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.

Lack of ‘Frozen’ Merch Means Chilly PR for Disney

princess elsa 150x150 Lack of ‘Frozen’ Merch Means Chilly PR for Disney

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Disney. (Pictured: Princess Elsa from Frozen.)

Call it a “good news, bad news” scenario. Disney is currently enjoying the success of its movie Frozen becoming the highest-grossing animated film of all time. They can’t gloat for too long, though; the news has shifted from accolades to tears of frustration and temper tantrums, both from children and adults. The problem? A shortage of Frozen merchandise.

Social media hath no fury like mommies frustrated by not being able to buy their children what they want. Specifically, the Princess Elsa dress – a sparkly blue gown like the one worn by Frozen’s heroine. The movie was already a hit, the DVD is now out and reaching an even larger audience, and worldwide demand for the dress far exceeds supply. The costume, usually around $50 in the US, is apparently going for over $1000 on ebay. If you can find one.

When has Disney ever underestimated the popularity of one of its movies? It’s possible that this film became bigger than even the Mouse House foresaw. But with frustrations raging online and in the media from mothers who can’t get what their kids want, Disney had better grant some wishes soon.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Disney. The low grade is not for running out of merchandise, but because running out implies underestimating their own success, and being unable to rectify the situation.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Spin! Spin like a princess at the ball, and then be a fairy godmother, granting your consumers’ wishes. First thing should be a statement saying how fantastic it is that your widgets were so popular that demand for them exceeded supply. Second is getting more widgets out quickly, in this case before a sweet animated movie invokes episodes more like The Hunger Games. This is a problem every company dreams of, but action keeps it from turning into a PR nightmare.

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.

SAE Makes the Right Move

 SAE Makes the Right Move

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for SAE.

A college fraternity is making headlines again, but it’s not all bad news. Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), the largest US fraternity, announced it will seek to combat an alarming number of injuries and even deaths in its ranks by banning pledging, the process by which potential new “brothers” compete to be accepted into the fraternity.

Pledging is a rite of passage deeply embedded in American fraternities and sororities. On many college campuses, however, pledging has involved hazing: a physically and emotionally stressful initiation frequently involving humiliation, excessive alcohol intake and generally poor judgment. Bloomberg News recently dubbed SAE “The Deadliest Frat”, crediting it with nine hazing-related deaths since 2005.  More than 60 similar deaths have occurred at fraternities during the same timeframe, Bloomberg said.

With media coverage like this, it’s safe to say SAE’s hand is being forced. But regardless of motivation, their decision to fundamentally alter the fraternity landscape is their best move – both for their “bros” and their image. Once, fraternities were seen as positive institutions that helped instill values in their members, shaping tomorrow’s leaders. Today, they’re more often associated with allegations of hazing, racism or sexual assault. While some smaller frats have already banned pledging, that the nation’s largest organization is now doing so sends a strong message, both to its own members and to others.   

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Sigma Alpha Epsilon. The bigger you are, the more you have to lose.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Lead by example. For U.S. fraternities, the story has gone from bad to worse over the past decade. Isolated incidents have become seen as an out-of-control systemic problem. In  situations like this, a dramatic gesture must be made to right the ship, lest everyone go down. At more than 300,000 members, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is a powerful force. Its bold decision will be seen now the right thing to do, and everyone from university presidents to insurance companies will approve. Fraternities that don’t follow suit do so at their own peril.

Walking Quietly Out of the Closet

 Walking Quietly Out of the ClosetShortly before the end of the year, yet another high-profile member of the media came quietly out of the closet. Robin Roberts, co-anchor of top-rated chat show Good Morning America, followed in the footsteps of her former colleague Sam Champion in divulging that she is gay – though indirectly.

The media reported less on the item itself and more that the times, they have a-changed. More and more, gay and lesbian celebrities and media personalities are  taking a far quieter route to announcing their personal status. A recent article in the New York Times noted the trend adopted by several well-known figures of mentioning a same sex partner as an aside. In Champion’s case, the news shared on GMA was his engagement to be married; the fact that he was marrying a man might almost have been missed in the congratulations. Roberts tweeted her thanks for support during a bone marrow transplant to family, friends, and her girlfriend.

Is the new quiet coming out – as a mention, a sign of acceptance by the masses, or canny PR? Perhaps it’s both. Taking this approach lends credence to the argument that this “news” shouldn’t matter. Or it could all be a matter of professional politics, knowing that it may be difficult to report on matters such as gay marriage without appearing biased. That is, if anyone noticed the personality’s news in the first place.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Robin Roberts of Good Morning America.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When the news concerns your personal life, consider your agenda. The corporate head of Chick-Fil-A make his business vulnerable to negative press by airing his personal anti-gay views. On the other side of the coin are media personalities whose job is to report news impartially. Can this be done when you become part of the news? Yes, apparently – when a revelation is presented as being no big deal. If in doubt, make your move on a holiday weekend, when shoes tossed from the closet tend to drop with barely a sound.

