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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Malala Yousafzai, for drawing international attention back to the nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped three months ago by militant group Boko Haram. Though President Goodluck Jonathan said the Nigerian government is working hard to find the girls, there seems to be little progress. In addition to having a press conference during which Yousafzai appealed directly to the militants to “release my sisters,” she met with some of the parents of the girls—something President Jonathan has yet to do.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Oscar Pistorius, who was involved in an altercation in a nightclub last weekend. Pistorius claimed that a drunken patron verbally attacked him about his trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. The patron alleges otherwise. The real question: Does Pistorius have no one in his entourage who might clue him in to the fact that hitting the nightclub for a pint, while one is on trial for murder, is inadvisable from a PR standpoint?

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Comcast for their limp response to an incredibly bad customer service interaction that promptly went viral. Ryan Block posted eight of the 20 minutes he spent arguing with a Comcast rep who refused to disconnect his service as requested. Social media, which eats this kind of thing with a large spoon, spread the clip like wildfire. Comcast merely said the employee’s behavior was unacceptable and that they would contact Block to apologize. No word as to whether they’ll honor Block’s request and disconnect him, though.

Fox Network’s Low Ratings Highlighted Before Upfronts

 Fox Network’s Low Ratings Highlighted Before Upfronts

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Fox network (pictured: advert for Fox’s upcoming series Gotham).

This week, advertisers flock to New York City for upfronts—parties, meet-and-greets with celebrities, and previews from networks of new fall TV offerings. This is when advertisers decide which networks and shows will share nearly $16 billion in ad dollars. Among talk of the upfronts, one recurring theme emerges: how badly the Fox network needs a hit.

A series of hits, actually, to make up for once mighty shows that have dropped precipitously in ratings. Take American Idol, which during one season had 30 million viewers glued to Fox. Now it averages less than 7 million. Another former hit, Glee, is also viewer anemic. “Fox has the most to prove,” said David Campanelli, senior VP and director for national television at Horizon Media to the New York Times.

Toward that end, Fox started buzz with Gotham, their big gun, which tells the story of a young Bruce Wayne, pre-Batman cape, and a young(er) Jim Gordon, pre-commissioner title. The drama melds popular TV themes of cop show with teens (yes, there are young versions of Catwoman, Joker, et al), and a hit movie genre, comic book heroes. Gotham’s trailer does look like one of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Will it save Fox? A few days, a few cocktails, and a few billion dollars will tell.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Fox, if the network can turn the conversation from their need to advertisers’ want.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Ostriches can’t just take their heads out of the sand; they have to do something. Fox could say things are tough all over—they certainly aren’t the only network feeling the sting of failing shows, viewers who fast forward through commercials while watching recorded programs, and other ad-dollar losses. But Fox is suffering more than most networks, and their PR job is to generate buzz about Gotham and other shows, and get it off their ratings plunge.

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.

Hotel Group Suffers Via Association with Sharia Law

 Hotel Group Suffers Via Association with Sharia Law

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for The Dorchester Collection hotel chain.

What’s the connection between Hollywood’s celebrity elite and an ancient law that punishes homosexuality with death by stoning? The Dorchester Collection, a string of luxury hotels including the famed Beverly Hills Hotel and other five-star lodging used by A-listers who have launched an aggressive boycott.

The problem is not the hotels themselves but their ownership by the Brunei Investment Agency. Recently, Brunei adopted the Sharia Law, which punishes theft with the severing of limbs, and adultery and homosexuality with death by stoning.

Celebrities and bold-faced names protested with a boycott of the Brunei-owned hotel chain. Understandable, though questionable; will oil-rich Brunei be affected by Richard Branson’s vow that no one from the Virgin family will stay at Dorchester hotels? No, but hotel employees will suffer, as Christopher Cowdray, CEO of the Dorchester Collection, pointed out. “During this challenging time, we have been deeply touched by the tremendous support received from our loyal guests and longstanding business partners who recognize that Dorchester Collection hotels are part of the fabric of their social communities.” In other words, guilt by association should not be punishable by economic death.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for The Dorchester Collection hotel chain.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Just deliver the facts. There are times when companies may be adversely affected by their owners’ actions. In this case, there’s almost nothing the Dorchester Collection can do but what they did, which is to point out that they didn’t adopt the Sharia Law in Brunei, and there’s no reason their own employees should suffer for it. That said, financial boycott and the pressure of negative PR sometimes wins out. Will it here? It’s unlikely. If only to keep from losing face, Brunei will probably maintain their position. Dorchester walks a dangerous line between siding with an unpopular owner and maintaining business; best to keep quiet and hope for a sale to a less controversial owner.

Police Dept Goes from NY Hashtag to Global Bashtag

 Police Dept Goes from NY Hashtag to Global Bashtag

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the NYPD’s #myNYPD social media campaign.

