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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News for the “get” of the decade: the first American television interview with former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden. Williams’ team had been negotiating with intermediaries for months, as Williams told the New York Times, and he affirmed that NBC didn’t win a bid; no money exchanged hands. Snowden’s payment? Complete secrecy of his whereabouts and a chance to tell his side of the story. NBC’s payoff? Obvious.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Greg Abbott, Republican contender in the race for Texas governor. Abbott’s supporters created large posters of an “Abortion Barbie” with Democratic opponent and pro-rights activist Wendy Davis’s face and put them around Los Angeles in advance of a fundraiser for Davis. Though Abbott’s reps said they weren’t behind the stunt and found it appalling, the bad taste stays all in his mouth.

 

mahbod 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to website Rap Genius, which forced the resignation of co-founder Mahbod Moghadam (left) after he made incredibly insensitive comments about the mass shootings at the University of Santa Barbara, CA. Rap Genius began as a site that annotates rap lyrics and has grown since then—but apparently not grown up. As the company’s explanation states, there was debate as to whether to include the shooter’s manifesto on the site in the first place; when they decided to go ahead, no one checked the annotations. While the action was swift, it did little to offset the damage that mere forethought could have stopped.

 

 

PayPal’s Quick Payback to Ranting Exec

paypal PayPals Quick Payback to Ranting Exec

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

Another weekend, another tech sector exec behaving badly and embarrassing his employer. This time it’s PayPal, whose now-former global strategist Rakesh Agrawal unleashed a series of Twitter rants that were either his parting shot or cost him his job, depending on what you choose to believe.

Tweeting late night Friday from New Orleans, where he was attending Jazz Fest, Agrawal offered up choice expletives for co-workers he thought should be fired or were “useless,” including PayPal’s communications chief. In the remorseful light of morning, he tweeted that he had been using a new phone to “test experiences” and had intended those messages for a colleague. “Note to self,” he added, “don’t test a new phone when sleep deprived after working your ass off for 20 hours a day while on vacation.”

Within hours, PayPal tweeted that Agrawal, just two months into the job, was on vacation permanently, adding: “Treat everyone with respect. No excuses. PayPal has zero tolerance.” Not one to leave it there, Agrawal answered that he had actually quit Friday to start his own company. He followed that Sunday night with a series of since-deleted F-bomb tweets directed at – well, everyone – and then a promise of a “logical explanation” for the last two days. Please, don’t bother.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for PayPal, for a quick public display of disaffection with a self-destructing employee.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Move fast in matters of reputation. Lasting damage can occur literally at the speed of light. PayPal’s fast, direct response established Agrawal’s separation from the company, then pivoted to stress the firm’s zero tolerance for behavior or opinions like his. Companies have different policies on employee tweeting, but to a tech firm like PayPal, pre-screening tweets would run counter to Silicon Valley’s libertarian ethos and would never fly. The individual empowerment of social networks gives those with an axe to grind an instant platform to air their grievances. Companies need not hold back in responding.

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.

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.

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.