Sterling Crashes and Burns in CNN Interview

 Sterling Crashes and Burns in CNN Interview

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Donald Sterling.

If ever you’re compared to the Hindenberg, it’s a safe bet to assume something went terribly, terribly wrong.

That was how one CNN anchor described his network’s exclusive interview with Donald Sterling, the embattled owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Last month, Sterling was banned for life from the National Basketball Association, including his own team’s games, after audio recordings surfaced of him making racist statements. After weeks of silence, Sterling agreed to be interviewed by Anderson Cooper on Monday.

As he sat with Cooper sans handlers, the 80-year-old Sterling seemed unaware he was plummeting from frying pan to fire. He tried to blame his woes on Magic Johnson, the NBA hall-of-famer he insulted in the first place and who, Sterling said, told him everything would be all right. He admitted that his original comments were made in pursuit of sex with a woman 50 years his junior. Worst, he made another seemingly racist statement about African Americans’ philanthropic efforts, or lack thereof.

“What this was to PR, the Hindenberg was to blimps,” CNN’s Bill Weir said, while The Washington Post grimly noted it was “a study in damage control gone wrong.” Variety said Sterling  “gave the impression of somebody who was not mentally clicking on all cylinders” and that “the erratic, strange performance…will be studied in crisis public-relations classes for years to come.”

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Donald Sterling, who may be long in the tooth but who still hasn’t learned to keep his mouth shut.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: “No Comment” is a PR strategy.  Sometimes a situation is so incendiary that the only recourse is to lie low until the heat dies down. There are (at least) two hard-and-fast criteria for walking into the flames: be absolutely certain that your messages will clarify or put the crisis in context, and be able to deliver them expertly. In Sterling’s case, he failed on both counts.

Damage Control Handbook: When Celebrities Attack

 Damage Control Handbook: When Celebrities Attack

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Beyoncé, Jay Z, and Solange Knowles.

Publicists have always tried to control celebrity clients’ appearances and interviews; it reduces the need to break out the damage control handbook later. These days it’s especially important, when social media can go mad with, say, footage of Solange Knowles, sister of mega-star Beyoncé, attacking her rap icon brother-in-law Jay Z.

On Monday, social media went ablaze with a video showing a woman reported to be Knowles kicking and punching a man believed to be Jay Z. The video was security camera footage from an elevator at the Standard Hotel in New York. “Reported to be,” “believed to be,” “apparently”—in other words, nothing has been confirmed.

Nothing has been denied, either, and lack of denial is as good as a confirmation; were these not the people in question, flaks and lawyers would have responded with all the threatening impact of the Wildlings on Game of Thrones. So far the only comment has come from the hotel, “shocked and disappointed” about the release of the security camera tape. (They’ll need to go into damage control, too, to regain guests’ trust.) As time passes with no response from PRs, minor celebs opine, social media pundits make jokes, and the problem lingers… For now.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Beyoncé, Jay Z, and Solange Knowles.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Damage Control Rule #1: Think before you make a statement. Issues such as this require a huddle with all of the celebs’ representatives. Stick to the facts within your own confidential conversation, and then agree upon a plausible explanation that will douse the flames of interest. A misunderstanding; too many cocktails; people are making too much of this. Most important? Keep your clients quiet. The alternate route is to say nothing; it’s new page in the handbook, and one that allows the story to remain alive, but only for the few days it takes for social media to move on to the next viral trend.

BP’s New PR Tactic Is Its Own Disaster

unnamed 150x150 BPs New PR Tactic Is Its Own Disaster

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

Energy company BP is shifting PR gears. In 2010, after the Deepwater Horizon disaster that left 11 oil rig workers dead and the gulf off Louisiana slick with millions of gallons of oil, the company’s PR was geared entirely toward apologies and vows to right the wrongs done. A massive cleanup effort was launched to save the coastline. Payments were promised to the many businesses affected – some perhaps irreparably, such as those of independent fishermen whose catches were contaminated.

