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.

NBC’s Cooper Medals in Insensitivity

 NBCs Cooper Medals in Insensitivity

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) to NBC for making Bode Miller cry.

It’s always a safe bet that American Olympic skier Bode Miller will make headlines. But an interview that went off the journalistic rails at this week’s Olympic Games in Sochi grabbed more attention than usual.

The drama unfolded following the men’s Super-G alpine skiing event, for which Miller had just won the bronze medal. NBC’s Christin Cooper asked Miller how the recent death of his younger brother was affecting the skier’s performance. And asked. And asked. And asked. To a point where Miller hung his head, dissolved into tears and walked away. The camera stayed on him well after he broke down.

Viewer backlash against Cooper was fierce. Criticism mounted after NBC made clear it didn’t mind capitalizing on the uncomfortable exchange. The taped segment could easily have been edited, but the network chose to show it in full.

As bad as the interview made NBC look, it may have been a PR plus for Miller. Skiing’s bad boy has been undergoing an image rehab since the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, when he blamed his mediocre performance on being “wasted” and said he used the games “to party and socialize at an Olympic level.” A custody battle for a child he sired during a fling also inspired ire. This interview humanized him more effectively than any PR campaign could.

THE PR VERDICT:  “D” (PR Problematic) for Christin Cooper’s Olympic-sized ambush.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Reporters shouldn’t become the story. Know basic tenets of PR, one of which is “There’s a time and place for everything.” Cooper obviously didn’t delve into NBC’s archives to watch Jim Gray’s 1999 interview of Pete Rose after he made the Baseball All-Century Team, which devolved as Gray relentlessly harped on Rose’s gambling past. Asking celebrities or athletes about personal issues isn’t off limits, but doing so at a celebration is bad form. Save the probing questions for the talk show couch.

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 Canadian Olympic ski coach Justin Wadsworth. When Russian competitor Anton Gafarov broke a ski during the Men’s Sprint Free Seminfinals, he had no chance of winning a medal or even making it across the finish line – humiliating, especially on his home turf. But Wadsworth ran onto the slope and quickly attached a fresh ski to Gafarov’s boot so he could finish. In a highly politicized Olympics, Wadsworth’s gesture demonstrated the good sportsmanship that exemplifies the spirit of the Olympics.

Bernie Herpin The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Colorado Republican State Sen. Bernie Herpin, for saying it was “maybe a good thing” that accused Aurora, CO, theater shooter James Holmes used a 100-round magazine in the gun massacre that killed 12 and injured 70. The remarks came amid continuing Republican efforts in that state to roll back tougher gun laws passed after the 2012 shooting. Herpin’s logic-defying point? The high-capacity magazine jammed. As a state political blog noted: “The idea that anyone would count on product defects to protect the public in an actual shooting is, of course, ludicrous beyond words.”

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Shia LaBeouf, whose recent antics have folks scratching their heads. First, he responded to accusations of plagiarism by putting out a series of mea culpas, also seemingly plagiarized. Then he tweeted the phrase “I am not famous anymore” multiple times before scrawling it on a paper bag and wearing it over his head at a film premier in Berlin. On Tuesday, the 27-year-old kicked off #IAMNOTSORRY, some kind of performance art installation wherein he and his bagged head sit silently across from curious visitors (itself an apparent rip-off of Marina Abramovic’s “The Artist Is Present” in New York in 2010). Personal meltdown? Cultural commentary? Odd way of diverting attention from the plagiarism charges? Sadly, there may be no answers to these questions because no one cares.

Football Star Comes Out of the Closet

 Football Star Comes Out of the Closet

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for football player Michael Sam.

It may be easier for public figures to reveal their sexual orientation these days, but much depends on the environment. The world of professional sports is now closely watching what happens with University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, who recently revealed he is gay.

Sam, 24, is up for the National Football League draft. If chosen by a major team, he will be the NFL’s first, and so far only, openly gay player. Sam came out ahead of the draft because, he said, rumors had been circulating. “I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” he told the New York Times and ESPN. “I just want to own my truth.”

His teammates were reported as being entirely supportive, as was the university. The NFL’s statement said, “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage… We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.” Others associated with football, including players, have been less complementary, saying homosexuality has no place in the locker room. In a time when coming out is easier but not always accepted, one can only make a personal choice to, as Sam said, own one’s truth, and then choose how to tell it.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Michael Sam. A football player at the top of his game has played his hand well.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Turn a challenge into an opportunity. While Michael Sam may have been forced to reveal his sexual orientation due to rumors, he took charge of the situation by turning his media revelation into a platform. “I don’t think I should be defined as Michael Sam, the gay athlete, or the gay football player,” he said in the New York Times video. “I want to be a football player.” If he keeps playing as well as he has, his actions may speak louder than any words about whether sexual orientation matters.

