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.

BOfA and Bono Team Up for Charity

 BOfA and Bono Team Up for Charity

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for BofA’s brand-building philanthropy.

When was the last time an activist rock star gave a standing ovation to a “too-big-to-fail” bank? That’s just what happened last week when U2 front man Bono extolled the generosity of Bank of America and joined CEO Brian Moynihan at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Moynihan and U2 frontman Bono announced a $10 million BofA commitment to RED, the AIDS charity co-founded by Bono. In a clever promotional twist, the bank will tie its donation to U2’s newest album release during the upcoming Superbowl. BofA agreed to pay for every download of the album’s song “Invisible” for 24 hours, an investment they will back with expensive Superbowl advertising.

Rarely have Moynihan and his bank basked in such a warm reception. Under the bright Davos sunshine, CNBC and The Financial Times (among other news media) took turns interviewing the Boston-based banker and his rock activist partner. The visual contrast was nearly as noteworthy as Bono complimenting the bank for its “game-changing influence.”

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for BofA’s brand-building philanthropy.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Regain trust by carefully picking your allies. Despite continuing efforts to engage in a public dialogue and foster good will, progress has been incremental over the past five years. In Davos last week, BofA wisely avoided interviews about its business. Instead, it joined a unique global health initiative and happily played back up to a true superstar. Well done, BoFA.

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 H&M, the sole clothing retailer set to advertise during the Superbowl. They’re going against heavyweights in the automotive, fast food and alcohol groups, but their $4 million gamble will likely pay off thanks to advance buzz on their commercial. In it, soccer star David Beckham, who has a line of underwear with H&M, will appear either in his briefs or naked (by TV standards) according to fan votes of #covered or #uncovered. This could be the first Superbowl in history with higher female than male ratings.

dimon The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, for telling CNBC that the expensive government legal cases against his bank were “unfair.” In swanky Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, Dimon said the bank, which paid $13 billion to settle claims over mortgage securities dealings and $7 billion more over hinky derivatives, power trading and overselling of credit card products, faced “two really bad options” between settling or fighting the cases. Going to court “would really hurt this company and that would have been criminal for me to subject our company to those kinds of issues.” Criminal as in, say, fraud? Better not to have picked up this gauntlet.

george zimmerman painting 300x235 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to George Zimmerman, acquitted of murder and now trying his hand at  “art.” Last July, Zimmerman was found not guilty of the 2012 murder of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. With a stack of hefty legal bills and job prospects presumably thin, Zimmerman has miraculously found his inner painter. His first piece, a blue flag with a patriotic verse painted on an 18 x 24-inch canvas, sold for more than $100,000 on eBay. His second work depicts prosecutor Angela Corey holding finger and thumb slightly apart with the caption “I have this much respect for the American judicial system – Angie C.” We fervently hope the art-buying world has even less than that for George.

 

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.

Walmart Chooses to Show Face Rather Than Lose It

 Walmart Chooses to Show Face Rather Than Lose It

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Walmart showing face.

Thanksgiving in America is a celebration of abundance, but not so for workers at Walmart. Just before the holiday break, petition group MoveOn.Org released a statement about Walmart  setting up a food drive to feed the hungry on Thanksgiving – not for the homeless or a charity bank but for their own workers.

A long-known fact that minimum wage is not a living wage has received special attention in the past year. McDonald’s employee budget sheet would have been laughable had the need for it not been so dire. Employees of fast food restaurants and retail stores are barely able to pay bills, buy food, clothe their families.