The days of apology are apparently over. An article in the weekend edition of the New York Times illustrates a shift in attitude from the international energy giant. BP, once all apologies, is now on the defensive, saying they’re the victim of false insurance claims.

“I think there are really bad public policy ramifications to what’s happening to BP,” the Times quoted Geoff Morrell, senior VP for communications and government affairs at BP America, as saying. “It’s not just bad for this company that illegitimate, dubious claims are being paid to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars; it is bad for, dare I say, America.” It is also bad for, dare we say, BP’s PR

But does BP care how it looks anymore? Last month, the US government allowed BP to bid again for oil and gas leases in the gulf. And two weeks ago, BP officially ended active shoreline cleanup – and, apparently, the cleanup of their image.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for BP. As much as they’d like to move on, those affected by the disaster haven’t.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: You can stop apologizing, but don’t stop repairing. Part of a company’s recovery from extreme damage is presentation of image. Okay, four years on, BP can stop apologizing. But portraying themselves as victims of insurance swindles? It’s more than moving on. It’s an insulting turnaround that, as PR tactics go, is a disaster in its own class.

 

PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

obamacare logo  PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, whose supporters, including its namesake, had reason to celebrate Monday when enrollments pushed slightly past the original sign-up target of 7 million. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that target for initial sign-up period through March 31. Despite a horribly marred start and with withering opposition at every turn, the mandated healthcare program saw sign-ups somehow make their numbers. And while public opinion is still hardly enthusiastic, one poll did find for the first time that public support for the healthcare law surpassed opposition. Perhaps the rally will prompt lukewarm supporters to stop apologizing and start cheering.

  PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to General Motors’ chief executive Mary Barra, for a defense statement best summed up by “I don’t know.” As the head of GM faced a House subcommittee investigating what the car company knew and when regarding flaws that led to numerous deaths and injuries, Barra’s responses infuriated senators and the families of the deceased alike. PR is in freefall, and GM is still recalling millions of cars and facing possible criminal charges. In leaving Barra to claim ignorance or hang herself and her company, GM’s legal and PR teams register a complete fail.

  PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Britain’s Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, whose editorial boards told a parliamentary science committee they believe humans are negatively impacting global climate conditions. Really? That’s rather confusing considering, as the committee chairman put it, “some papers regularly give a platform to lobby groups or indeed conspiracy theorists – many not even qualified scientists – who pooh-pooh the evidence and attack UK climate scientists.” We are shocked, shocked, to find out that publications, looking to increase readership, might take one view in their papers while believing the exact opposite. Yawn.

More Errors Than Answers in Missing Flight Mystery

 More Errors Than Answers in Missing Flight Mystery

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Malaysian government and Malaysia Airlines. (Pictured: Hishamuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s Minister of Transport.)

At press time, the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was nearing its second week. As time goes by it seems the Malaysian government knows less, rather than more – and what was thought to be known is corrected.

As a NewYorker.com article details, the few facts on hand are fluid. There is the timing of the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, first reported as being turned off 12 minutes before the final communique from the cockpit. Now authorities admit they don’t know when it was switched off. The direction of the plane before it fell off radar was also wrong, costing time and untold millions in wasted search efforts. And while the crew and even passengers were initially not suspected as part of the disappearance, all, especially the pilot and co-pilot, are under intense scrutiny.

Relatives waiting for news of their family members have progressed from shocked to angry, shouting at Malaysian officials at press conferences. Some have become so mistrustful of the information being given, or withheld, that they’ve threatened a hunger strike. Experts, unable to guess what might have happened (with one quiet exception) can only agree on one thing: the Malaysian government has, in trying to handle this situation alone, prolonged and even contributed to the mystery.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Malaysian government.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: In times of disaster, opt for complete transparency. Had Malaysia accepted offered help from the United States and other governments, there might have been at the very least a few more iron-clad answers. Even the US and Russia collaborated at the Olympics to thwart terrorist threats. At this point experts are coming to the conclusion that we may never know what happened to Flight 370. The only thing anyone can be sure of is that in situations such as this, being secretive never pays.

