Hotel Group Suffers Via Association with Sharia Law

 Hotel Group Suffers Via Association with Sharia Law

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for The Dorchester Collection hotel chain.

What’s the connection between Hollywood’s celebrity elite and an ancient law that punishes homosexuality with death by stoning? The Dorchester Collection, a string of luxury hotels including the famed Beverly Hills Hotel and other five-star lodging used by A-listers who have launched an aggressive boycott.

The problem is not the hotels themselves but their ownership by the Brunei Investment Agency. Recently, Brunei adopted the Sharia Law, which punishes theft with the severing of limbs, and adultery and homosexuality with death by stoning.

Celebrities and bold-faced names protested with a boycott of the Brunei-owned hotel chain. Understandable, though questionable; will oil-rich Brunei be affected by Richard Branson’s vow that no one from the Virgin family will stay at Dorchester hotels? No, but hotel employees will suffer, as Christopher Cowdray, CEO of the Dorchester Collection, pointed out. “During this challenging time, we have been deeply touched by the tremendous support received from our loyal guests and longstanding business partners who recognize that Dorchester Collection hotels are part of the fabric of their social communities.” In other words, guilt by association should not be punishable by economic death.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for The Dorchester Collection hotel chain.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Just deliver the facts. There are times when companies may be adversely affected by their owners’ actions. In this case, there’s almost nothing the Dorchester Collection can do but what they did, which is to point out that they didn’t adopt the Sharia Law in Brunei, and there’s no reason their own employees should suffer for it. That said, financial boycott and the pressure of negative PR sometimes wins out. Will it here? It’s unlikely. If only to keep from losing face, Brunei will probably maintain their position. Dorchester walks a dangerous line between siding with an unpopular owner and maintaining business; best to keep quiet and hope for a sale to a less controversial owner.

NBA Head Calls Time Out in Responding to Racist Remarks

silver NBA Head Calls Time Out in Responding to Racist Remarks

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

The recent racist rant of Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, has drawn universal condemnation and outrage – from his own players right up to President Obama. Advertisers, including Mercedes Benz and Virgin America, quickly withdrew sponsorship. The ravings appear to be less of headache for Sterling, who the New York Times referred to as the “worst owner in professional sports,” than for the NBA and its rookie commissioner, Adam Silver.

A tape recording emerged last weekend of Sterling telling his mistress over the phone not to bring black people to his team’s games. Numerous media were quick to inventory Sterling’s history of racist pronouncements. PR then, for such an inveterate bigot, is not much of a concern.

Not so for Silver, a lawyer who has been with the NBA for over 20 years but became commissioner only in February. He called the recording “truly offensive and disturbing” and promised swift action, but then retreated to lawyerly restraint, citing the need for due process. Faced with a volatile situation with ramifications for all of sports (if not beyond), Silver was right to call time out.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who needs to run the clock out a little before taking his shot.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Take time to breathe in a crisis. What is important is not necessarily urgent, and vice versa. The ball is in Silver’s court now, which means he controls the clock. Acting rashly could lead to a costly turnover. Amid uniform denunciation and calls to separate Sterling permanently from professional basketball, Silver is facing an unprecedented predicament and needs time both to build a case for action and let the dust settle. Sterling has sued the NBA before and most certainly will again in the face of any disciplinary action from the league. Silver, with owners, players and fans among his constituencies, needs time to set up the final play of the game.

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.

 

Pistorius Takes the Stand

oscar pistorius court day seven his murder trial heard lawyer barry roux question testimony 150x150 Pistorius Takes the Stand

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Oscar Pistorius.

There’s rarely any discussion of good or bad PR associated with murder trials; the defendant is declared innocent or guilty, and the case is closed. Things may be different in the case of South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, currently on trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius says he awoke during the night of February 14, 2013, hearing sounds. He told police he shot towards where he thought an intruder was hiding, only to find Steenkamp his victim. The prosecution has so far done a persuasive job of presenting an ex-girlfriend who told of Pistorius randomly shooting guns, a text message from Steenkamp saying she was afraid of him, and neighbors who heard angry shouts and terrified screams.

While listening to testimony, Pistorius has hardly been stoic. He has wept, held his head in his hands, been violently ill. But would he take the stand? His lawyers apparently thought it best. Yesterday, Pistorius – not shown on camera, but audible – gave a shaken testimony that halted proceedings when he eventually broke down.