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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers PR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to CVS Caremark, the national drugstore chain, for its decision to stop selling tobacco products. Cigarettes in particular have been linked to diseases from cancer to high blood pressure and stroke – something that the country’s largest retail pharmacy just couldn’t reconcile with its broader mission of making its customers healthier. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose,” said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark. The announcement was immediately hailed by everyone from President Obama to the American Cancer Society. CVS is the first such retailer to take the plunge and it will cost the company an estimated $2 billion in revenue, a small fraction of overall sales but no chump change.

SOCHI DOG 570 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers PR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Sochi Winter Olympics organizers and host city, where countless stray dogs are being killed ahead of today’s opening of the games. The strays were pets or offspring of pets left by families whose homes were razed to make way for Olympic venues. A Russian billionaire is financing belated rescue attempts but the culling continues – a grisly counterpoint to the festive atmosphere organizers would rather we see. The government claims the strays came for the food construction workers gave them, and stayed. The International Olympic Committee says no “healthy” dogs are being destroyed. Maybe, but this is certain: the round-up is just another PR fail for the most expensive (and worst planned) games ever.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers THE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Bill Nye, more popularly known as “The Science Guy,” who bothered debating science vs creationism with Ken Ham, President of the Creation Museum. The argument had rather predictable results –  no one was swayed from their original side. But apparently geeks and religious types still enjoy a good argument: the 800 audience tickets sold out in minutes, and 3 million people tuned in to watch on television.

Is Sochi Safe for the Olympics?

 Is Sochi Safe for the Olympics?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Sochi and the winter Olympics.

The winter Olympics aren’t set to begin for another two weeks, but they’re already off to an uneasy start. Yesterday, video was released to the media by alleged terrorists who threatened to target the games and the Russian host city of Sochi.

These winter games and their setting already had a controversial relationship. As Russia passed laws hostile to homosexuals and lesbians, athletes both straight and gay protested. When tensions between US President Obama and Russian President Putin mounted over NSA file leaker Edward Snowden, Obama said early on that he’d be a no-show at the games. Then, in January, two deadly suicide bombings in Volgograd cast a bleak shadow over the impending competition and provoked questions about safety.

Yesterday, video of two men allegedly with Anars Al Sunna, an Islamist group, was released to the media. The men claim responsibility for the attacks in Volgograd, calling them “only a little example, a little step,” of what may come. President Putin promised to “do whatever it takes” to protect all attending the games. But US Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI) said American officials working with Russia “found a departure of cooperation that is very concerning.”

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Sochi, host city of the winter Olympics and target of terrorists.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Truces can be temporary and lead to victory. Russia and the United States have always had uneasy relations and will likely continue to do so. But in times of crisis, such as when terrorists are openly threatening, there is an opportunity for both sides to come together and win. Shake hands, forge forces and work as a team. When the games are done, everyone can go back to the way things were. But the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics could go down in history for an entirely different, and positive, reason.

PR Memo to A-Rod: It’s Not Too Late

 PR Memo to A Rod: Its Not Too Late

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Major League Baseball player Alex Rodriguez.

To sports fans, a losing season is interminably long. Baseball fans must be feeling that way about the drama involving Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees and the question of whether he took performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). With each passing day, A-Rod digs himself deeper into a PR hole he has increasingly little chance of climbing out of.

The issue exploded last week after an arbitration panel agreed Rodriguez should serve the longest-ever suspension of a Major League Baseball player for his alleged infractions. On Sunday, a 60 Minutes interview featured purported dope dealer Anthony Bosch, who suggested that A-Rod’s inner circle tried to buy his silence and, when Bosch refused, threatened his life.

Some say it’s too late in the game for a mea culpa from Rodriguez. But the sad truth is that other sports figures, most notably Lance Armstrong, have more than cleared the brush on that path. So many others have come before him – including a dozen other players who admitted they bought drugs from Bosch – that Alex Rodriguez would be just another name on a depressingly expanding list.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Alex Rodriguez. Admitting he used PEDs  won’t save his career or legacy, but it’s his only option to stop the onslaught of negative press and repair his image.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know when to fold. With this scandal breaking in the twilight of his career, Alex Rodriguez’s dreams of holding homerun records and joining the Baseball Hall of Fame are dashed. An admission of guilt may give the public a figure they can eventually forgive. All that’s left of Rodriguez’s image is who he is as a person. Admitting he used and apologizing would at least give us someone who went out appearing accountable and contrite, rather than a deluded egomaniac who denied his complicity until the bitter, bitter end.