Yesterday, TV news magazine CBS Sunday Morning did a segment on “Fight for 15,” a campaign to raise minimum wage to at least $15 (the federal minimum wage starts at $7.25 and is adjusted at the state level). The report noted that “of all the corporations Sunday Morning reached out to, Walmart was the only one that would provide an interview.” While David Tovar, Walmart’s VP of Communications, was only quoted as saying that they “don’t want people to stay in entry-level jobs very long,” the fact that the demonized company allowed an interview was a bold move indeed.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) to Walmart for showing face toward an ugly accusation.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Silence is not always golden.”Guilty as charged” is the only conclusion the public can, and will, draw from a corporation that turns down a request for interview. Given the way the Sunday Morning segment was edited whether direct questions weren’t asked or weren’t answered is unclear but Walmart main PR point was made: Walmart creates jobs. Not the entire story, to be sure, but the PR task at hand was to remove the demon mask from the corporation. Keep the good face on and there may be reason for all to give thanks.

Tesla’s Damp Response to Fires

musk Teslas Damp Response to Fires

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distincktly OK) for Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk.

Tesla Motors’ founder and CEO Elon Musk has good reason to be peeved. Just months after a federal safety agency named his company’s Model S the safest car ever made, a spate of highly-publicized battery fires – if three equals a spate – has triggered an investigation by the same agency, sunk Tesla’s stock by more than one-third and prompted analysts to pull back from bullish sales forecasts.

Musk, a serial entrepreneur who previously started PayPal and the aerospace company Space X, took to Twitter, Tesla’s blog and the media to defend his company, whose all-electric vehicles are visionary in more ways than one. Calling the weeks since the fires “torture,” he sounded all the right notes – the fires occurred after accidents that no vehicle could withstand, no one was injured (in fact, no one has ever been injured in a Model S crash), and the vehicle’s design prevented far worse outcomes. Tesla even amended its warranty to cover fire loss in a crash, while noting that it didn’t really need to.

Certainly all those points are worth making. But Musk’s prideful, slightly prickly defense of his company and its flagship product omits a key element of the classic crisis PR response – a measure of self-effacing concern that might preserve its goodwill.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for a zealously passionate Elon Musk, for wearing his car on his sleeve, but not his heart.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Being smart counts more than being right. In a crisis, don’t let your desire for vindication cloud your judgment. You can be 100 percent in the right and still lose the PR battle if you fail to show balance and an appropriate measure of humility. Stories like the Tesla battery fires are driven by emotion and can’t be countered with facts alone. Tesla’s reputation, and likely its stock price, would be faring better now if its founder had walked a less defensive, more conciliatory line in addressing the matter.

Lululemon Founder’s Gaffe Gets Worse With “Apology”

 Lululemon Founders Gaffe Gets Worse With Apology

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Chip Wilson and Lululemon Athletica.

Chip Wilson, Lululemon founder, apologizes for comments,” was the gist of headlines last Friday, when the top-grossing athletic apparel company posted a video on YouTube. In it, Wilson addressed comments he’d made during an interview that resulted in much hue and cry. But was this video an actual apology?

An acknowledgment was certainly warranted. Wilson’s interview with Bloomberg touched on a costly product recall due to fabric sheerness. Wilson’s explanation? “Quite frankly, some bodies don’t work for [Lululemon pants],” he said.

Cue an onslaught of bloodcurdling cries for Wilson to apologize for size-ist insensitivity. In this age of social media, a video is generally the way companies choose to reach the masses. In the video, Wilson does say he’s sorry…to his staff. “I’m sad for the people of Lululemon who I care so much about that have really had to face the brunt of my actions,” he says. “I take responsibility for all that has occurred and the impact that has had on you.” He asks those who have made Lululemon what it is today to “stay in the conversation that is above the fray and prove that the culture you have built cannot be chipped away.” Chipped away by Chip’s absent apology, perhaps?

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Chip Wilson and Lululemon Athletica, for compounding this fracture.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Apologies work when they are clear and direct. Mere acknowledgement of having fouled up, or apologizing to those who sell your yoga pants for now having difficulty selling said yoga pants to angry women, is not an apology. If making a video for the public don’t address it to staff or insiders , instead acknowledge why people are angry and what role you have played in that. If that fails, prepare to make a follow up video, this time apologizing for the poor apology.