Rapper Macklemore’s Costume Called Anti-Semitic

macklemore 150x150 Rapper Macklemores Costume Called Anti Semitic

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

Does no one remember the lesson hard-learned by fashion designer John Galliano, taken to task after wearing Jewish dress in a mocking fashion? Apparently not. Rapper Macklemore, aka Ben Haggerty, is on a steep learning curve after wearing a costume that many are calling anti-Semitic.

Last week, the Grammy winning duo of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis performed in their hometown of Seattle at the EMP Museum. Macklemore appeared on stage wearing a black wig, a fake beard, and a large, hooked prosthetic nose to perform a song called “Thrift Shop” about scoring fashions for a bargain.

His look, coupled with the song’s subject, “is deeply offensive and propagates Jewish stereotypes,” read a statement from B’nai B’rith, the Jewish human rights group. Social media was full of blowback too, prompting Macklemore to tweet, “A fake witches [sic] nose, wig, and beard = random costume. Not my idea of a stereotype of anybody.” Actor Seth Rogen, among those who’d called the rapper out, tweeted back, “really?? Because if I told someone to put together an anti Semitic Jew costume, they’d have that exact shopping list.”

Macklemore, who has been lauded along with Lewis for their pro-gay stance, has since apologized, though the statement’s start opposes his initial plea of innocence: “I acknowledge how the costume could, within a context of stereotyping, be ascribed to a Jewish caricature.” As Seth Rogen said, “really??”

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

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When fashioning an apology, don’t change your client’s plea from “not guilty” to “guilty” unless you absolutely must. Apologies for wrongdoing should come quickly and without qualification, with the focus on the mea culpa. Starting the apology with an acknowledgement goes against Macklemore’s claims that any thought of caricature was mistaken. With a strong apology alone, the worst that can happen is people thinking your client is clueless. Any more than that, and the charges won’t be changed no matter what the plea.

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.

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.

Bottom Line? It’s Not Always About the Bottom Line

 Bottom Line? Its Not Always About the Bottom Line

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Mozilla.

When Brendan Eich stepped down from his position as chief executive of software company Mozilla last week, the general assumption was that his personal stance against same-sex marriage was to blame. But was morality the reason for Eich’s resignation from Mozilla after being appointed a mere two weeks ago? No, opines Farhad Manjoo in the international edition of Sunday’s New York Times. Manjoo instead points out a key factor about Mozilla that companies need to heed. For Mozilla, the bottom line isn’t the only bottom line.

Mozilla is a company with a mission, to promote “the development of the Internet as a public resource.” In other words, it’s not all about the money for Mozilla. In a highly competitive industry, Manjoo writes, corporate culture becomes as important as salary. Apple and Microsoft may be able to offer buckets of money to talented coders and software designers, but those people might go for the company offering something they believe in.

Mozillians spoke online of how Eich divided their community. One said, “He is actively harming Mozilla by not making a proper statement on these issues and making things right.” Eich’s probable forced resignation is yet another example of the importance of keeping one’s personal opinions out of business.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Mozilla, for distancing themselves from a debate that causes damage to their corporate culture and their brand.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Remember the refrain from The Godfather: It’s business, not personal. Whether you’re in business purely for profit or you have a mission, personal opinions can cost a company more than money. PR people exist for this purpose; had a few been consulted on this matter, Eich might not have a two-week position on his resume, and Mozilla wouldn’t have a new reputation of axing those it deems wrong.

OkCupid Hits the PR Target

 OkCupid Hits the PR Target

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for dating website OkCupid.

OkCupid’s arrow was on the mark. The online dating site made headlines this week for its clever slam of Brandon Eich, the new CEO at software collective Mozilla. Visitors to OkCupid who use Mozilla’s Firefox web browser were greeted with a message asking them to return via an alternative browser –  because Mozilla’s new head honcho apparently doesn’t support alternative lifestyles.

In 2008, Eich donated $1,000 in support of California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative declaring marriage as being between a man and a woman. The measure passed but was ultimately deemed unconstitutional. His donation, made public in 2012, caused some chatter that eventually died down.

With Eich’s appointment as CEO last week, however, concerns have resurfaced about his views.  OkCupid minced no words about its distaste, saying, “Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure. If you want to keep using Firefox, the link at the bottom will take you through to the site. However, we urge you to consider different software for accessing OkCupid.”

