Nike Drops Charity, Yet Their PR Image Lives Strong

 Nike Drops Charity, Yet Their PR Image Lives Strong

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Nike, which very quietly severed a costly tie with Livestrong.

Yesterday, Nike announced they would cease production of products associated with the Livestrong brand. Livestrong, the charitable organization founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong, had a nine-year relationship with the world-famous sportswear brand that raised over $100 million through the sales of products. “We expected changes like this,” said a Livestrong spokesperson. As did the PR world.

After Armstrong admitted to doping his way through all seven of his Tour de France wins, his sponsors jumped ship faster than any of Armstrong’s cycling records, Nike included. But how would it look if they abandoned a charitable foundation? Livestrong was blameless, their only crime guilt by association.

Nike’s PR team knew that withdrawing money from a charity, even in the wake of a disgraceful scandal could backfire on them. The more sensible and low risk option? Pull the plug on the products and continue to fund the charity directly.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Nike for beginning to sever ties with a high-profile charity with minimum fuss.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When ties must be cut, don’t hack; slice gently. The harsh fact is that Nike had to distance itself from Armstrong and all to do with him. However, this is a charity; how to distance without looking like villains? Stop production of products –  a practical measure anyone could agree with – while confirming to the media that the company will keep making donations to the charity. Without patting themselves on the back, Nike still comes out looking like a decent company, despite dealing what may well be a fatal blow to Livestrong. (Actually, their founder did that.) What happens to Livestrong remains to be seen, but Nike has already come out ahead.

Another Trump-ed Up Lawsuit

 Another Trump ed Up Lawsuit

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly Okay) for Donald Trump.

The Donald is at it again. Real estate magnate and reality TV show star Donald Trump announced yesterday that he is suing comedian and talk show host Bill Maher for $5 million dollars. Why? Maher jokingly asked Trump to prove via a birth certificate that he wasn’t fathered by an orangutan.

This was, of course, Maher’s take on Trump’s infamous “birther” challenge, in which Trump offered to donate $5 million to the charity of President Obama’s choice if he would show a birth certificate proving he was born in Hawaii. The President refused to engage and the whole thing blew over faster than Trump’s hair at the helipad.

Now Trump has risen to Maher’s bait, brandishing a birth certificate that lists his father as Fred Trump (not an orangutan). He announced the lawsuit to – where else? Fox & Friends, and – when else? Just as his reality show, The Apprentice, is starting another run. Trump says he’s going to donate the money to charity, and no, he didn’t think Maher’s comment was a joke. Maher’s Tweeted response: “What?? Really? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha,” endquote.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly Okay) for Donald Trump. This is just business as usual in his PR stunt-ridden world.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: The old saw about there being no such thing as bad publicity is a lie. Drumming up publicity for one’s TV show with a news-grabbing stunt is a wise move, but why always be the man we love to hate? Instead of humorlessly producing a birth certificate and ordering Maher to pay up, why not turn the joke to advantage by offering to donate the $5 million to the charity of Maher’s choice? Then Trump would have his publicity and appear to be the bigger man, and a generous one – as everyone knows he can afford to be. By doing it his way, Trump comes across as a bully and a blowhard. Well, at least he’s on brand.

Lie Strong

 Lie Strong

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong.

The interview that Oprah Winfrey calls “the biggest” of her career – with Lance Armstrong – hasn’t even aired yet, but the reaction to Armstrong’s apparent admission to doping is already in. However, it may not be what he was hoping for.

Over seven Tour de France wins, Armstrong was repeatedly accused of using performance-enhancing drugs; he denied all. After the US Anti-Doping Agency amassed an incredible amount of evidence against him, much of it from Armstrong’s former teammates, Armstrong relinquished his medals and watched sponsorships and contributions to his LIVESTRONG cancer charity burn. But he never admitted anything.

With his career and foundation in freefall, there seemed to be two courses to take: lay low and wait for the storm to pass, or have a “come to Jesus” moment with the only person who can influence public forgiveness: Oprah Winfrey. That moment came this week on Oprah’s OWN network. (At last, a ratings boost!

