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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers PR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to CVS Caremark, the national drugstore chain, for its decision to stop selling tobacco products. Cigarettes in particular have been linked to diseases from cancer to high blood pressure and stroke – something that the country’s largest retail pharmacy just couldn’t reconcile with its broader mission of making its customers healthier. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose,” said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark. The announcement was immediately hailed by everyone from President Obama to the American Cancer Society. CVS is the first such retailer to take the plunge and it will cost the company an estimated $2 billion in revenue, a small fraction of overall sales but no chump change.

SOCHI DOG 570 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers PR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Sochi Winter Olympics organizers and host city, where countless stray dogs are being killed ahead of today’s opening of the games. The strays were pets or offspring of pets left by families whose homes were razed to make way for Olympic venues. A Russian billionaire is financing belated rescue attempts but the culling continues – a grisly counterpoint to the festive atmosphere organizers would rather we see. The government claims the strays came for the food construction workers gave them, and stayed. The International Olympic Committee says no “healthy” dogs are being destroyed. Maybe, but this is certain: the round-up is just another PR fail for the most expensive (and worst planned) games ever.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers THE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Bill Nye, more popularly known as “The Science Guy,” who bothered debating science vs creationism with Ken Ham, President of the Creation Museum. The argument had rather predictable results –  no one was swayed from their original side. But apparently geeks and religious types still enjoy a good argument: the 800 audience tickets sold out in minutes, and 3 million people tuned in to watch on television.

As Facebook Turns 10, Zuckerberg Comes of Age

 

 As Facebook Turns 10, Zuckerberg Comes of Age

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook turned 10 years old this week, and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO of the world’s most successful social networking platform, used that milestone to come of age.

Zuckerberg, the 29-year-old entrepreneur who started Facebook in 2004, has never been much of a media fan. For Facebook’s birthday, however, he participated in several interviews, including NBC’s Today Show and Bloomberg Businessweek. Though he briefly alluded to the early days, he spent the bulk of the interviews speaking about the network’s massive cultural impact and detailing current and future business plans (three-, five-, and ten-year plans, to be exact). The result? He came off as a successful and confident executive at the helm, adroitly steering Facebook into its next decade.

This evolution of his persona is significant both for Zuckerberg, and for Facebook. In the past, he’s been depicted as a brilliant but arrogant smart aleck whose tech prowess eclipsed his business acumen. In recent months, too, media coverage has focused on how Facebook may be losing traction with teenagers, the base on which it was built. These interviews gave Zuckerberg a broad platform to speak directly to multiple stakeholders at what may be a turning point in the company’s young history.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Maturity looks good on him.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: The media can offer redemption as well as criticism. Several things conspired to make this a PR success. Zuckerberg’s reluctance to do media has worked in his favor. When he does have something to say, the media listens. He pinned his interviews to Facebook’s 10th birthday, a built-in news hook. And he was clever about the venues he chose: the Today Show speaks to millions of (older) users and potential users, while Bloomberg Businessweek took care of the business side of the Facebook story. It’s a winning combination that artfully conveyed his message: Mark Zuckerberg is a big boy now.

Soda Endorsement Lands Johansson in Hot Water

 

ad 124673358 150x150 Soda Endorsement Lands Johansson in Hot Water

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


A seemingly routine product promo has put Scarlett Johansson in the middle of a geopolitical mess.

Johansson recently agreed to front SodaStream, the popular beverage maker. As part of the campaign, the 29-year-old actress will be featured in a commercial this weekend on Superbowl Sunday, one of the most widely viewed events in US television. The deal, however, is causing a furor. Oxfam, the UK-based international charity, has harshly criticized Johansson, saying SodaStream’s facilities in the hotly contested West Bank region of Jerusalem are an affront to the work Oxfam does on behalf of Palestinians.

It’s a particularly big “oops” for Johansson, who’s been an Oxfam ambassador since 2007. In a public war of words, Oxfam said businesses that operate in Israeli settlements “further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.” Johansson countered that SodaStream’s policy of providing equal pay and benefits to Israeli and Palestinian employees shows it wants peace between Israel and Palestine.