Shadow Over GM Recall Grows Longer

 Shadow Over GM Recall Grows Longer

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

The news from General Motors continues to get worse. Last month the carmaker began a worldwide recall of over one million of its vehicles, including the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ions, due to faulty ignition switches that resulted in 12 deaths. Then, a federal review of those GM vehicles dating from 2003 to 2012 found that faulty airbags were responsible for an astonishing 303 deaths.

Lawmakers are pressing for answers as to how long GM knew about the issues and what they did about them. GM’s answer has been to launch what chief executive Mary T. Barra calls an “unvarnished” investigation. Leading this investigation will be the law firm of King & Spalding – the same firm that had been defending GM in wrongful death lawsuits.

Conflict of interest? Whether it will be in reality or not isn’t really the question. The firm will have to do enough digging to preserve their reputation while still being able to call GM one of their main clients. But if anyone asked internal PR what this move would look like to the outside world, GM apparently ignored that information as well.

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

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Even in times of triage – perhaps especially so – appearances matter. When faced with a product issue that has resulted in death, companies must quickly go into damage control. The smartest take immediate measures to prevent further injury or loss of life, own up, and set their PR firms to work on image rebuild. In GM’s case that time is over. And ironically, the company’s goal – preserve the bottom line by presenting the image of taking action – can shoot itself in the foot with the implication of more coverups, this time by the company’s trusted law firm. It’s an action, but it’s hardly a strategy, and it may cause more damage than it controls.

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

kentucky attorney general jack conway gay marriage 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Jack Conway, the Attorney General of Kentucky who refused to appeal the lifting of a ban on gay marriage in his state. Conway said he could not support this last bastion of discrimination, despite many voters supporting the ban and his plan to run for governor. “There were plenty of people who advised me this is very risky for me politically,” Conway said. “But I talked it over with my wife, and she said, ‘You know what Jack, you really stink when you are insincere.'” This sincere move, which goes against Conway’s Catholic background but aligns with his political ideals, makes him smell like a rose.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to the various entities searching for seemingly ill-fated Malaysia Airlines 370. The plane, with more than 230 passengers, was last reported over the Gulf of Thailand. For family and friends, the probable disaster has been compounded by a barrage of incomplete, incorrect and contradictory information about the plane’s whereabouts, how long it was in the air, and who was aboard. It’s true that no one has any answers yet. But a basic tenet of crisis communications is to designate a single point of contact through which all information will flow. That’s no easy feat when there are multiple countries and agencies  involved. By bungling communications, however, an already terrible situation has been made even worse.

barack obama between two ferns 580 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO President Obama, who submitted to a fake interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis last week, to inconclusive effect. Appearing on the “Between Two Ferns” web series, Obama ostensibly came to plug Obamacare to an audience of young people. The appearance was funny enough, but gave even the most passionate Obama supporters pause for its irreverence. His detractors rolled out the big artillery: The dignity of the office, national security and Lord knows what else we hold dear was put at stake, they declaimed. Hardly, but Obama did look like he was doing a B-movie cameo. The joke might be more on a nation that needs its sitting president to play for laughs to promote policy.

After Loss Should the Show Go On?

 After Loss Should the Show Go On?

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

A few days have not dulled the shocking news that actor Paul Walker, best known from the Fast & Furious movie franchise died when his car crashed last weekend. Walker had just attended an event for Reach Out Worldwide, a charity he founded to aid victims of natural disasters.

As tributes mounted, others had to weave mourning with business. Specifically, Pantelion Films, the company set to release Walker’s last film, Hours, and Universal, which had scheduled the seventh Fast & Furious movie for next summer.

