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.

US Health & Human Services Secretary Resigns

 US Health & Human Services Secretary Resigns

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Affordable Care Act. (Pictured: President Obama, former US Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius)

After a mortifying rollout, the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, is finally in place. Over 7 million Americans have signed up, a number higher than the original goal, and President Obama’s legacy – healthcare for all – seems underway. The act narrowly survived constant attack by Republicans, not to mention its own faulty website. However, one casualty that no amount of healthcare could fix was the reputation of US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and its effect on the ACA.

Obamacare was under Sebelius’s watch, and she largely took the fall, rightly or not, willingly or not, for the severely flawed rollout. It was Sebelius, facing an angry mob of senators, who had to admit that Healthcare.gov, the ACA website where most Americans were to sign up, had barely been tested before going live. Damage control appearances caused even more damage, especially an uncomfortable appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. All of it was fuel for Republicans determined to repeal the ACA.

Sebelius, a former governor of Kansas who was once a contender for vice president in 2008, was a likely candidate for termination after the ACA rollout fiasco. The question is now whether the falling ax will do further harm to an already tarnished initiative.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Affordable Care Act.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know when to let sleeping dogs lie, especially when they’re vicious. Letting Sebelius go during the worst of the ACA’s rollout would have caused even more turmoil for Obamacare. Her resignation comes on a high note of above-goal enrollment; the best timing for a bad situation. Now Sylvia Mathews Burwell, formerly director of the Office of Management and Budget, suits up against Republicans bent on finding chinks in the armor of the ACA. It’s a tough job; just ask Kathleen Sebelius.

Baker vs Mouse: Baker Wins

 Baker vs Mouse: Baker Wins

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to bakery owner and cronut creator Dominque Ansel.

The “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” PR strategy is a tough one to pull off, but it sometimes works. To wit: Dominique Ansel, whose bakery was shut down last week by the New York City Department of Health. The home of the original “cronut” (a croissant-donut hybrid), Ansel’s eponymously named establishment was closed after a patron took video of a mouse skittering across the floor.

Video footage of rodents running amok in a kitchen is usually a devastating blow to an eatery. Conventional PR wisdom would have Ansel issue multiple mea culpas, pledge to clean up his bakery’s act, and keep a low profile.

Instead, the Frenchman fumed. He took to Facebook to rail against small-business saboteurs: “[H]onest, hard-working businesses should not have to face cruel and sensationalized attacks that are not framed in the proper context…We urge our customers to seek deeper details and answers before jumping to conclusions.” He issued hard facts, stressing that no mouse was found and no droppings were in the kitchen. He stood outside his shop and vowed to come back like fictional prizefighter Rocky Balboa. “You take a hit, you go down, but you come back up stronger,” he proclaimed.

And… the gamble worked. Less then a week after Vermingate, lines for cronuts and other  delectables are just as long at Ansel’s bakery as they were before the mouse made his (or her) film debut.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to bakery owner Dominque Ansel.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When everything is on the line, nothing is out of bounds. Perception is important for all businesses, but critical for those in industries like food service; just a whiff of odiousness can be enough to send fickle customers across the street. It’s a difficult strategy to employ: the facts must be in your favor, and there’s a very fine line between being seen as rightfully indignant and a whiner who won’t accept responsibility. In this case, Ansel succeeded, and the cronut lives on.

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.

Absentee Senators Busted by Actor With a Cause

 Absentee Senators Busted by Actor With a Cause

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for actor Seth Rogen.

Actor Seth Rogen headed to Capitol Hill to take on a new role: that of advocate, urging elected officials to put more money toward research into Alzheimer’s disease. What happened after his testimony, however, was the real show stopper.

Rogen, known for playing goofy, bumbling characters in movies like The Hangover and Knocked Up, appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee. He and his wife, screenwriter and actress Lauren MIller, have been helping care for Miller’s mother since she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s dementia nearly nine years ago.

Rogen’s heartfelt statement probably would have been well-received, had there been anyone there to receive it. Sixteen of the 18 senators on the powerful committee, which allocates federal funding to government programs and which had invited to Rogen to appear, either didn’t show or actually walked out during the hearing.

The lack of attendance could have been a PR miss for Rogen. Instead, he turned it into a cause celebre. He called the absentee senators on the carpet, shaming them on Twitter by tweeting a photo of an empty hearing room and responding to one senator with “Why did you leave before my speech? Just curious,” before hitting the media circuit.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Rogen. In the end, Rogen got more attention for Alzheimer’s than if he’d played to a packed house.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Learn how to turn lemons into one mean lemonade. Washington  denizens are used to the tableaux of the empty committee room, but it clearly caught Rogen off guard. Perhaps his actor’s training allowed him to take a deep breath and figure out how to rescue the scene. Life in the public eye (and, for that matter, life in general) is full of surprises. Try to view a situation from all angles in order to figure out if a negative situation can be redirected. It’s a skill that can save, or even make, a PR opportunity.

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.

The PRV 2013 Final Grade: And the “F” Goes to…

Healthcare Exchanges The PRV 2013 Final Grade: And the F Goes to...THE PR VERDICT’S “F” (FULL FIASCO) grade goes to HealthCare.gov, the website hub for US citizens to sign up for government-supplied health insurance. A long hoped-for dream of affordable healthcare for Americans, and what Barack Obama surely thought would be his presidential legacy, has turned into what is generally described as a nightmare.

Getting the Affordable Health Care Act bill passed seemed the hard part. The next step was constructing a website that would be easy to navigate and able to handle an onslaught of Americans in need of insurance. But surely this would be a cinch for Microsoft or Apple or any of America’s tech giants. Maybe, if they’d gotten the contract, or even been consulted.