However, even Oprah may not be able to save Armstrong. The New York Post‘s front page, above, summed up public reaction at being duped and their sympathies played upon. Morning show pundits brought up a damning point: Armstrong began doping before he contracted testicular cancer, the disease that served as the launching pad for LIVESTRONG. Oprah apparently did not ask Armstrong if he thought the drugs led to the cancer, but if that theory is even hinted at, LIVESTRONG won’t survive the month.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong. He may come to regret coming clean.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Better to admit to something or everything? Were Armstrong on his own, sure, tell all. But there is the foundation to consider, and should Armstrong not seem repentant enough, the public will turn on him and anything he touches. An admission also lays Armstrong open to lawsuits that will mean repayment of millions of dollars, as well as a suit by the US government for lying. The inevitable tell-all memoir offer may be waiting, but is there anything more the public will want to hear? Confession may be good for the soul, but in this case, it may harm everything Armstrong holds dear.

A Tough Gun-Control Act to Follow

 A Tough Gun Control Act to Follow

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Giffords and Kelly.

Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her ex-astronaut husband Mark Kelly announced this week that they will lead an effort to lobby Congress for stricter gun-control laws. The couple launched their political action committee, Americans for Sensible Solutions, on the second anniversary of the mass shooting of Giffords and 18 others in a Tucson, AZ parking lot. Six people died in the 2011 attack, which was perpetrated by a mentally ill man who obtained the guns used in the shooting legally.

Giffords has a unique set of credentials for this cause. Having barely survived the shooting, she was forced to relinquish her seat in the House of Representatives. As a politician from one of the country’s most pro-gun states, she has in the past boasted of her prowess with her Glock 9mm pistol (the same model her would-be assassin used). Her husband Mark Kelly, frequently described as an American hero, is himself no stranger to ordnance, having flown U.S. Navy combat missions in the Gulf War.

The pair are making their position clear: They are not seeking to revoke US citizens’ rights to bear arms and have emphasised that the Second Amendment can co-exist with responsible gun ownership. Distancing themselves from the National Rifle Association while at the same time reaching out to “the majority of NRA members,” they have grabbed the middle ground: in favor of guns, but with more effective gun-control laws.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Giffords and Kelly. Their impeccable credentials will make it tough for opponents to take them on publicly.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Take the middle ground and let the others do the polarizing. In any debate, when views are extreme, the winner will be the persuasive advocate who courts the majority in the middle. Publicly defending current gun policy when up against a high-profile victim and her military husband is going to require finessed PR skills. The NRA may have just found their ground taken away from them.

 

 

Donald Trump, Master Buffoon

404232 542890259059818 265212859 n 150x150 Donald Trump, Master Buffoon

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Donald Trump.

The art of buffoonery hit new highs yesterday with the announcement by Donald Trump of what he had been promising for three days would be HUGE news. Trump hit Trump-friendly airwaves such as Fox earlier in the week, saying that on Wednesday he would make a BIG announcement concerning the President. Speculation was rife. What could The Donald know that every political operative in a closing election race hadn’t already hoped to find as political ammunition? The big reveal was yesterday at noon on YouTube.

The Donald’s BIG news was… nothing of the sort. Continuing with a variation on the birther argument, he called Barack Obama “the least transparent President in American history” (Richard Nixon might have sprung to mind). The Donald then congratulated himself in the video for having “gotten the President to release his long-form birth certificate – or whatever it may be.” He now says he has a deal for the President.

If Obama “hands over” his college records and passport application records to Trump, he will give $5 million to a charity of the President’s choice. As long as this is done “to my satisfaction,” says The Donald immodestly, he will deliver the check immediately. The forms must be in by October 31. He urged the President to meet the challenge and added that he was speaking on behalf of the entire US population.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco ) to Trump. Donald, you’re fired.

The PR Takeaway: Big talk and bluster equal buffoonery. Donald Trump, the Master Buffoon, has sealed his own PR image with this latest YouTube insanity. His video and language give no reason to suggest this is anything other than a self-serving publicity stunt. Does he know something we don’t? The much anticipated news “from the Desk of Donald Trump” was well-packaged as an unreservedly ego-driven publicity stunt, but the more publicity (of this type), the lower his credibility falls. At this rate, it may soon be political suicide to be publicly aligned with Trump. The sneaking suspicion is that he may not care.

To see the video, click here.

What’s your opinion of The Donald’s latest publicity stunt? Give us your PR Verdict!

Armstrong’s Brand at the Finish Line

 Armstrongs Brand at the Finish Line

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Lance Armstrong

So, Lance Armstrong doesn’t have nine lives after all. The US Anti-Doping Agency report released last week implicates Armstrong yet again in using banned substances. Previously, he’s denied everything; recently, he gave up all seven of his Tour de France medals, and yesterday, Armstrong announced that he would stand down as Chairman of his Livestrong cancer charity. Yet the rumbles continue.