Johansson claims she “never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance.” However, there’s no disputing she’s there now.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Scarlett Johansson, whose “belief” that SodaStream is helping build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians strains credulity. SodaStream makes soda – not peace agreements.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Due diligence applies to celebrities too. In 2009, a similar scene played out between Oxfam and Sex and the City actress Kristin Davis, who endorsed a cosmetics company with a West Bank factory. She cut ties with the company after negative media pressure. With Oxfam’s position well known, it seems unlikely Johansson’s camp didn’t expect their reaction. She also could have spoken privately with Oxfam before inking the SodaStream deal. Instead, she’s choosing to battle a charity in the public eye. The result? The unfortunate impression that she’s willing to imperil years of good works for a lucrative spokesperson gig.

Old Spice’s “Oedipal Nightmare” Is PR Dream

 Old Spice’s Oedipal Nightmare Is PR Dream

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) to Old Spice and it’s “Momsong” campaign.

Old Spice, that old seadog of an aftershave, has been around since before World War II.  Little surprise that, with “75 years of experience helping guys improve their mansmells” and a lot of awards for their clever adverts, the Old Spice marketing team has done it again.

As part of its new “Smellcome to Manhood” campaign, Old Spice began airing an attention-grabbing commercial called Momsong this week. In it, mothers prowl around their teenage sons who are out on dates, bemoaning the day “Old Spice sprayed them into men.” Moms hide behind curtains, hang onto car bumpers, and pop out of pull-out couches while their sons obliviously flirt with the fairer sex.

If it sounds odd, that’s because it is. Some of the adjectives used to describe it? “Freaky,” “creepy,” and “bizarre” – and, nearly universally, “hilarious.” Momsong is unquestionably strange, but it’s also the perfect mix of witty and weird. Most importantly, it’s gotten people talking. In just three days, the commercial garnered more than 1 million YouTube views.

Momsong isn’t the first commercial coup for Old Spice, a division of Proctor & Gamble. Although the brand name’s most iconic figure is probably the duffel-laden sailor returning from sea into the arms of a waiting woman, Old Spice has always excelled at marketing its line of body products. Add Momsong to the repertoire.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Old Spice, whose “Oedipal nightmare” is a PR dream come true.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Taking a chance on unusual ads is not for the faint of heart, but it’s something many companies consider under pressure to stand out. Old Spice gets away with wacky commercials because its name is embedded in American culture, and because it’s known for an unusual advertising approach. Lesser known companies should do careful market research and not skimp on the focus groups. A zany ad campaign can make – or break – a brand.

 

Will Nigella’s Saucy Image Burn in Court Case?

Nigella Lawson 150x150 Will Nigellas Saucy Image Burn in Court Case?

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Nigella Lawson.

It’s been a grim year for the queens of cookery. First Paula Deen was disgraced when part of a court deposition brought down her multi-million dollar empire and cost her all but one of her many sponsorships. Now Nigella Lawson finds herself in court, facing accusations of being a cocaine addict.

The case is not against Lawson herself. Charges have been brought against Francesca and Lisa Grillo, two sisters who were housekeepers to Nigella Lawson and her now ex husband  Charles Saatchi.  The sisters worked for the famous couple for over ten years, but were recently accused of fraud after spending nearly $1.15 million on Saatchi’s credit cards. The Grillos allege that they were allowed to use the cards by Saatchi to cover up Lawson’s drug abuse.

Will the accusations cause the same fall from grace that Deen suffered? It’s unlikely. PRs have analyzed both women and point first to Nigella’s saucy image as a saving grace. With her sexy cookery presentations, tales of drug use will hardly shock her constituency. Her following may even excuse it in sympathy for putting up with an abusive husband.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Nigella Lawson. While no one needs a day in court, she may walk out of chambers unscathed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know when to employ PR damage control. In the case of Paula Deen, outside PR experts should have been hired immediately; bad press after all can be minimized. Is Nigella Lawson the next Paula Deen? No. The news is scandalous but such is her brand equity she can take a couple of hits, after all she  has public sympathy on her side. Weigh image, consumer, and reaction; then decide if it’s time to let a pro step in.