The company also gets extra PR points for the way in which it took its stand. A press release would have sufficed, but temporarily blocking visitors using Firefox was a real eye-catcher.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for OkCupid for inspiring such headlines as “OkCupid Makes War Not Love on Mozilla: ‘Don’t Use Firefox.’”

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Playing politics is potentially messy, but it’s not verboten. Certainly, companies should tread carefully when choosing sides on a controversial matter; it is easy to misstep. But there are times when doing so is a no-brainer and such was the case here. OkCupid says it’s in the business of “creating love,” so its objections to Eich’s appointment are both personal and professional. Even their statement notes that 8% of OkCupid matches are same-sex unions. As such, there is only benefit to standing up for equal rights for the LGBT community, and doing so loudly.

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

hijabs The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the Overland High School girls soccer team in Aurora, CO, for a stirring show of solidarity. Last week, referees barred one Muslim player on the team, Samah Aidah, from playing with a hijab on her head, calling it “dangerous.” Never mind that FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, officially permits the practice – not to mention the US Constitution. For the next game, all of Samah’s teammates and coaches wore the traditional Islamic headscarf in support. A tweet by one of the girls with a picture of team, all in headscarves, sent the matter viral. Young people leading by example, again.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) TO Lady Gaga, who continues to have a bad hair year. She fired her longtime manager, and her latest album, ARTPOP, hasn’t sold nearly as well as her previous collection, Born This Way. Now, her Born This Way Foundation, which seeks to “foster a more accepting society,” is under fire. Tax reports for 2012 show that BTWF spent $1.85 million in legal fees, salaries, travel, philanthropic consulting, and $808,661 in “other” expenses. Actual donations? A mere $5000. An example of how celebrity foundations aren’t born bad, they’re made that way.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO newly annointed Federal Reserve Chief Janet Yellen, who tried (and failed) to avoid rattling financial markets by couching her comments at her first press conference. Oh Janet, have you not studied your predecessors’ previous faux pas? After saying “We will try as hard as we can not to be a source of instability here (regarding communications)”, Yellen promptly gave what investors interpreted as a potential timeframe for interest rate increases, and one earlier than they had expected. Was that the message Yellen meant to convey? Who knows — and it doesn’t matter. Stock markets fell, bond yields rose, and the world carries on. PR tip to the head of the Fed:  When it comes to interest rates, “no comment” is the best comment.

Airbnb Fights XXX Party’s Bad PR

 

 Airbnb Fights XXX Partys Bad PR

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

An amusing story about a man who inadvertently rented out his apartment for an orgy via  popular website Airbnb is anything but funny for the company.

Airbnb pairs travelers with homeowners willing to rent out their personal space – a popular option in New York City, where the price of even a modest hotel room often daunts out-of-towners. One resident, Ari Teman, agreed to rent his apartment out to “David,” who said he was seeking accommodations for a wedding. As he’d done before, Teman met with the renter, showed him around the place and went to spend the night elsewhere. But he returned to pick something up – and  walked in to a large crowd, overturned furniture, and a bag of condoms and liquor bottles strewn about his digs. Teman’s pad, it seems, was the venue for the “XXX Freak Fest.”

Many have gotten a chuckle out of the tale, but the top brass at San Francisco-based Airbnb aren’t laughing. Although Airbnb employs several methods  to validate the authenticity and trustworthiness of both owners and visitors, they  can’t guarantee that nothing untoward will happen in a client’s home. How to react to the bad PR? Airbnb immediately banned the renter from the site, put Teman up in a hotel for a week, wired more than $20,000 to him and said they will cooperate with law enforcement. Overkill? Not if there’s a possibility the salacious soiree could kill their business.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Airbnb, which recognized that this funny story could have a sad ending – for the company.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Don’t underestimate bad PR. Airbnb’s entire business model relies on homeowners trusting the people who rent their abodes. Since they can’t ensure that nothing bad will ever happen, they can do the next best thing – meaning, everything – when it does. Crises arrive in many forms. Sometimes they’re obvious;  other times less so. Airbnb was smart to see this as more than a joke. There is no such thing as too much damage control.

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.”

 

 

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.