Two weeks ago, the New York Police Department launched a goodwill campaign on social media, asking people to post photos of themselves with police officers with the hashtag #myNYPD. The hashtag soon turned into what the Associated Press cleverly and appropriately termed a “bashtag.”

Members of the Occupy movement were quick to share snaps of violent interactions with police. “Here the #NYPD engages with its community members, changing hearts and minds one baton at a time,” read the caption of one post. The campaign may started locally, but it quickly went national, then global. Twitter users in Los Angeles showed police in menacing riot gear. Social media users in Greece posted photos of police brutality against protestors with the hashtag #myELAS, and users in Mexico started #MiPolicíaMexicana.

At first the response from the NYPD was typical New York attitude. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton waved aside the Occupy photos as old news and said, “I kind of welcome the attention… We really broke the [social media] numbers.” When the backlash continued and went worldwide, a more somber response came from Deputy Chief Kim Y. Royster, who said, “The NYPD is creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community…this is an open dialogue good for our city.” Really?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the NYPD, whose social media campaign has embarrassed them and their law-enforcement brethren worldwide.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Not every PR tool flatters the user. Social media can work, in the right hands and when correctly implemented. Perhaps the NYPD could use social media for, say, tips on crime. But it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that this naïve attempt at generating positive PR image could be twisted. Royster’s key word was “effective,” and this use of social media clearly wasn’t.

 

Consumers Didn’t “Like” General Mills’ Arbitration Clause

 Consumers Didnt Like General Mills Arbitration Clause

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for General Mills for a bad move quickly righted.

Anyone involved with PR and decision-making at General Mills was busier than the Pope conducting Easter services this weekend. The food company, one of the world’s largest and owner of brands including Pillsbury, Yoplait, Betty Crocker, Nature’s Way, and many more found itself working overtime on the holiday weekend to correct a mistake that bred bad PR like wildfire.

At issue was a change made last week to General Mills’ legal policy regarding consumers’ ability to take legal action against the company or one of its brands. The new terms seemed to state that even “liking” the company’s Facebook page in order to get a coupon meant consumers waived the right to sue.

Public condemnation was, predictably, fast and furious. General Mills tried to say that the policy had been “grossly mischaracterized,” but they quickly apologized and reversed the policy. “We’re sorry we even started down on this path,” wrote General Mills representative Kirstie Foster on the company’s blog. No translation of legalese necessary there.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for General Mills for a bad move quickly righted.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When consumers go on the warpath, declare peace. Lately PRs have been confronted with company heads who let personal opinion affect brand profiles, as with Brendan Eich and Mozilla. The case with General Mills is more of a classic demonstration of “The customer is always right.” When it became very quickly clear that a business decision angered the people who buy their products, their new policy decision was reversed. That’s the business side. For PRs, the job was striking the right sort of apology: brief explanation for the actions taken, a fast reversal, a human being making a plainly-worded apology. Good ingredients for PR repair after an idea turned out to be half-baked.

Lack of ‘Frozen’ Merch Means Chilly PR for Disney

princess elsa 150x150 Lack of ‘Frozen’ Merch Means Chilly PR for Disney

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Disney. (Pictured: Princess Elsa from Frozen.)

Call it a “good news, bad news” scenario. Disney is currently enjoying the success of its movie Frozen becoming the highest-grossing animated film of all time. They can’t gloat for too long, though; the news has shifted from accolades to tears of frustration and temper tantrums, both from children and adults. The problem? A shortage of Frozen merchandise.

Social media hath no fury like mommies frustrated by not being able to buy their children what they want. Specifically, the Princess Elsa dress – a sparkly blue gown like the one worn by Frozen’s heroine. The movie was already a hit, the DVD is now out and reaching an even larger audience, and worldwide demand for the dress far exceeds supply. The costume, usually around $50 in the US, is apparently going for over $1000 on ebay. If you can find one.

When has Disney ever underestimated the popularity of one of its movies? It’s possible that this film became bigger than even the Mouse House foresaw. But with frustrations raging online and in the media from mothers who can’t get what their kids want, Disney had better grant some wishes soon.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Disney. The low grade is not for running out of merchandise, but because running out implies underestimating their own success, and being unable to rectify the situation.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Spin! Spin like a princess at the ball, and then be a fairy godmother, granting your consumers’ wishes. First thing should be a statement saying how fantastic it is that your widgets were so popular that demand for them exceeded supply. Second is getting more widgets out quickly, in this case before a sweet animated movie invokes episodes more like The Hunger Games. This is a problem every company dreams of, but action keeps it from turning into a PR nightmare.

Wall Street Takes Another Hit With “Flash Boys”

 Wall Street Takes Another Hit With Flash Boys

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Flash Boys author Michael Lewis.

