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

Liz Wahl RT The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Liz Wahl, an American anchor for state-owned RT (Russia Today) TV, who resigned on air Wednesday citing the Kremlin’s political interference with the network’s news reporting – in this case, concerning Russia’s invasion of Crimea in the wake of political upheaval in Ukraine. Wahl minced no words in drawing a link to President Vladimir Putin, saying she could no longer be “part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I’m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I am resigning.” A day earlier, colleague and fellow anchor Abby Martin  had similarly denounced Putin’s invasion – and faced reassignment as a result. Brava to both.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Belle Knox, the Duke University freshman who publicly identified herself as a porn star, at least by her nom-du-film (she says her “birth name” is still personal information). Knox’s secret was out after she was recognized at a college party. At first, she shied away from inquiring minds, but then approached Playboy, XOJane.com and others to explain that a) she had to do this because school is “f*cking expensive” and b) women in porn need to be more empowered – and she will be their leader. Even Playboy had trouble swallowing that one. Advice to Belle: keep your mouth shut.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who took to the stage at the Conservative Political Action Committee with harsh words for the media, Democrats, and President Obama. He had zero words about the investigation into his alleged involvement in Bridgegate, nor any of the party-crossing banter that won the Republican governor many a Democratic vote in the last election. His pro-life conservative tone is one he hasn’t used in a while, making many wonder which side Christie is really on. The answer is simple: whichever one will get him the most votes.

AOL CEO’s Remarks on Benefits a Detriment

tim armstrong aol AOL CEOs Remarks on Benefits a Detriment

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for AOL CEO Tim Armstrong.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong is back with another PR blunder that contributed to, if not prompted outright, an embarrassing corporate about-face. His latest gaffe came last week after AOL made a change to its 401(k) matching policy for employees, revealing that it would only match employee contributions at year’s end instead of throughout the year, and only for employees who are “active” through December 31.

Bad enough to adopt a miserly policy that robs employees of potential stock market gains in their retirement portfolio, but Armstrong added to the firestorm by blaming the change on Obamacare and on two “distressed” pregnancies that cost the company $1 million each in healthcare expenses. “We had to decide, do we pass the $7.1 million of Obamacare costs to our employees? Or do we try to eat as much of that as possible and cut other benefits?” Armstrong said, digging a deeper hole by going on to discuss the expensive pregnancies.

Too bad for Armstrong that AOL announced, at virtually the same time, a 13 percent increase in quarterly revenues, its best growth in a decade. The next day, he announced that AOL would reverse its 401k decision and apologized for singling out the two new mothers, but not before one observer recalculated his salary in terms of distressed babies per year.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Tim Armstrong and AOL for bad timing, bad policy, and bad employee relations.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Avoid scapegoating. Armstrong, like so many other CEOs, looked stingy in blaming Obamacare for forcing cuts elsewhere  – especially with AOL’s simultaneous rosy earnings announcement. (Is anyone managing communications flow at the company?) He doubled down by essentially blaming two specific employees for having the audacity to need expensive health care – pregnant women at that. Why not blame black rhinos for being hunted to near-extinction for their careless habit of having horns that poachers will kill for?

Allen Responds to Farrow’s Claims in Times

 Allen Responds to Farrows Claims in Times

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

The old saying “fight fire with fire” was updated in the ongoing, uncomfortably public drama surrounding Dylan Farrow and her adoptive father Woody Allen. A week after Farrow gave a vivid account of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of Allen to the New York Times, Allen responded with a self-penned Opinion piece, also in the Times.

Technically and from a PR standpoint, Allen responded two days after Farrow’s piece ran: His publicist stated facts surrounding the original allegations, and his lawyer followed two days later by restating facts. Never once was Dylan Farrow called a liar; rather, blame was shifted to her mother, Mia Farrow.

Allen continued in that vein, stating the findings of the special unit assigned to child sexual abuse, as well as giving a more personal account. So far, so good. But that gives way to a more emotional side of Allen. He addresses Mia’s coy pondering about son Ronan’s paternity, citing her hint of infidelity as testament to “what kind of character we are dealing with here.”

By the end, the angry Allen becomes a father despairing over a lost relationship, as well as having this alleged incident discussed publicly again. “This piece will be my final word on the matter,” he writes. “Enough people have been hurt.”

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

THE PR TAKEAWAY: State your case by stating the facts, and then move on. One could hardly expect anyone accused of a heinous crime to remain calm, whether in person or on paper. In cases such as these, damned if you do, damned if you don’t; an unemotional response might have had people calling Woody Allen unfeeling, while the emotion he displayed – anger against Mia Farrow – may also tarnish him. From a PR perspective, his choice to speak, his method of communication, and his venue were all appropriate, as was his promise at the end to say no more.