Will it spare him from a 25 year prison term? It’s possible. The gun-carrying, temperamental boyfriend image was replaced by the trembling voice of a shattered man. Should Pistorius be declared innocent, his emotional testimony may also exonerate him in the court of public opinion.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Oscar Pistorius.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When all seems lost, that’s the time to take a risk. Most lawyers are wary of putting clients on the stand; not only can they be torn apart by the prosecution, but they may not show enough emotion, of the appropriate kind, for the jury’s liking. Pistorius, however, has been doing nothing but demonstrating remorse. His lawyers, facing the prosecution’s construction of a monster, put on the stand a man weeping and overcome with grief. The monster image has taken a hit.

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.

Google Saying Spying Allegations “Hard to Imagine” Calms No One

googlelogo Google Saying Spying Allegations Hard to Imagine Calms No One

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

Much haranguing and hand-wringing has come in the wake of revelations of internet spying by the government, with the possible complicity (or willful ignorance) of the tech world’s biggest firms. But what if those firms themselves are spying on users and defending it as a right ot service? We’re looking at you, Google.

Michael Arrington, the tech venture capitalist and blogger who founded the industry-tracking Techcrunch blog, wrote recently “about that time Google spied on my gmail” in response to leaked information he received. The alleged breach, which Arrington is “nearly certain” occurred, drew a direct response from Google’s general counsel, Kent Walker, who answered the “serious allegation” noting that although Google’s terms of service “might legally permit such access, we have never done this and it’s hard for me to imagine circumstances where  we would investigate a leak in that way.”

Such equivocacy hardly quells concerns, but Google is not alone here. Arrington’s initial post came in response to word that Microsoft spied on Hotmail users in the interest of corporate security. (Other firms have also been cited.) But Microsoft followed its initial double-talk defense with an unambigiuous avowal that going forward it would not read user emails and instead refer matters to law enforcement when necessary. No word yet on whether Google got the message.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Google, whose top lawyer’s spying denial didn’t do the job.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Watch legalese. Google’s response here points up the dynamic tension between good lawyering and good PR. Corporate lawyers and imageminders both claim their firm’s best interests at heart. But in answering public criticism or accusations, the two sides  must work together to craft the right language. Lawyers shy away from absolute statements that might come back to haunt in litigation, while PR pros push stronger language that puts matters to rest. Each instance must be weighed on its own, keeping in mind that a non-denial denial satisfies no one.

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.

Allen’s Team Responds to Farrow’s Open Letter

 Allens Team Responds to Farrows Open Letter

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Woody Allen’s PR and legal team. (Pictured: Allen’s lawyer Elkan Abramowitz)

The denial of allegations of sexual abuse is extremely difficult to nearly impossible, especially in a public forum. Yet it was absolutely impossible for Woody Allen to remain silent after his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter detailing her account of Allen sexually abusing her as a child. But what would Allen say, and how?

The first line of PR response was not for Allen himself to go public. His reaction was given the next day through his longtime publicist Leslee Dart, who said Mr. Allen would respond directly “very soon.” She then listed the legal facts about the investigation.

Another response came yesterday – again, not from Allen, but from his lawyer, Elkan Abramowitz, who gave an exclusive interview to the Today Show. His stance was crucial, as he was speaking for Allen: Would he call the victim a liar? Not a chance. “In my view, she’s not lying,” Abramowitz said. “She truly believes this happened.” He went on to reiterate the legal facts and to present Allen’s explanation: that Mia Farrow, enraged over Allen’s then-new relationship with her adopted daughter (with André Previn) Soon-Yi, coached daughter Dylan to say she was molested. Another talking point Abramowitz made was that Allen was not angry with Dylan Farrow. “His reaction is one of overwhelming sadness,” Abramowitz said.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Woody Allen’s PR and legal team.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Respond – don’t react. Allen’s team is obviously skilled and wise. While Allen’s answer could only be maintaining his innocence, the way this was presented was crucial. One cannot claim innocence without implying that the accuser – in this case, the alleged victim –  is a liar. Unless, that is, blame is diverted to the mother and a reason given for her to manipulate a child. In the court of public opinion, reasonable doubt has been introduced.

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.

 

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.