Hell may freeze over before Wall Street’s PR image improves. From the scandalous decisions that began the financial collapse to legal damages that seem, to the general public, hardly punitive and Martin Scorsese’s excess-laden Wolf of Wall Street, could the image of the financial sector get any worse? Yes, and a lot, thanks to the PR blitz for Michael Lewis’s latest book Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt.

Lewis is the author of several bestsellers, including Liar’s Poker and Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. Flash Boys has been boiled down to a single crystal-clear, seismically charged sound byte: The United States stock market is rigged. Thus began segments on 60 Minutes, The Today Show, and a host of other TV shows, newspaper and magazine articles – enough media exposure to sink the stock market all over again.

Naturally, there’s been blowback from Wall Street, though anyone in the stock market is so mistrusted by the public that protests only lend credence to Lewis’s claims. Others in the stock sector have said Lewis is right and are becoming whistleblowers. While Wall Street’s image continues to plummet, Michael Lewis’s stock is on a high.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for author Michael Lewis (and an “F,” Full Fiasco, for Wall Street).

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Harmonic convergences can be planned. A hot topic, a ripe scapegoat, an author with a talent for explaining complex issues simply… Yes, these are all dream situations, but flaks can work their own version of stock market magic. Timing the book’s publication after the release of The Wolf of Wall Street may have been coincidental, but was more likely a skilled PR team working Wolf like a peloton. Lewis’s elevator pitch, as well as his Everyman-friendly explanations, sell themselves – after being honed. A perfect campaign; perhaps Wall Street should hire Lewis’s team.

Times Gives Credit Where It’s Due (ie, Not to Gwyneth)

 Times Gives Credit Where Its Due (ie, Not to Gwyneth)

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Katherine Woodward Thomas, who owes the NY Times big time.

Though the “paper of record” has suffered a few black eyes in the last decade, the New York Times does its due diligence. In an article about the hot new catchphrase “conscious uncoupling” used by Gwyneth Paltrow last week to announce her separation from husband Chris Martin, the Times discovered the person who really launched the phrase: psychotherapist, relationship expert and author Katherine Woodward Thomas.

Thanks to the Times, Thomas is now enjoying renewed fame. Thomas is the author of Calling In The One, a self-help book that described how Thomas found her husband. Years later, after the couple parted, Thomas created a “conscious uncoupling” workshop.

Though Paltrow failed to cite Thomas as the source of the phrase in her now-famous divorce announcement –  a blog post on her website Goop – Thomas does in the Times. She attributes it to a friend who used it to describe his drama-free divorce, and Thomas asked if she could use it. Thomas also mentions that she’d been in talks with her publisher, Crown, about a book on the subject. After this article, it’s likely that Crown will be consciously rushing this one to the printer.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Katherine Woodward Thomas, who owes the NY Times big time.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Make sure credit is given where it’s due. It’s unclear from the Times article whether Crown alerted the Times to the true source of the catchphrase, or whether this was the result of a reporter doing extra digging. If it’s the former, good work. Though the term conscious uncoupling is mostly being made fun of, it’s of the moment and in the media. The originator can now ride the wave to sales. If, however, the truth was revealed not by a diligent flak but a curious reporter, someone at Crown has some explaining to do.

The PR of Pulling the Plug Before Opening Night

 The PR of Pulling the Plug Before Opening Night

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Radio City Music Hall’s “Heart and Lights.”

Radio City Music Hall’s big draw is the Christmas Spectacular, but owner Madison Square Garden Company had big plans for a similar annual attraction for the spring tourist season. “Heart and Lights,” a musical production starring the Rockettes, is a $25 million extravaganza that was set to debut this Thursday. Instead, the show has closed before it’s even begun.

An article in yesterday’s New York Times details the fallout: millions in lost ad revenue and ticket refunds, the theater dark for five weeks. What has been gained is immunity from reviews that might have killed the show permanently.

Another gain is bad press. The first question facing MSGC executive chairman James L. Dolan was whether to let the show run and work out its kinks in previews, though apparently the problems were too large. Decision made, the next issue is the explanation of why the multi-million dollar show would not go on. Publicist Leslie Sloane Zelnick chose to let Dolan come relatively clean in an attempt to control fallout. A win, or a loss? More like a toss up.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Radio City Music Hall’s “Heart and Lights.” Now there are two storylines to fix.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When the news is bad, you’re less damned if you do than if you don’t. Rarely will producers shut down a show as expensive as this a mere week before opening night. There’s no way to contain press that bad, except to open the door on it. In this way a flak can form the script: True, the show isn’t great – but MSGC would rather take the loss and put out a better show. Or so you hope the media and public will believe. Failing that, all will be forgotten by the show’s new opening night, a year from now.

To read the Times article, click here.