Barney’s and Jay-Z Get Bad Rap From Shoppers

Jay Z 150x150 Barneys and Jay Z Get Bad Rap From Shoppers

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Barney’s and Jay-Z.

It would take a lot to equal the PR humiliation suffered by Zurich boutique Tres Pommes when Oprah Winfrey asked to see a handbag and was refused by a clerk who said she couldn’t afford it. However, Barney’s may find itself in the running; the luxury Manhattan retail store recently suffered two embarrassing moments that could impact a big celebrity tie-in with rapper Jay-Z.

Trayon Christian, 19, said he was stopped by police after buying a $300 Ferragamo belt from Barney’s flagship store on Madison Avenue. Kayla Phillips, 21, was also questioned by police after purchasing a $2,500 bag. Both are African American.

While the incidents occurred earlier this year, they made the news recently in conjunction with Jay-Z’s November 20 launch of a line of clothing and jewelry in association with Barney’s. The negative publicity triggered a storm of protest and a petition calling for boycotts against Barney’s for racial profiling.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Barney’s and Jay-Z.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  In tandem projects, take care as to who says what when. As the negative press hit the media and Jay-Z was called out by fans and fellow musicians alike, Barney’s was the first to respond with a statement of apology and a review of practices. As for Jay-Z, he remained mostly quiet – and got flak for it. “I haven’t made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barney’s,” he said. Once Barney’s made its first move, Jay-Z might have been wise to jump in with some more supportive PR. After all, one speaker at a time makes good PR sense, but prolonged hesitation only dilutes the final message.

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

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the Seattle Police Department for their amusing and effective method of policing the first Hempfest since Washington state legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. In a brilliant move, the new law’s “do’s and don’ts” were printed on the backs of small Doritos bags and doled out to revelers by the boys and girls in blue. Brilliant because, you know, Hempfesters would inevitably get the munchies at some point, but also because it’s refreshing to see the police department take the role of community guardian and educator instead of adopting the typical “us vs them” mentality that so many urban forces exhibit these days. This was one time a bunch of potheads were stoked to see the fuzz.

Madonna grilz 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO – or should we say, “Full Fashion Fiasco?”) to Madonna. Last Friday, she turned 55, but this week, Madge showed the world she’s still the Material Girl, not the Material Matron, by sporting gold grills on her teeth. Aside from the fact that she looks, in this photo anyway, like Hillary Clinton doing Madonna for a Saturday Night Live sketch, complete with dark roots and age-inappropriate getup, this look does not say “hip and youthful” so much as it shrieks “midlife crisis.” A sign that Madonna’s still huge: None among her entourage dares tell her the truth. 

130819145747 marissa mayer vogue horizontal gallery The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, whose glamorous photo shoot and chatty interview in the September issue of Vogue has people scratching their heads more than turning them. Fetchingly posed on a chaise lounge in a sleek blue designer dress and stilettos, Mayer is telling the world…what, exactly? Not much about the company she was brought in to turn around 13 months ago.  (“What would Marissa Mayer wear?” asks an accompanying feature on workweek attire – surely the question uppermost on every investor’s mind.) Yahoo, to her credit, is turning around, which maybe is why she felt comfortable with doing the Vogue piece. Still, a glossy magazine spread that focuses on her wardrobe more than her work ethic reflects an overly preening personal PR campaign – likely dismaying loyal fans who admired her for breaking glass ceilings, not wearing glass stilettos.

Oprah Incident: Swiss Boutique’s PR Goes to Hell in a Handbag

 Oprah Incident: Swiss Boutiques PR Goes to Hell in a Handbag

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

Until recently, perhaps only those in a certain income tax bracket knew the name Trois Pommes in Zurich. That changed last week, when the high-end boutique became more well known – and not just for its pricey merchandise. Trois Pommes is the shop where Oprah Winfrey, the African-American entertainment magnate and billionaire, said a sales clerk refused to show her a handbag because, the clerk said, she couldn’t afford it. Winfrey, who was in town to attend the wedding of singer Tina Turner, said she politely requested to see the $38,000 bag three times but was rebuffed each time. She finally left, without making a scene. Winfrey recounted the incident during an interview to promote her new civil rights-era film, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, in response to a question about ways in which racism has affected her life. The revelation, which has generated international media coverage, is a black eye for Swiss hospitality. Both the Swiss Tourism Office and Zurich Tourism have apologized to Winfrey, which only slightly makes up for the feeble explanation by the owner of Trois Pommes, Trudie Goetz, who claims the encounter was a “classic misunderstanding.” The clerk, Goetz said, is a native Italian speaker who thought Winfrey had asked to see the bag in less expensive materials. This isn’t the first time the 59-year-old media mogul, Oscar-nominated actress and philanthropist has been snubbed while trying to buy a tony handbag. In 2005, Winfrey was locked out of Hermes store in Paris when she tried to enter just at closing time. THE PR VERDICT:  “B” (Good Show) for Oprah, who handled both the incident and the disclosure of it with characteristic grace. THE PR TAKEAWAY: Emotion is often the enemy of productive discussion. Of course, Winfrey would have been within her rights to kick up a fuss, either at the time or in the press, but such behavior can sometimes backfire (“You were discriminated against while shopping for a $38,000 purse? Poor you!”).  She took the higher road, however, and that has made her story more compelling. By recounting the incident calmly and with perspective, Winfrey has prompted a serious discussion on racism and how it transcends bank accounts and borders.

