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 security firm Codenomicon and Google researcher Neel Mehta, both of whom discovered the web security bug known as Heartbleed. The bug, a flaw that allows access to user information on what was thought to be safely encrypted websites and search engines, has been around for a while, but was found simultaneously by vigilant researchers Mehta and Codenomicon. All sounded the alarm, which may have circumvented breaches in the millions.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Katherine Heigl, who perpetuated her image as a cranky prima donna with a lawsuit against drugstore chain Duane Reade. The store’s transgression? Tweeting a photo of her walking with two of their shopping bags. Heigl is a “highly recognized celebrity… When plaintiff chooses to endorse a product or service, she is highly selective and well compensated,” the lawsuit sniffed. In other words, as one gossip web site snarked, “Basically: Katherine Heigl don’t do no free advertising. She can’t just have her grumpy, exhausted face freely associated with some drugstore FOR FREE..” Perhaps Heigl should invest in a good mirror. Duane Reade carries them, we hear…

kimjongun The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO the North Korean Parliament, who this week re-elected, to no one’s surprise, dictator Kim Jong-un as head the country’s top governing agency, the National Defense Commission. Kim’s election (if that really is the right word) means he is still in control despite political turmoil in the regime and can work to consolidate power by filling leadership posts left vacant by – you guessed it – his purges. The government-run news agency called his re-election a sign of  “the unchanged will of the military and the people” to support him.

Tech VC Plays Nice with Anarchist Group

kevinroseprotest Tech VC Plays Nice with Anarchist Group

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Google venture capitalist Kevin Rose.

The class warfare clashes between San Francisco’s tech-nauts and tech-nots continued this weekend with a protest outside the home of Google Ventures general partner Kevin Rose. But rather than escalate tensions, Rose, who also founded Digg, the news aggregator site, defused matters by establishing common ground with his detractors.

Descending on Rose’s Potrero Hill neighborhood Sunday, the anti-techies brought banners and flyers denouncing Rose as a “parasite” who “directs the flow of capital from Google into the tech startup bubble that is destroying San Francisco.” Identifying themselves as fed-up service workers and members of anarchist group “The Counterforce,” they outlined an agenda far bigger than spoiling a venture capitalists’s Sunday afternoon. In what amounts to a ransom note, they demanded that Google donate $3 billion “to an anarchist organization of our choosing. This money will then be used to create autonomous, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist communities throughout the Bay Area and Northern California.”

Rose, to his credit, responded with restraint, taking to Twitter to say he agreed  “that we need to solve rising rents, keep the SF culture, and crack down on landlords booting folks out” and that all San Franciscans “definitely need to figure out a way to keep the diversity.” Now, about that $3 billion…

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Google’s Kevin Rose, who kept his cool and didn’t play into a possible PR trap.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Called out in public? Don’t lash back. Not only might your antagonist be trying to goad you into doing or saying something foolish, you also don’t stand to win sympathy and support with a churlish response. Consider the messenger as well as the message. The Counterforce’s anti-tech manifesto reads a little unripe and more provocative than proactive. Rose, who has made a horrendous public gaffe before, might have learned from it. He comes off here as eminently reasonable and eager to seek common ground with a fringe group he doesn’t need to antagonize.

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.

Google Co-Founder Shows Why Honesty Isn’t Always the Best PR Policy

larrypage Google Co Founder Shows Why Honesty Isnt Always the Best PR Policy

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Google’s Larry Page.

Google co-founder Larry Page has a chronic voice condition that forces him to speak not much above a whisper. But what he says can still raise the roof.

Page, who is worth $32 billion, sat for an interview with Charlie Rose last week in Vancouver and confirmed a statement he has made before: He would rather another entrepreneur billionaire inherit his fortune than leave it to charity. As for a candidate, he mentioned Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and founder of Tesla, who aspires to send people to Mars with another company he runs, SpaceX. The interview was summarized in Wired and picked up on tech blogs.