Allen’s Team Responds to Farrow’s Open Letter

 Allens Team Responds to Farrows Open Letter

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Woody Allen’s PR and legal team. (Pictured: Allen’s lawyer Elkan Abramowitz)

The denial of allegations of sexual abuse is extremely difficult to nearly impossible, especially in a public forum. Yet it was absolutely impossible for Woody Allen to remain silent after his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter detailing her account of Allen sexually abusing her as a child. But what would Allen say, and how?

The first line of PR response was not for Allen himself to go public. His reaction was given the next day through his longtime publicist Leslee Dart, who said Mr. Allen would respond directly “very soon.” She then listed the legal facts about the investigation.

Another response came yesterday – again, not from Allen, but from his lawyer, Elkan Abramowitz, who gave an exclusive interview to the Today Show. His stance was crucial, as he was speaking for Allen: Would he call the victim a liar? Not a chance. “In my view, she’s not lying,” Abramowitz said. “She truly believes this happened.” He went on to reiterate the legal facts and to present Allen’s explanation: that Mia Farrow, enraged over Allen’s then-new relationship with her adopted daughter (with André Previn) Soon-Yi, coached daughter Dylan to say she was molested. Another talking point Abramowitz made was that Allen was not angry with Dylan Farrow. “His reaction is one of overwhelming sadness,” Abramowitz said.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Woody Allen’s PR and legal team.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Respond – don’t react. Allen’s team is obviously skilled and wise. While Allen’s answer could only be maintaining his innocence, the way this was presented was crucial. One cannot claim innocence without implying that the accuser – in this case, the alleged victim –  is a liar. Unless, that is, blame is diverted to the mother and a reason given for her to manipulate a child. In the court of public opinion, reasonable doubt has been introduced.

Farrow Accuses Allen in NY Times

 Farrow Accuses Allen in NY Times

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

In a weekend filled with public relations news – Yahoo’s mail breach, a former Chris Christie associate saying his boss knew about Bridgegate, the loss of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman – one story stood out. Yet from a PR standpoint, it’s one of most difficult to assess. We’re talking – as is everyone in the media – about Dylan Farrow‘s accusation of sexual molestation by her adoptive stepfather Woody Allen.

Farrow wrote about the abuse in Nicholas Kristof’s column in the New York Times. This was both an interesting and obvious choice. Interesting because Kristof is known for writing about sexual abuse of women and girls all over the world. Obvious because, as Kristof discloses, he is a friend of Farrow’s adoptive mother, Mia Farrow, and her brother Ronan Farrow.

Reaction from the media was swift, and only two sides could be taken. There were those who agreed with Farrow that Allen should not have been honored by the Golden Globes, and those who defended Allen by recounting the fact that he was never formally charged.

From a PR standpoint, the effects on Allen are obviously dire. (At the time of this posting Allen had not responded, but his rep did; read her statement here.) As the statute of limitations has run out on the case by at least 15 years, no legal action can be taken. Farrow’s point was to speak out, she said, for herself and for other victims. In that respect, she has been heard.

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

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When dropping a bombshell, choose your vehicle wisely. There’s no doubt Farrow could have made millions with a tell-all memoir or an exclusive to a tabloid. However, Farrow said her point was to speak out for herself and for other victims of abuse. By choosing the column of a champion of women’s rights in a respected newspaper, with no money exchanged, she maintained the integrity of her goal.

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

davisfamily The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Amber and Dru Davis, for classily defending mom Wendy, a Texas gubernatorial candidate, from conservative attacks on her background and parenting skills. Right-wingers jumped on the Democrat after a newspaper article delved into her backstory – a teen-aged single mom who went from trailer park to Harvard Law School. “Dru and I have always been her number one priority,” Amber Davis wrote in a public letter refuting claims that her mother abandoned family for personal ambition. With a similar missive from Dru, the ill-conceived attack on Davis’ motherhood folded like the losing hand of Texas Hold’em.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to New York Congressman Michael Grimm, who threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony after the president’s State of the Union address. The reporter asked about an investigation into alleged campaign finance violations. Grimm walked off camera, then returned to mutter, “Let me be clear. You ever do that to me again, I’ll throw you off this f*cking balcony… I’ll break you in half, like a boy.” Grimm later said, “I doubt that I am the first member of Congress to tell off a reporter and I am sure I won’t be the last.” But there is doubt as to how much longer Grimm will remain a member of Congress.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Beyonce and Jay Z’s opening act at the 56th annual Grammy Awards, which fell flat for many viewers. Singing  “Drunk in Love,” their ode to alcohol-fueled marital relations, the routine featured a scantily clad Queen Bey writhing on a chair and on all fours under the approving eye of her fully clothed husband. While many called the performance sexy, others deemed it denigrating to women. Particularly disturbing was Jay Z’s line “Now eat the cake, Anna Mae,” which refers to a scene in Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It, in which wife-beater Ike Turner slams a piece of cake into Tina’s face. An act that was off key, at best.