Martha Stewart’s Bad PR Continues with Holiday Layoffs

 Martha Stewarts Bad PR Continues with Holiday Layoffs

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Martha Stewart Omnimedia

An unwritten rule in publishing used to be no layoffs between November and January. No company wanted to appear either heartless or desperate and ruin employees’ holidays. But just as print gives way to digital, so the old rules are broken in favor of the first law of business: survival of the fittest. And so last Thursday, Martha Stewart Omnimedia terminated 100 employees, roughly a quarter of its staff, two weeks before Christmas.

The move itself isn’t that big a surprise for a company that has been losing money steadily in recent years. Ad pages in MSO magazines are down, and the company ceased publication of two titles, Everyday Food and Whole Living, earlier this year. Television productions have also lost revenue.

While the terminations may save some money, the timing of them does nothing to stanch the flow of negative publicity for MSO including the recent court case with Macy’s. Now come terminations at the behest of new MSO CEO Daniel Dienst, described as a “veteran turnaround expert” by the Wall Street Journal. Stewart released the quote, “Dan has specific expertise helping companies run efficiently and productively.” This season Martha’s holiday cheer gives rise to nothing but scorn for the 100 employees whose got a gift wrapped pink slip for Christmas.

PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Martha Stewart Omnimedia.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Appearances can be aggrieving. When taking a company’s bottom line into consideration, factor in customer reaction. Martha Stewart caters to female consumers – specifically, homemakers. Really specifically, women who wouldn’t want their joyous holidays turned lean after being fired by a Scrooge. The timing for this could not have been worse. Tough decisions need to be made, no doubt, but timing in cases like this really is everything.

Lululemon Founder Steps Down After PR Gaffe

 Lululemon Founder Steps Down After PR Gaffe

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Lululemon, for taking a drastic measure.

Time was a company founder could be forced out of the corner office by flagging sales, tumbling stocks – the usual business problems. But with the advent of the Internet, one bad statement can take a company down fast. This is what Chip Wilson, founder and chairman of Lululemon Athletica, found out the hard way.

Yesterday the company announced that Wilson resigned as chairman of the board of directors after a series of PR gaffes that will make the textbooks. The upscale yoga and exercise apparel company initially irked its cult-like following with product issues. Wilson blamed some women’s bodies for not “working with” their designs.

His comments went viral and were met with demands for an apology. Wilson did apologize – to Lululemon staff for having to deal with the results of his actions. Insult, meet injury.

Lululemon was also a case study in crafting a devoted following. They felt betrayed. The logical solution was to serve a head on a platter. Wilson will remain on the board, but he’s been replaced by Laurent Potdevin, recent president of Toms Shoes. It’s suspected that Potdevin’s tenure with that socially conscious company will help put Lululemon back on track.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Lululemon, for taking a drastic measure to calm some insulted customers.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Chivalry is not dead. At the heart of the Lululemon fiasco was a man who insulted his female constituency by blaming his product’s failure on their bodies. How to win them back? Show them that the company stands by its customers. Why, they’d sooner make their founder resign than let consumers feel bad! Desperate times call for drastic measures – none of which would have been necessary had Wilson not kept in mind the most basic principle of business: The customer is always right.

Amazon Drones: Bezos’ Folly or Smart PR?

 Amazon Drones: Bezos Folly or Smart PR?

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Distinctly OK) for Amazon.

Last week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos gave CBS news program 60 Minutes access to the world’s supply store, boasting that some day, “Anything you want on Earth, you’re going to get from us.” He showed how he envisions customers will get things, too, unveiling his grand plan for delivery: drones.

