Where on earth is Nazanin Boniadi? To those unfamiliar with her name, Boniadi was allegedly put forward as a potential girlfriend to Tom Cruise, by the Church of Scientology’s top brass in 2004, as they sought to couple up their leading celebrity. The full story in the October issue of Vanity Fair continues to generate headlines since its publication, and The PRV gave Cruise and Scientology the “Loser of the Week” award for their mutual mishandling of this major reputational hit. Why?
Vanity Fair cites numerous sources and quotes them in detail, naming dates, places, and schedules throughout the article. The bad news for Cruise and his pals, is that the story is not a vague piece of celebrity journalism citing unnamed sources but Scientology didn’t seem to care and responded in the article with assertions that the article contains “lies” and “garbage.” Blanket aggressive denials were never going to turn this story around. This was poor PR handling.
The article describes the Church as having a culture of fear, secrecy, blackmail, spying, and routine informing by peers, with summary punishments involving loss of liberty. Vanity Fair tracks Boniadi’s trajectory from Church member,to potential Cruise girlfriend, to later exile at a Scientology campus. If the story is truly “garbage,” why didn’t Scientology make Boniadi available to Vanity Fair to set the record straight?
The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Scientology’s crisis management of this latest hit to its reputation. Throw cold water on the allegations with another set of facts and change the direction of the story.
The PR Takeaway: Fight fire with fire. The easiest way to take the wind out of a damning story line is to go on-the-record with an alternative view of events that casts doubt on the prevailing version. A few choice words from the former girlfriend in question might have done the trick. Defensive denials are PR 101; on-the-record comments win the day over flat denials.Next time let Nazanin do the talking.
What else could the Church of Scientology done to manage this PR fiasco? Give us your PR Verdict!
Editorial note: Friday’s PRV Weekly Wrap contained an incorrect news item regarding Julian Assange and Wikileaks. The item has been removed; we apologize for the error.