirmed a statement he has made before: He would rather another entrepreneur billionaire inherit his fortune than leave it to charity. As for a candidate, he mentioned Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and founder of Tesla, who aspires to send people to Mars with another company he runs, SpaceX. The interview was summarized in Wired and picked up on tech blogs.

Page’s point: That money in the hands of a forward-thinking entrepreneur at the helm of an enlightened company isn’t such a bad thing. In Musk’s case, Page said: “He wants to go to Mars. That’s a worthy goal.” Perhaps, but Page’s comments paint him more as a plutocrat, not a philanthropist.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Google co-founder Larry Page, who probably should have ducked what was a pretty loaded question.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Leave nuanced opinion to the Op-Ed page. While Larry Page might have a point, when conveyed in a soundbite the meaning is lost and the entire interview hijacked. Page spoke about many things to Rose, security and privacy among them. But what people will likely come away with is a less-than-favorable view of another Silicon Valley rich guy who wants to give his money to another rich guy. As another observer noted, does that make Page a donor, or an investor? Either way, this probably isn’t the sort of PR Page and his people wanted.

Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

mark zuckerberg Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

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

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had just about enough of the government meddling with his website and spying on his users. So last week he called a pal to complain – President Obama.

Zuck casually mentioned the call in a Facebook page post responding to the latest revelation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden (via activist journalist Glenn Greenwald). The story, which the NSA flatly denies, described how government computers masqueraded as Facebook servers to send malware that infected Facebook users’ machines in order to spy on them. The automated process meant the NSA could target millions of users.

In his post, Zuckerberg said he was “confused and frustrated” by the continuing reports of  government surveillance. “When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.”

The White House confirmed the conversation took place but offered nothing more, and nothing will really come of it. Zuck and his tech pals are in the right, of course, but powerless to do anything other than complain – loudly and visibly.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Zuckerberg, who, if immobilized, at least needs to show he’s good and steamed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Talk the walk. In this matter, there seems to be little else that Facebook and other Tech Titans can do, at least publicly. With each new damning revelation, the public trust in sites like Facebook dies a little more, and that directly and dramatically affects the bottom line. When Snowden’s leaks first hit the press, the implication was that Facebook et al were complicit in the spying. That taint has never quite dissipated from the  seemingly interminable storyline. Zuck reached out in an necessary symbolic gesture with his phone call to the President – but it probably ended with, “Thanks, Obama.”