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

acton The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp, the cross-platform mobile messaging service that claims more than 400 million active users. After 11 years at Yahoo!, Acton left the company in 2009 and was looking for work. First Twitter turned him down, then Facebook. “It was a great opportunity to connect with some fantastic people,” he tweeted after the Facebook rejection. “Looking forward to life’s next adventure.” And what an adventure! Acton teamed up with former Yahoo! colleague Jan Koum to start WhatsApp. Last week, Facebook bought Acton’s messaging service for $19 billion in the largest ever venture-backed deal — creating a perfect PR story that requires no embellishment.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Under Armour, official outfitter of the US Olympic Speed Skating Team – until very recently. Under Armour’s “Mach 39,” which the company called the fastest-ever speed skating suit, has been blamed for the US team’s rather disappointing showing in Sochi. The suits were worn in practice runs and seemed fine, but after failing to even place in Olympic games, the team switched back to their old gear for final runs. While they still failed to medal regardless of outfits, the damage is done: Under Armour’s stock fell 2.4 percent on Friday.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Graydon Carter, editor in chief of Vanity Fair. After months of speaking to the press about the “epic takedown” feature the magazine planned to run on Gwyneth Paltrow, and talking of Paltrow’s alleged attempts to get all of Hollywood to boycott the magazine, here at last is…much ado about nothing. No epic takedown article appears in the March issue, but a 1500-word explanation does. “Not to bore you with the details,” Carter begins in his editor’s letter. We’ll stop right there, thanks.

Something is Rotten in Denmark Zoo

 

 Something is Rotten in Denmark Zoo

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Copenhagen Zoo.

When does a lion eating a giraffe become global headline news? When a zoo decides to execute a healthy giraffe named Marius with a shotgun blast to the head, dismember him front of a crowd, and  feed his remains to a neighboring lion. Sounds too macabre to be real, but it happened at the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark. Apparently, zoo space is at a premium, and this particular giraffe wasn’t rare enough to warrant taking up that space.

The zoo’s decision sparked outrage around the world, garnered more than 30,000 protest signatures on an online petition and prompted adoption offers from other zoos. Despite the outcry, the Copenhagen Zoo went ahead with the killing, opened the autopsy to the public as an “educational opportunity” and allowed photography of the giraffe’s remains being devoured.

The zoo’s tone-deaf response to the public uproar has been even more chilling. Bengt Holst, the zoo’s scientific director, called the protests “totally out of proportion” and noted, “A giraffe is not a pet; it’s not like a dog or cat that becomes part of the family.” Perhaps, but to see one executed by the staff, then fed to another animal, was more than many animal lovers could bear.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Copenhagen Zoo, which demonstrated the business side of zoos in one of the most unsavory ways possible.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Even the most altruistic companies have to worry about the bottom line, but there are right ways to cut costs and wrong ones. It may well be that keeping this animal didn’t attract many grants or visitors. But disposing of it in the face of public fury was simply wrong – no matter how much it could be justified in the board room. A decision might look good in the ledger, but a raft of negative headlines could wind up costing much, much more.

Royals Admit They’re Down to Last Million

 Royals Admit Theyre Down to Last Million

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Royal Family.

Public relations for Britain’s Royal Family seems to take one step forward and two giant steps back. For every bit of good news, such as Prince William’s marriage to Kate, there are the photos of topless Kate and bottomless Prince Harry. After England enjoyed the christening of Prince George comes the setback: the Royals are almost broke.

The obvious jokes about all things being relative and selling some of the crown jewels fall flat when the numbers are run. The Household is down to its last £1 million ($1.6 million). This account is meant for travel, staff salaries, and maintenance of the family’s residences, including Buckingham Palace. Replacement of the heating system in the palace alone could cost nearly all the Household has. There’s removal of asbestos, a new roof for Windsor Palace… What happened? The answer is rather commonplace: overspending.

And here the Royal family finds itself at a rather interesting PR juncture. As Royals, they were never meant to be considered “of the people.” However, Princess Diana began a tide of relatability carried on by her sons. Could this low bank account – relative to royals – be a chance to get closer to the people, who are much in the same boat?

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Royal Family. The low bank account is embarrassing but puts them in a position of telling their subjects, “We’re just like you.”

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Look for the silver lining. Much of the world is still being affected by the global recession; no one is living high on the proverbial hog. The new Pope is the champion of humble living, making it seem a virtue to live on less. The Royals could use this opportunity to win the hearts of Britain with fiscal solidarity. They might even get a lower estimate on that asbestos removal.

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.

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.

“Three Cups” Author’s Apology Three Years Late

 Three Cups Authors Apology Three Years Late

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and author and philanthropist Greg Mortenson can speak to that. Mortenson broke a three-year silence with an interview on the Today Show to apologize for mishandling charity funds and answer charges that he fabricated parts of his bestselling memoir, Three Cups of Tea.

In the book, Mortenson describes how a failed attempt to climb K2, one of the world’s tallest mountains, put him in danger of exposure and capture by the Taliban. His rescue by Afghan and Pakistani villagers was repaid with a promise to build schools in the area.

Three Cups of Tea spent four years on bestseller lists. Mortenson was nominated twice for a Nobel Peace Prize and given millions for his charity. Among the donors was Jon Krakauer, a mountaineering expert and author. Over time he questioned Mortenson about distribution of the charity’s funds. The answers prompted Krakauer to write an exposé entitled Three Cups of Deceit, and for Sixty Minutes to report that Mortenson mishandled donation money and fabricated parts of his book.