With a net worth estimated at $125 million, Armstrong is one of the world’s best-paid athletes, pulling in over $15 million in endorsements a year. Despite years of allegations, his sponsors stuck with him. His agent recently told the media that Armstong’s primary sponsors have been “incredibly supportive,” with Nike confirming its endorsement, given that Armstrong had been “unwavering” regarding his innocence.

That all changed yesterday. Less than a week after pledging support, Nike has had a volte face. “Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him,” said a spokesperson. Anheuser-Busch, another sponsor, immediately fell into line, as have others, including RadioShack, Trek bicycles, and Oakley sunglasses. Nothing can change the direction in which this train is headed.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Lance Armstrong; with each sponsor that  falls away, the USADA report gains in credibility. Is there a Plan B?

The PR Takeaway: When one domino falls, they ALL do. Having to hand back his awards and stand down from his charity as Chairman, Armstrong is hoping to avoid the complete collapse of the Armstrong brand. Now that his sponsorship deals are null and void, he may want to think about a radical rethink and complete change of his legal strategy and start afresh from there. Next step: start studying how fallen heroes rehabilitate their reputations. Livestrong may hold the key to his ultimate PR salvation. What Lance Armstrong now needs most urgently is time out of the public spotlight to regroup and think what a new legal and PR strategy might bring him.

To read more, click here.

Is there any way Lance Armstrong can save his reputation? Give us your PR Verdict!

Guest Column: Angelina Jolie to Syria’s Rescue

Angelinajolie1 150x150 Guest Column: Angelina Jolie to Syrias Rescue

PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for UNHCR and its association with Angelina.

Tired of reading about celebrities in US Weekly or People? Then turn to the Financial Times. The FT just ran an op-ed from Angelina Jolie, special envoy to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), co authored by António Guterres, the UNHCR High Commissioner and former Prime Minister of Portugal. Both made a plea to support Syrian refugees and the latest UN appeal drive.

This latest FT column follows Jolie’s televised visits to Syrian refugee camps, guaranteeing coverage where the plight of the refugees might not have ordinarily rated a mention. During the visits, Jolie appeared shaken and emotional; critics might say that’s no big stretch for an actress, but following up her well-publicized visits with the op-ed route was wise. No charity glamour, just simple facts and arguments.

The column summarized the situation clearly. Wearing her UN hat, Jolie got right to the point: This appeal is not just about helping refugees, but making sure help is on a sustainable footing. The FT ran a photo of the glamorous special envoy on its front page. Her co-author had to be content with a byline; presumably he doesn’t sell newspapers in quite the same way.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for UNHCR. Celebrity coverage is the stepping-stone for more serious follow up, but is Angelina Jolie the right celebrity?

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Choose your celebrity wisely. By pairing up with Jolie, the UNHCR got its cause more attention than it might have otherwise. But the nagging issue with Jolie is that it’s never really clear if she is smart and cool, or a wanna-be humanitarian who, in her personal life, is a bit of a loon. She has still not been able to shake off her “crazy” image, which includes an endless array of children and tattoos. (Have we forgotten the vial of Billy Bob’s blood she wore as a necklace?) Bottom line, her sincerity isn’t in doubt, but does she have the gravitas to take this issue any further?

To read Angelina Jolie’s and António Guterres’s op-ed column, click here.

What’s your opinion of the UNHCR’s choice of Angelina Jolie as representative? Give us your PR Verdict!


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

bidenryan2 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR Perfect) to Joe Biden. Now this was a debate!  If Obama had previously brought a knife to a gun fight, Biden brought a cannon. Throughout the debate he aggressively debated Ryan, who seemed at times unable to keep up with Biden’s derisive comments. Biden’s ongoing smirks at what Ryan was saying was a PR object lesson in undermining an opponent.  A fine line to be sure  and presumably not everyone saw it this way, but frankly whatever your political color, this debate was very entertaining.  The Twitter-verse was on fire with Biden’s opening shot “That’s a lot of malarkey!” and later putdown”Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?” Brutal.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Lindsay Lohan. The girl can’t help it; she’s in the news constantly, but rarely for what she first became famous for – acting. This week, Lohan allegedly placed an emergency call about her mother’s erratic behavior to…her father? As a scandal-headline grabber himself, Michael Lohan is hardly the most reliable source of assistance. Lohan needs to hire the celebrity version of Harvey Keitel’s Pulp Fiction clean-up character.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE “FLOGGING A DEAD HORSE” PR AWARD TO: The US Anti-Doping Agency, which revealed that nearly all of Lance Armstrong’s former teammates have signed affidavits saying that Armstrong won his seven Tours de France by doping. They say he doped, they doped – even Armstrong’s former wife took performance-enhancing drugs. But Armstrong relinquished rights to his Tour titles months ago. Okay, he probably did take the drugs; does anyone still care, other than the USADA, which is determined to say “told you so”? Again and again.