 

 

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 Princeton University for its smooth handling of a potentially deadly meningitis outbreak on its New Jersey campus. It emerged this week that seven students have contracted an unusual strain of bacterial meningitis since March. But the frightening fact was paired with the university’s announcement that it was already in discussions with federal authorities to offer a vaccine not yet approved in the US.  The facts were clearly communicated (all students but one out of the hospital, vaccine to be available in December, campus awareness campaign underway), FAQ’s posted online and questions referred to government health officials. The university emanated calm, preparedness and control.

ryanlambourn The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Ryan Jake Lambourn, whose video game allows players to reenact last year’s school shooting in Connecticut where 20 children and six teachers died. Lambourn, an American expat thought to be living in Australia, said he created the game to spur pro-gun control action in the US. Australia enacted sweeping gun control after a 1996 mass shooting, but in America, “All these massacres don’t seeem to have had any similar effect on regulation,” Lambourn told the press. That hardly soothed families of Sandy Hook victims, one of whom called the game “absolutely disgusting.” The game does in fact emphasize safeguards that could have prevented the massacre. As a result, Lambourn’s first-person shooter won no props from gun lovers, either.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Alex Rodriguez, the embattled baseball player who is facing a major league suspension for allegedly taking performance enhancing drugs. Rodriguez has been in hearings this week on the charges brought against him by MLB commissioner Bud Selig. When the 79-year-old Selig sent someone else to the trial in his place, Rodriguez flew into a rage, punching a wall, pounding his fists on a table, cursing and finally leaving. He then went on a radio show to deny taking the drugs. Yep, a grandstanding fury is certainly the way to convince people of that.

National Football League Loses More Points

 National Football League Loses More Points

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the National Football League.

Even if you know nothing about American football, you may have heard of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Their names will soon fade from the headlines, but a burgeoning image problem for the National Football League may not.

Martin recently walked away from the Miami Dolphins after he said he could no longer endure harassment by his teammates, led by Incognito. The imbroglio includes charges of racism and purported threats by Incognito to sexually assault Martin’s sister, and by Martin to annihilate Incognito’s entire family.

It sounds over the top, but not for the NFL. In the past two years, the league has seen one player charged with an execution-style homicide (Aaron Hernandez) and another murder his girlfriend then kill himself in front of his coach (Jovan Belcher). So far in 2013, more than 40 players have been arrested for various crimes. A book out last month, League of Denial, accuses the league of ignoring and even covering up evidence that players have suffered devastating brain damage as a result of their years on the field.

These issues arise as the NFL enjoys unprecedented popularity and financial success. Perhaps because of that, the brand – a collective of  32 teams – has been somewhat slow to tarnish. As the incidents mount, however, the league’s top brass needs to consider their next PR move.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the National Football League. Is the best defense, indeed, a good offense?

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Accentuate the positive. Like many organizations, the NFL doesn’t have complete control over its members but what the league does have is positive stories to tell: it has changed the rules of the game to try to reduce concussions, funds programs to examine head trauma and has “player engagement” programs that focus on mentorship and personal responsibility. These talking points should be in every team owner’s back pocket when speaking to the media. When an organization is the sum of its parts, PR is everyone’s job – not just the commissioner’s.

The Worm Turns…Into a Diplomat?

 The Worm Turns...Into a Diplomat?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Dennis Rodman (pictured with Kim Jong Un).

Dennis Rodman has always been a maverick. And while few thought they’d seen the last of him when he retired from professional basketball, even fewer could have predicted that the ostentatious athlete would be making headlines for his  attempts at international “diplomacy” nearly 15 years later.

On the court, Rodman was known as “The Worm” and played an aggressive defense for several top-ranked US teams. Off the court, he was equally well known for his multi-hued hair, wild tattoos, and laundry list of wives and legal woes. After stints in acting and professional wrestling, the now 52-year-old Rodman has a new career: unofficial ambassador to North Korea and its young dictator Kim Jong Un, or – as Rodman put it this week – his “friend for life.”

Returning from a  second trip to see Kim, Rodman held a press conference this week to dutifully convey Kim’s message to the world: Hey, North Korea isn’t so bad! Kim, Rodman insisted, is “a very good guy,” and, really, just wants to talk. One presumes Rodman’s state-managed tours of the North Korean countryside did not include the millions believed starving and living in forced poverty, or the gulags where multiple generations of a family are imprisoned for a single relative’s transgression.

While a few naïve hopefuls continue to view Rodman’s visits as positive, the growing feeling is this “basketball diplomacy” is at best entertaining and at worst embarrassing. As one late-night comedian put it, “Not since Sea Biscuit and Hitler has there been a more strange pairing of athlete and dictator.”

THE PR VERDICT:  “D” (PR Problematic) for Dennis Rodman. US Secretary of State John Kerry need not fear for his position.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  There is a fine line between outrageous and oafish. Rodman’s antics have always pushed the envelope, and he has been rewarded with lots of attention. But there is something pathetic about this latest publicity grab: Rodman appears less a savvy envoy and more an aging ex-basketball player mesmerized by a young despot who flatters him and makes him feel important. “I’m not a joke,” Rodman insisted at the press conference, sitting next to a bust of his own head. “Take me seriously.” If only it were that easy, Dennis.