“I let a lot of people down,” Mortenson told Tom Brokaw. He also, in “maybe a strange, ironic way” thanked Krakauer and Sixty Minutes. “Had they not brought these issues up, we could have gotten into more serious problems.” A humble mea culpa, yet Mortenson still faces a steep climb.

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

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Explanations can wait,  apologies can’t.  This is the first apology donors have heard in the three years since Mortenson  was ordered to repay $1 million to his own foundation and step down from its board. Explanations and finger-pointing can come down the road, but a delayed apology sounds less sincere with every passing moment.  For Mortenson’s deceived and disappointed donors, it was a long wait that yielded less then three cups of contrition.

Is Sochi Safe for the Olympics?

 Is Sochi Safe for the Olympics?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Sochi and the winter Olympics.

The winter Olympics aren’t set to begin for another two weeks, but they’re already off to an uneasy start. Yesterday, video was released to the media by alleged terrorists who threatened to target the games and the Russian host city of Sochi.

These winter games and their setting already had a controversial relationship. As Russia passed laws hostile to homosexuals and lesbians, athletes both straight and gay protested. When tensions between US President Obama and Russian President Putin mounted over NSA file leaker Edward Snowden, Obama said early on that he’d be a no-show at the games. Then, in January, two deadly suicide bombings in Volgograd cast a bleak shadow over the impending competition and provoked questions about safety.

Yesterday, video of two men allegedly with Anars Al Sunna, an Islamist group, was released to the media. The men claim responsibility for the attacks in Volgograd, calling them “only a little example, a little step,” of what may come. President Putin promised to “do whatever it takes” to protect all attending the games. But US Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI) said American officials working with Russia “found a departure of cooperation that is very concerning.”

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Sochi, host city of the winter Olympics and target of terrorists.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Truces can be temporary and lead to victory. Russia and the United States have always had uneasy relations and will likely continue to do so. But in times of crisis, such as when terrorists are openly threatening, there is an opportunity for both sides to come together and win. Shake hands, forge forces and work as a team. When the games are done, everyone can go back to the way things were. But the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics could go down in history for an entirely different, and positive, reason.

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 Valérie Trierweller, the French first lady who staged a PR coup by checking herself into hospital after a magazine revealed that French President François Hollande has been having an affair with actress Julie Gayet. The media reported that Trierweller is so weak she cannot stand and is suffering from “low morale.” Despite being so indisposed, she’s made it clear she has no intention of leaving her philandering companion. Might Hollande have used this opportunity to declare his allegiance to Gayet? We’ll never know, since Trierweller’s canny move ensures she is the sympathetic figure in this love triangle. Hollande is left to send chocolates and flowers, while Gayet has launched a lawsuit. Touché, madame.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers

PR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Hillary Clinton. A bipartisan Senate report on the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi found that the incident, which left four Americans dead, was preventable. Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time, was not the only one blamed, but the findings are grave and cast a pall on talk of her possible bid for president in 2016.

randikaye The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO CNN’s Randi Kaye, who braved the confines of a pot smoke-filled stretch limo apparently for hours as part of her network’s coverage of Colorado’s newly-legalized marijuana industry – and appeared on camera visibly stoned as a result. Wrapping up her report on Anderson Cooper’s evening segment on Tuesday, Kaye giggled a lot and told the host that she’d had trouble remembering all the questions she wanted to ask during her reporting. Cooper asked but didn’t quite get the answer on whether Kaye’s Rocky Mountain high was passively or actively acquired. Pro tip for next time? Roll down a window.

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

 The PRV 2013 Final Grade: And the A Goes to...THE PR VERDICT’S “A” (PR PERFECT) grade for 2013 goes to Pope Francis, the Argentinian priest who appears to be single-handedly revamping the priorities – and image – of the Catholic Church.

What a difference a year makes. The church was in chaos in February when Pope Benedict XVI resigned the papacy – something not done in over 600 years. Benedict cited advanced age, though the media speculated his decision was linked to an alleged secret gay network within the Vatican and/or depression after his personal assistant leaked confidential information to the media.

Enter Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first Latin American and first Jesuit priest to be named pope. He was an upstart from the beginning: standing to accept his cardinals’ congratulations instead of sitting on the papal throne; sporting a simple white cassock at his first public appearance; and becoming the first Pope Francis, a name he chose to honor St. Francis of Assisi, himself known for his dedication to the poor.

Pope Francis has sent a consistent message to his flock: get back to basics. On Easter, he bathed and kissed the feet of a group that included women and Muslims. On his first trip official trip abroad, he carried his own bag and insisted on limited security. He recently issued a blueprint for the church that denounced “the idolatry of money” and urged Catholics to stop obsessing over issues like same-sex marriage and contraception. Both Time Magazine and The Advocate, a gay and lesbian publication, named him “Person of the Year.”

THE PR TAKEAWAY: If you can’t reinvent, reinvigorate. No pope can rewrite the Old Testament, but he can take the church in a new direction. It’s no secret the Catholic Church – sullied for more than a decade with child-molestation scandals and a dwindling base – desperately needed a leader who could help close old wounds and inspire new hope. Pope Francis has all the  ingredients for great PR: conviction of his beliefs, consistent messaging, and a personality brimming with charm and enthusiasm. For the Catholic church’s PR, Pope Francis is a nothing short of a godsend.

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.