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

Screen Shot 2013 05 23 at 5.15.34 PM 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and LosersPR Winner: “A” (PR Perfect) to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, who was asked to testify on Capital Hill following a recent report that excoriated Apple as a tax dodger, parking profits offshore and not owning up to its domestic tax obligations. Tim Cook was just humble and conciliatory enough while pressing the larger point that the present tax code needs urgent reform to wipe out gaping loopholes. This was bait and switch at its best. Before anyone could reboot his or her iPad he had the Senate’s Permanent Committee on Investigation eating out of his hand. “I love Apple,” exclaimed one enthusiastic member as the hearing wore on. Tim Cook and Apple’s senior management presumably slept soundly that night.

Screen Shot 2013 05 22 at 8.03.19 AM The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and LosersPR Loser: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Lois Lerner who pleaded the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination at the recent hearing on the ongoing IRS fracas. Leading the IRS’s division on tax- exempt organizations she arrived for what was always going to be a hostile and partisan hearing.  Lerner began by protesting her innocence saying she had “done nothing wrong,”  (fair enough) but then after delivering what seemed like an opening statement pleaded the Fifth Amendment and refrained from further comment. Is it really okay for a paid government employee to refuse to answer questions from Congress? It’s muddy water certainly, but making your case and then pleading the Fifth sounds rather like having your cake and eating it. Bon Apetit.

Screen Shot 2013 05 23 at 5.20.36 PM 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO:
 Kim Kardashian and the ongoing coverage of her problematic relationship with singer Kanye West. This week In Touch featured heavily pregnant Kim on its cover claiming she is humiliated by rumors that her baby’s father has a secret boyfriend in Paris (with supporting photograph). Is Kanye West gay asked the article? This is apparently Kim’s “greatest fear.”  In Touch had a picture of the rumored French boyfriend while OK Magazine went 180 degrees and broke news in the opposite direction. Describing itself as the only magazine “with the real story,” it insisted in breathless detail that Kim and Kanye are “happier then ever” and plan to elope to Paris. No doubt about it, claims OK Magazine. At this point either Kim or Kanye’s PR should set the record straight.


Will Yahoo Un-Coolify Tumblr?

Screen Shot 2013 05 21 at 4.09.09 PM Will Yahoo Un Coolify Tumblr?“We promise not to screw it up,” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer wrote, tongue-in-cheek, on the Tumblr blog she launched Monday, the day Yahoo announced its $1.1 billion acquisition of the popular micro-blogging site that is all the rage with the cool kids. If only Tumblr’s users could trust that. Judging from their online comments, many of them view Yahoo’s purchase of the anything goes blogging platform as a nervous teenager might watch Dad try out her skateboard. (“Be careful – and don’t break it.”)

Tumblr is Mayer’s seventh acquisition since she took the helm last year of once-dominant Yahoo, which is struggling to find relevance and its footing against rivals like Google and Facebook. The acquisition makes sense for Yahoo, analysts agreed, as it seeks to find cache with the vital, but famously fickle 18-to-24-year-old market segment. Tumblr, home to 109 million blogs and 51 billion posts, made just $13 million last year. Yahoo is looking to integrate and monetize it gently and slowly  and will let founder David Karp continue to run it more-or-less independently. (He also told users not to worry.

Only time will tell if buying Tumblr will make Yahoo “cool” or work in reverse, driving away the exact group of habit-forming users Yahoo hopes to capture. Mayer’s “screw it up” comment is an awkward and nervous acknowledgement of that possibility, but it is also a mea culpa reference to Yahoo’s record of game-changing acquisitions that tankedBetter that she call it out herself.

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Yahoo and its CEO, for making a stiff new pair of cool shoes seem to fit.

The PR Takeaway: What principals say at M&A time has to resonate with a lot of audiences – investors, competitors, existing and new customers. Managing change means setting expectations and allaying fears. On the latter point, humor, even if hokey, can help – in Yahoo’s case, a shot of the self-deprecating sarcasm especially favored by the younger crowd. Pitch-perfect messaging is essential: While you walk the walk, you still must talk the talk. But always make sure to give your sound bites the smell test.