Page’s point: That money in the hands of a forward-thinking entrepreneur at the helm of an enlightened company isn’t such a bad thing. In Musk’s case, Page said: “He wants to go to Mars. That’s a worthy goal.” Perhaps, but Page’s comments paint him more as a plutocrat, not a philanthropist.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Google co-founder Larry Page, who probably should have ducked what was a pretty loaded question.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Leave nuanced opinion to the Op-Ed page. While Larry Page might have a point, when conveyed in a soundbite the meaning is lost and the entire interview hijacked. Page spoke about many things to Rose, security and privacy among them. But what people will likely come away with is a less-than-favorable view of another Silicon Valley rich guy who wants to give his money to another rich guy. As another observer noted, does that make Page a donor, or an investor? Either way, this probably isn’t the sort of PR Page and his people wanted.

Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

mark zuckerberg Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had just about enough of the government meddling with his website and spying on his users. So last week he called a pal to complain – President Obama.

Zuck casually mentioned the call in a Facebook page post responding to the latest revelation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden (via activist journalist Glenn Greenwald). The story, which the NSA flatly denies, described how government computers masqueraded as Facebook servers to send malware that infected Facebook users’ machines in order to spy on them. The automated process meant the NSA could target millions of users.

In his post, Zuckerberg said he was “confused and frustrated” by the continuing reports of  government surveillance. “When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.”

The White House confirmed the conversation took place but offered nothing more, and nothing will really come of it. Zuck and his tech pals are in the right, of course, but powerless to do anything other than complain – loudly and visibly.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Zuckerberg, who, if immobilized, at least needs to show he’s good and steamed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Talk the walk. In this matter, there seems to be little else that Facebook and other Tech Titans can do, at least publicly. With each new damning revelation, the public trust in sites like Facebook dies a little more, and that directly and dramatically affects the bottom line. When Snowden’s leaks first hit the press, the implication was that Facebook et al were complicit in the spying. That taint has never quite dissipated from the  seemingly interminable storyline. Zuck reached out in an necessary symbolic gesture with his phone call to the President – but it probably ended with, “Thanks, Obama.”

 

 

App Pranksters Dupe Media, Mock Tech, Teach All

livr App Pranksters Dupe Media, Mock Tech, Teach All

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to LIVR’s “founders.”

There’s nothing like a good PR hoax to showcase the rewards and potential pitfalls involved in launching a new product. After all, if you can generate considerable buzz with a fake, imagine what you can do with the real thing. And last week’s prank, from a faux app start-up called LIVRwas pitch perfect.

Foisted on an overeager and unsuspecting SXSW media, LIVR purported to be a social network one could only join when drunk, accessed via a phone attachment – a “biometric bouncer” – that measured one’s blood alcohol content. The higher one’s BAC, the more features available. If sufficiently tanked, users could “Drunk Dial™” another user at random (trademark designation a nice touch) or play “Truth or Dare,” along with more conventional features like finding nearby hot bars or those with drink specials. A morning-after “Blackout” button promised to erase all incriminating evidence of judgment-impaired behavior, including photos and calls.

The elaborate ruse featured cold-calls to reporters and a website and video with actors posing convincingly as CEO and chief developer. A number of news outlets were duped, including this one.  Hoodwinking the media and holding up a mirror to the overhyped, self-involved world of tech start-ups was the point of the gag, the prankster-in-chief said later, coming clean after a few media outlets did some digging basic reporting. A resounding success.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to LIVR’s pranksters, for an object lesson in how to generate buzz – and screen fakes.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know your advantage and when to exercise it. Exceedingly well planned and executed, the LIVR gag succeeded also on timing and placement. The perpetrators sprang their ruse at the start of  tech-heavy event thick with story-chasing media. Their premise was entirely plausible given the anything-goes world of start-ups. They knew exactly what to sell and how to sell it. If their comedy careers don’t pan out, they have bright futures in marketing.

Uber Overboard, Underhanded In Its Marketing?

ubersea Uber Overboard, Underhanded In Its Marketing?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for ride-request app Uber in Seattle.

Uber has upended the car-for-hire and ridesharing business with its location-aware ride-requesting app and cashless transactions. Naturally, some people have a problem with this – among them, the owners of traditional taxi companies, and government officials seeking to regulate a brand new category of transportation business.

Bogged down by business and bureaucratic traffic, Uber has managed to keep the wheels rolling, sometimes by racing red lights. At a current crossroads in Seattle, the company has mounted an Astroturf campaign – that is, a fake grass-roots effort – to lobby the City Council against curtailing its business. A “Save Uber in Seattle” effort features a company-sponsored petition website (with a non-profit conjuring .org domain), robo-calls from the local general manager, roving billboard trucks and a citywide blanket of (apparently illegal) posters.