From the start, HealthCare.gov was a disaster. The site bounced users off, refused to save their data, or was impossible to log onto. Worse, the few who did manage to get on and didn’t want to change their plans suddenly found themselves without insurance. The President’s angry promises to get the site fixed were empty next to facts emerging from a commission (yes, things went that bad). Not enough testing, wrong mainframe, blah tech excuse blah. Only this week has Microsoft been called in, but help arrived too late to save this story.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Under-promise and over-deliver. It’s easy to see why President Obama would have wanted to offer affordable healthcare as soon as possible. Now, in hindsight, it’s easy to see why he should have waited. The achievement is one thing, implementation an entirely different animal. Whether looking at a presidential legacy or a small business breaking sales expectations with a big account, plan. Factor in worst-case scenarios. Hire the best consultants. When the back-slapping over a major win is done, take a hard look at what’s ahead to see that your promise doesn’t become an error fail.

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 Princeton University for its smooth handling of a potentially deadly meningitis outbreak on its New Jersey campus. It emerged this week that seven students have contracted an unusual strain of bacterial meningitis since March. But the frightening fact was paired with the university’s announcement that it was already in discussions with federal authorities to offer a vaccine not yet approved in the US.  The facts were clearly communicated (all students but one out of the hospital, vaccine to be available in December, campus awareness campaign underway), FAQ’s posted online and questions referred to government health officials. The university emanated calm, preparedness and control.

ryanlambourn The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Ryan Jake Lambourn, whose video game allows players to reenact last year’s school shooting in Connecticut where 20 children and six teachers died. Lambourn, an American expat thought to be living in Australia, said he created the game to spur pro-gun control action in the US. Australia enacted sweeping gun control after a 1996 mass shooting, but in America, “All these massacres don’t seeem to have had any similar effect on regulation,” Lambourn told the press. That hardly soothed families of Sandy Hook victims, one of whom called the game “absolutely disgusting.” The game does in fact emphasize safeguards that could have prevented the massacre. As a result, Lambourn’s first-person shooter won no props from gun lovers, either.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Alex Rodriguez, the embattled baseball player who is facing a major league suspension for allegedly taking performance enhancing drugs. Rodriguez has been in hearings this week on the charges brought against him by MLB commissioner Bud Selig. When the 79-year-old Selig sent someone else to the trial in his place, Rodriguez flew into a rage, punching a wall, pounding his fists on a table, cursing and finally leaving. He then went on a radio show to deny taking the drugs. Yep, a grandstanding fury is certainly the way to convince people of that.

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

vargas The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Elizabeth Vargas, co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20 TV news magazine, for a graceful disclosure of human frailty: her decision to enter rehab for alcohol abuse and dependency. Vargas, out of sight for several weeks, might have preferred to quietly undergo treatment and slip back into her life without been missed. Whatever the motivation, she hit all the right notes in going public, calling out the prevalence of addiction in society, expressing gratitude for support of loved ones and her employer, and expressing a desire, as a public figure, to impart courage to others facing similar challenges. And of course, she got the news out herself – always a sober move.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Chip Wilson, founder of Lululemon, for striking a rather awkward pose in a press conference about the popular yoga pants. After suffering a costly setback with a product recall resulting in the dethroning of Lululemon CEO Christine Day, one wouldn’t think matters could get much worse until Lululemon’s founder blamed product quality issues on…customers being too fat. “Frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t actually work [for the pants],” Wilson told Bloomberg. “It’s more really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure there is over time.” Clearly, one yoga pose Wilson has mastered is putting his foot in his mouth.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Blockbuster, which said it will shut its remaining 300 stores and close its mail-order DVD business. The news probably comes as a surprise to many folks who thought the company went out of business a long time ago. If nothing else, Blockbuster will be fondly remembered by millions of families as an integral part of a 1990s weekly ritual: wandering the aisles in search of the latest new releases, only to find that every copy of the movie you wanted to see was already gone.

Former US VP Cheney Opens Up in “Heart”

 Former US VP Cheney Opens Up in Heart

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) to former US Vice President Dick Cheney.

How do you revamp the image of someone accused of being heartless? Show that he has a heart – literally. Former US Vice President Dick Cheney’s new book, Heart: An American Medical Odyssey, was published this week. Cheney, who served for eight years under President George W. Bush, kicked off the media on CBS’ 60 Minutes and continued on to the major morning shows.

Cheney is something of a cardiac miracle: he’s suffered five heart attacks and has had surgery to place stents, a pacemaker, and a pump. Finally, in 2012, he had a heart transplant.He waited 20 months for a new heart, nearly double the waiting time of most transplant recipients. No special treatment there.

The book has also provides interesting tidbits about Cheney’s tenure in the Bush White House. For one, his health history prompted him to sign a resignation letter in advance should he ever be alive but incapacitated. His cardiologist also had Cheney’s pacemaker altered so it couldn’t be hacked by a would-be assassin.

But the book serves another purpose. In the twilight of their lives, politicians have been known to contemplate their legacies. Heart shows that the now 72-year-old Cheney, whose nicknames include Darth Cheney and the Dark Lord, is, indeed, human – flesh and blood, just like the rest of us. At least, that’s what the book says.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) to former US Vice President Dick Cheney. Nobody wants to go into that good night known as Dr. Evil.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: (Almost) no one is beyond redemption. When public figures open up about personal struggles or admit to fears, it can often blur the edges of a sharp character or reputation. Perhaps it’s through a memoir (safe but labor intensive) or on Oprah’s couch (riskier, but with a wider audience). In that sense, Cheney is lucky: His bad ticker has given him rich material to mine for such an effort. But can one book soften so many years of harsh criticism? That’s a tall order, and not one for the faint of heart.