Hours is set during Hurricane Katrina, a disaster Walker’s foundation would have benefitted. The film company’s statement that Walker would have wanted them to carry on with the release date of December 13 seems more believable than pat. The more difficult road lies ahead for Universal which has yet to announce how it will deal with Walker’s absence in Fast and Furious 7.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Pantelion Films for staying on course to release Paul Walker’s final film, in keeping with his charitable endeavors.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: The show must go on – in a sensitive way. When Heath Ledger died before the release of Batman: The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan spoke of Ledger’s intense performance as a way of saying, well, Ledger would have wanted the film to come out. Homage must be paid to the departed for a film company to avoid looking as though they’re cashing in on a star’s demise. A donation to the actor’s favorite charities helps. Ultimately the matter is one of sounding a respectful grace note. The show will go on, but it must do so in a way that allows the viewers to watch comfortably.

Senate Wonder Women Save the Nation

 Senate Wonder Women Save the Nation

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to the sisterhood of the Senate. (From left, Rev. Jim Wallis with Sens. Ayotte, Murkowski, and Collins.)

As hard as it is to give anyone credit in the embarrassing spectacle that is the US government shutdown, a group of female senators including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), who crafted the framework of a compromise, deserve their day in the sun.

The shutdown entered its third week after Congress failed to pass a spending bill that would restore shuttered government services. Tensions increased as a deadline permitting the US to borrow money to pay its obligations loomed.

As factions within Congress continued wage war, women came to the rescue. Led by  Sen. Collins, a group of six of the Senate’s 20 female senators united to produce a compromise to break the impasse. The agreement served as the foundation of a proposal endorsed by bipartisan leaders in the Senate, prompting their male colleagues to almost begrudgingly acknowledge that the times, they are a’changing. As veteran Sen. John McCain put it, “Leadership, I must fully admit, was provided primarily by the women in the Senate.”

The women could have rejected the notion that their reproductive equipment played a role in the compromise, perhaps even been insulted by the suggestion. Instead, Collins and the other senators embraced their feminine attributes. “I find that, with all due deference to our male colleagues, women’s styles tend to be more collaborative,” she told ABC News. Indeed, Collins and her crew have positioned themselves nicely as a group that gets things done and, potentially, a force to be reckoned with on future issues.

THE PR VERDICT:  “A” (PR Perfect) to the sisterhood of the Senate.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Play up your strengths – and keep playing them up. This unusual alliance captured the media’s attention; once the press was focused on them, the senators kept the headlines coming by elaborating on the qualities that helped them achieve their goals. Promoting the attributes of one sex over another is a tricky business, but the senators played their hand nicely. Brava, ladies!

Syria: An About Face to Save Face?

 Syria: An About Face to Save Face?

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Syrian President Bashar-Al-Assad.

Call Syrian President Bashar-Al-Assad what you will – and he is being described by many names these days – and add another to the list: master of public relations. Remember the days before war broke out in Syria? A  fawning feature in Vogue celebrated Mrs. Assad and her presidential mate as the Middle East’s glamorous, modernizing couple. Such was the range and power of their PR machine.

By the time the Vogue article hit the stands, Syria was burning, and Assad was being called, at best, a dictator. The news has only gotten worse over time, coming to a head when US President Barack Obama threatened air strikes against Syria for using chemical weapons against its people.

In the ensuing debate, as pundits interviewed members of Congress on their voting intentions, one voice was quiet: that of Assad himself. Until he made himself available to American TV journalist Charlie Rose, that is.

In the interview, the man many are calling a monster was calm, not defensive. Bankers responsible for financial crimes have sweat far more than Assad, a man accused of mass murder. He followed up that calm show with an announcement: that Syria would agree to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile – if the US backed down from a strike.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for President Bashar-Al-Assad. An albeit reluctantly high grade for a dictator using his PR machine to play chess with the world.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Image need rehab? Appear cooperative. Whether one believes Assad or not, he has pounced at the right moment. The media reports that Americans are sympathetic to the Syrian people, yet fearful of involvement in yet another Middle Eastern war. Congress is at odds as to what to do. And suddenly, Assad the Impaler comes into our living rooms as Assad the Reasonable Cooperator. Timing is everything, and in the midst of a fray, heads will turn toward the calm voice of reason – no matter the source.