This being Seattle, not everyone is down with a guerilla marketing effort masquerading as a popular groundswell, no matter how hip the company is. Sure, Uber may have Macklemore on its side, but recorded calls offering to forward you directly to the mayor’s office are perhaps a tad too proactive for such a laid back city, and residents are tweeting their disdain. Uber might reach its destination, but how many ride-needy Seattleites will it turn off along the route?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Uber’s slightly sneaky Seattle marketing strategy.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Handle trendiness with care. A marketing effort that is too clever by half can stir up bad PR, not to mention bad blood. In a place like Seattle, where residents have finely calibrated B.S. detectors, Uber’s effort might backfire for being impersonal, duplicitous and cynical, not to mention visually polluting and slightly illegal. A more solicitous and sincere overture to its local fans might have been a safer, more direct route.

Internet Mogul Is a Media Mess

seanparker Internet Mogul Is a Media Mess

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for internet mogul Sean Parker.

Sean Parker, co-founder of the groundbreaking music sharing service Napster and first president of Facebook, is by many accounts a nice guy who these days is famous mostly for being really rich – and for earning bad press that gets worse when he tries to fix it.

You might recall Parker’s over-the-top, fairy tale-themed wedding in Big Sur last year that turned into a nightmare for him, and then some. Parker dug a deeper hole for himself by talking too much, authoring a 10,000-word defense that was as unintentionally hilarious as it was out of all proportion to the story.

Jump to last week and across the country to New York, where Parker’s snowbound Greenwich Village neighbors complained that the internet billionaire had the street torn up to have high speed fiber-optic communications installed in his $20 million pied-a-terre. Parker responded personally to the report, conciliatorily at first. But then came another story , another response, and another story. In the run-up, Parker got angrier and angrier, finally raising the true white flag of public press feuds – he called his critics Nazis.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Sean Parker and his lack of restraint. His publicist must be both stressed and lonely.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know when to fold. Parker’s overzealous pursuit of redemption through the press accomplishes just the opposite, sustaining the story and making him look guilty as well as petty. Back in the day, the popular caution was “Don’t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.” Now, with worldwide bandwidth mere keystrokes away, it’s all the more critical that you learn to grin and bear it. If you’re famous, accept that you will sometimes get bad press. Respond if you must, but in a manner that ends the conversation. And leave the job to your publicist so you remain above the fray.

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.

SF Mayor Revises Facts to Fit Friends

edlee SF Mayor Revises Facts to Fit Friends

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is trying to broker peace in his city between the haves and the have-mores – that is, between the middle class and the Next Notch Up. Many of the latter group hail from the tech industry, whose financial and political support helped Lee win office in 2011. Judging from recent published remarks, the mayor might need to recalibrate his socioeconomic bearings to keep his impartial referee’s cap.

Interviewed in Time on how tech wealth has fueled divisions and resentments among residents, Lee conceded that his city might have “missed some steps” in tending to its middle class – and then made a misstep of his own. “We might have a broader range of defining the middle class,” Lee told Time. “I’m talking maybe $80,000 to $150,000.”

That range, as it turns out, is wildly off. As local news outlets reported, census data list median salary in the city at $74,000 as recently as 2012. (It’s about $61,000 for California and $53,000 for the nation.) Upwardly revising the number also rebrands the middle class to embrace the tech block to whom Lee is beholden. Et voila! What middle-class exodus? What’s more, our six-figure friends need government help!

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, for floating a tone-deaf talking point seemingly crafted by a tech sector lobbyist.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Build a ring-fence around your credibility. This is especially true for would-be mediators. The middle ground is the hardest to defend and the slightest tip of the scales one way or the other compromises one’s impartiality and hence effectiveness at bridging gaps. Lee’s infraction of this rule is seemingly minor, but San Francisco is tightly bound, constrained geographically (by water) and politically (by tradition). Like the city’s endemic earthquakes, even small political ripples can do damage and escalate rapidly to major catastrophe. Keep your friends close, indeed – but your facts closer.