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 Valérie Trierweller, the French first lady who staged a PR coup by checking herself into hospital after a magazine revealed that French President François Hollande has been having an affair with actress Julie Gayet. The media reported that Trierweller is so weak she cannot stand and is suffering from “low morale.” Despite being so indisposed, she’s made it clear she has no intention of leaving her philandering companion. Might Hollande have used this opportunity to declare his allegiance to Gayet? We’ll never know, since Trierweller’s canny move ensures she is the sympathetic figure in this love triangle. Hollande is left to send chocolates and flowers, while Gayet has launched a lawsuit. Touché, madame.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers

PR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Hillary Clinton. A bipartisan Senate report on the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi found that the incident, which left four Americans dead, was preventable. Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time, was not the only one blamed, but the findings are grave and cast a pall on talk of her possible bid for president in 2016.

randikaye The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO CNN’s Randi Kaye, who braved the confines of a pot smoke-filled stretch limo apparently for hours as part of her network’s coverage of Colorado’s newly-legalized marijuana industry – and appeared on camera visibly stoned as a result. Wrapping up her report on Anderson Cooper’s evening segment on Tuesday, Kaye giggled a lot and told the host that she’d had trouble remembering all the questions she wanted to ask during her reporting. Cooper asked but didn’t quite get the answer on whether Kaye’s Rocky Mountain high was passively or actively acquired. Pro tip for next time? Roll down a window.

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.

Lululemon Founder Steps Down After PR Gaffe

 Lululemon Founder Steps Down After PR Gaffe

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Lululemon, for taking a drastic measure.

Time was a company founder could be forced out of the corner office by flagging sales, tumbling stocks – the usual business problems. But with the advent of the Internet, one bad statement can take a company down fast. This is what Chip Wilson, founder and chairman of Lululemon Athletica, found out the hard way.

Yesterday the company announced that Wilson resigned as chairman of the board of directors after a series of PR gaffes that will make the textbooks. The upscale yoga and exercise apparel company initially irked its cult-like following with product issues. Wilson blamed some women’s bodies for not “working with” their designs.

His comments went viral and were met with demands for an apology. Wilson did apologize – to Lululemon staff for having to deal with the results of his actions. Insult, meet injury.

Lululemon was also a case study in crafting a devoted following. They felt betrayed. The logical solution was to serve a head on a platter. Wilson will remain on the board, but he’s been replaced by Laurent Potdevin, recent president of Toms Shoes. It’s suspected that Potdevin’s tenure with that socially conscious company will help put Lululemon back on track.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Lululemon, for taking a drastic measure to calm some insulted customers.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Chivalry is not dead. At the heart of the Lululemon fiasco was a man who insulted his female constituency by blaming his product’s failure on their bodies. How to win them back? Show them that the company stands by its customers. Why, they’d sooner make their founder resign than let consumers feel bad! Desperate times call for drastic measures – none of which would have been necessary had Wilson not kept in mind the most basic principle of business: The customer is always right.

Lululemon Founder’s Gaffe Gets Worse With “Apology”

 Lululemon Founders Gaffe Gets Worse With Apology

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Chip Wilson and Lululemon Athletica.

Chip Wilson, Lululemon founder, apologizes for comments,” was the gist of headlines last Friday, when the top-grossing athletic apparel company posted a video on YouTube. In it, Wilson addressed comments he’d made during an interview that resulted in much hue and cry. But was this video an actual apology?

An acknowledgment was certainly warranted. Wilson’s interview with Bloomberg touched on a costly product recall due to fabric sheerness. Wilson’s explanation? “Quite frankly, some bodies don’t work for [Lululemon pants],” he said.

Cue an onslaught of bloodcurdling cries for Wilson to apologize for size-ist insensitivity. In this age of social media, a video is generally the way companies choose to reach the masses. In the video, Wilson does say he’s sorry…to his staff. “I’m sad for the people of Lululemon who I care so much about that have really had to face the brunt of my actions,” he says. “I take responsibility for all that has occurred and the impact that has had on you.” He asks those who have made Lululemon what it is today to “stay in the conversation that is above the fray and prove that the culture you have built cannot be chipped away.” Chipped away by Chip’s absent apology, perhaps?

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Chip Wilson and Lululemon Athletica, for compounding this fracture.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Apologies work when they are clear and direct. Mere acknowledgement of having fouled up, or apologizing to those who sell your yoga pants for now having difficulty selling said yoga pants to angry women, is not an apology. If making a video for the public don’t address it to staff or insiders , instead acknowledge why people are angry and what role you have played in that. If that fails, prepare to make a follow up video, this time apologizing for the poor apology.