Guest Column: The Trouble With Prince Harry? None At All

 Guest Column: The Trouble With Prince Harry? None At All

The PR Verdict: A (PR Perfect) for Prince Harry.

The headlines are too easy: “The Trouble With Harry.” “Dirty Harry.” Prince Harry’s escapade in Las Vegas—a strip poker game that ended with photos of a naked royal—was almost a gift to the tabloids. And yet the Crown may have a PR ace up its sleeve in Harry.

Harry has always been the heir apparent for royal scandal. As third in line for the throne, the pressure to conform to royal standards of propriety is relatively low. Need we go into his father’s anatomical declarations of love for Camilla Parker Bowles? Please, let’s not.

And yes, the young prince occasionally acts out. But this latest adventure had a curious side effect: Harry’s generation seems smitten with him. He is like his peers, caught in some NSFW (Not Suitable For Work) photos. Among Harry’s generation, fame—in any context—is gold. Sealing the turn from scandal to success was Harry’s appearance at a charity event, where he acknowledged his escapade with self-effacing humor (read about it here). Scandal averted, Harry is now the unlikely hero.

The PR Verdict: A (PR Perfect) for Prince Harry. If Buckingham Palace is smart, they’ll continue to rap Harry’s knuckles—and keep him in front of his adoring public, continuing his mother’s legacy: Could he become the People’s Prince?

The PR Takeaway: Mini-scandals can move the PR dial. After doing something naughty but harmless, a public appearance for charity and self-effacing humor are the golden tickets to winning the public’s, and the media’s, hearts. The ploy was used to excellent effect by Fred Willard in the US; days after the actor was caught with his pants down in an X-rated movie theater, he joked about the incident brilliantly on late night TV. Prince Harry should continue to do good works, which offset his occasional lad-like behavior; both bring a younger generation closer to the Crown.

Lance Armstrong Loses the Battle… and Wins the War

 Lance Armstrong Loses the Battle... and Wins the War

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Lance Armstrong and the LIVESTRONG brand.

“Enough! “ said Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France medal winner. He is no longer prepared to subject himself to the anti-doping Stasi that has been pursuing him relentlessly for the last fifteen years. Armstrong is waving the white flag, returning his medals, and instead will dedicate himself to his cancer charity, LIVESTRONG, and being the “fittest 40 year old man on the planet.” Any further questions?

Well yes, there are a few, but most likely none will ever be properly answered. What is beyond doubt is that the world is still VERY confused. Did he dope to win all those races, or didn’t he? Armstrong’s PR, on the other hand, has done an excellent job of positioning the doping investigations as a witch-hunt. The whiff of scandal was always present with Armstrong; SEVEN wins by simple hard training and eating right? But now the truth will never be known. Game over for Armstrong’s detractors, who will never get to prove their claims.

Armstrong, by legally refusing to submit to further investigations by giving up his wins, hasn’t given in; he’s taken the wind out of his nemesis’s sails. For his accusers to brag that they won will only confirm suspicions that somehow, their allegations were personal. Meanwhile, for Armstrong, the lack of any definitive finding leaves the door open to ongoing image rehabilitation.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Lance Armstrong and the LIVESTRONG brand. Tough times, but survivable for both. Soon it will be business as usual.

The PR Takeaway:  Steal your opponent’s thunder and you run the show. Imagine the disappointment: Armstrong handed in the medals before they could be taken from him! Despite longstanding accusations of winning by doping, Armstrong has had little problem in securing lucrative endorsement contracts and funding for his eponymous charity. Those days seem set to continue. If he’d had the awards taken away from him, that might have been different. His accusers may be wondering if it was tactically advisable to push him so publicly into a corner. In doing so, they may have missed their much-anticipated moment. Armstrong seems destined for the final PR victory lap. He deliberately lost the battle and won the war.

(Editors’ note: The PRV is published on Monday and Thursday until Memorial Day weekend.)

Do you think Armstrong gave up his TdF wins because he was guilty or incredibly savvy? Give us your PR Verdict!