Yes, Amazon plans to use small flying machines programmed to deliver that must-have item to your door. Bezos’ calm delivery and demonstration of a drone model indicated that this wasn’t a joke, though it seems to have been taken as such.

The problems with drone delivery, including entanglement in trees and phone wires and the drones’ limited weight capacity made the idea ripe for humor. One meme shows men shooting rifles with the caption, “What’re you boys doing? Hunting for Christmas presents.” A fake Amazon delivery attempt notice reads, “Your package has been destroyed along with the drone after it strayed into restricted airspace.” Amazon got an infomercial on a news program by allowing unveiling a surprise that may have made been the butt of jokes but also got people talking.

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

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Cultivate mystique and draw back the curtains – briefly. Amazon’s operations and Bezos’ strategies were recently revealed, in a not entirely pleasing light, in a book called The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. Two ways to deal with negative publicity: fight it, or distract from it. In this case, Bezos unveiled a pie-in-the-sky idea, complete with cute flying prototype. Insane or inspired? It hardly matters; whether people are joking about it or hoping for it, a week later they’re still talking about Amazon.

Memo to Staff: Use Yahoo Mail – Just Not Like This

yahoomail Memo to Staff: Use Yahoo Mail   Just Not Like This

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Yahoo’s not-so-internal messaging.

When internal corporate missives leak out to the light of day, the results can be embarrassing in more ways than one. Yahoo is the latest case study. On the heels of the much-panned redesign of Yahoo Mail, an internal email from two Yahoo VPs divulged that not even employees care to use the company’s flagship product.

The leaked message asks employees – not for the first time – to ditch Microsoft Outlook, the workhorse of corporate email, in favor of Yahoo Mail for their business accounts. To date, just 25 percent have and to win over the holdouts, the authors turned to humor.

The writers joke, cajole, entreat: “Using corp mail from the Y Mail web interface is remarkably feature rich,” goes the note. “Feeling that little tingle? Take a deep breath, you can do this. We want you on board, sailor!”

Creative, yes. But effective? How many 600-word emails from corporate do you read – that is, before they leak to the outside?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Yahoo Mail’s product VPs, for an object lesson in why internal communication sometimes doesn’t stay that way.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When communicating write for the front page. Your carefully crafted internal memo could land there, to opposite effect. This one in particular begged to be leaked. The writers wanted to be clever, appeal to the average Yahooan’s irreverence and sense of fun. Perhaps they did. But they also exposed, and potentially worsened, what appears to be the company’s disillusioned corporate culture.  Content of the message aside, email, to paraphrase Churchill, is the worst form of communication, except for all the other forms of communication that have been tried from time to time. Use it sparingly and keep it brief. Chances are it will outlive you.

Gaga’s Ho-Hum Album Sales

 Gagas Ho Hum Album Sales

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

The launch of Lady Gaga‘s third album, ARTPOP, continues: with events such as a shopping tie-in with retail clothing giant H&M  a massive artRave album release party , the chatter of the spectacles and the so-called “flying dress” space suit – early  reports indicate that the mega-marketed album is, well, kind of a flop.

So how has ARTPOP performed? The album did debut at number one on the Billboard music charts, with 258,000 in sale and Pitchfork.com provided comparative numbers: 250-300,000 is typical for chart-topping pop stars but Gaga’s previous album, Born This Way sold an astonishing 1.1 million albums in its first week of release.

Theories abound: sales may have been affected by sharing limelight with mega-star Katy Perry, comeback kid Britney Spears, and Disney child gone wild Miley Cyrus. Her songs are not as strong as before, her dress  is not as shocking and finally the suggestion that she is overexposed. Will these ho-hum sales be a blip for Gaga, or a slide down from Olympus?

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

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Ride out the rough times. With innovation comes imitators; at first, outrageous Gaga was considered an innovator by those too young to remember Madonna’s cone bra. Those falling from great heights should refrain from public panicked gestures that signal flailing, such as Gaga recently firing her longtime manager. Carry on as planned and ride out the storm. After all, Madonna’s still around, isn’t she?