Sterling Crashes and Burns in CNN Interview

 Sterling Crashes and Burns in CNN Interview

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Donald Sterling.

If ever you’re compared to the Hindenberg, it’s a safe bet to assume something went terribly, terribly wrong.

That was how one CNN anchor described his network’s exclusive interview with Donald Sterling, the embattled owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Last month, Sterling was banned for life from the National Basketball Association, including his own team’s games, after audio recordings surfaced of him making racist statements. After weeks of silence, Sterling agreed to be interviewed by Anderson Cooper on Monday.

As he sat with Cooper sans handlers, the 80-year-old Sterling seemed unaware he was plummeting from frying pan to fire. He tried to blame his woes on Magic Johnson, the NBA hall-of-famer he insulted in the first place and who, Sterling said, told him everything would be all right. He admitted that his original comments were made in pursuit of sex with a woman 50 years his junior. Worst, he made another seemingly racist statement about African Americans’ philanthropic efforts, or lack thereof.

“What this was to PR, the Hindenberg was to blimps,” CNN’s Bill Weir said, while The Washington Post grimly noted it was “a study in damage control gone wrong.” Variety said Sterling  “gave the impression of somebody who was not mentally clicking on all cylinders” and that “the erratic, strange performance…will be studied in crisis public-relations classes for years to come.”

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Donald Sterling, who may be long in the tooth but who still hasn’t learned to keep his mouth shut.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: “No Comment” is a PR strategy.  Sometimes a situation is so incendiary that the only recourse is to lie low until the heat dies down. There are (at least) two hard-and-fast criteria for walking into the flames: be absolutely certain that your messages will clarify or put the crisis in context, and be able to deliver them expertly. In Sterling’s case, he failed on both counts.

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.

The Truth About Wrongdoing, for the Right Reason

 The Truth About Wrongdoing, for the Right Reason

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart.

Thousands of children go missing each year, and in 2002, Elizabeth Smart was one of them. Smart was 14 when she was kidnapped from her Utah bedroom by Brian David Mitchell; she was found by police nine months later, less than 20 miles from her home. Over the past decade, she has been criticized for not attempting to escape, including one time when the pair were stopped by a police officer and Smart didn’t ask for help.

Now 25, Smart hit the media circuit this week to promote her memoir, My Story, which chronicles her horrific abduction. She says that the reason she’s telling “100 percent” of what happened to her in captivity, which included being raped daily, is because she wants to show other victims of sexual abuse that they can lead normal lives afterward.

She also wants readers to understand children’s mindsets in such circumstances.  Abused children are often brainwashed by their tormentors, she says. “I was a little girl,” Smart told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I had seen this man successfully kidnap me, he successfully chained me up, he successfully raped me, he successfully did all of these things. What was to say that he wouldn’t kill me…what was to say that he wouldn’t kill my family?”

Let’s be frank: a candid accounting of Smart’s ordeal will no doubt boost sales for her book. But Smart’s interviews also reveal a thoughtful, composed, and well-adjusted young woman with more than just a lurid story to tell.

THE PR VERDICT:  “B” (Good Show) for Elizabeth Smart, whose dark cloud has a silver lining for victims of similar abuse.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Good intentions can equal good PR. Smart has spoken about her kidnapping in the past, but it’s taken her more than a decade of reflection to tell her story. That lends credibility to the notion that she’s not just interested in making a buck. Her motivations for speaking now, and in such detail, seem genuine. From a PR perspective, Elizabeth Smart is a victim no more.

Zimmerman Trial Juror’s 15 Minutes of Fame

 Zimmerman Trial Jurors 15 Minutes of Fame

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Juror B37.

As protests over the acquittal of George Zimmerman grew increasingly violent across America and pundits  decried the justice system, one person close to the verdict finally spoke out. Juror B37, whose identity remains anonymous, took to the news shows to try to shed light on how the “not guilty” verdict was reached.

Cloaked in darkness, B37 told Anderson Cooper how the jury was hamstrung by the evidence and  Florida’s state laws. Unable to “find him guilty of something,” she tearfully explained, “We thought about it for hours and cried over it afterwards.”

Any intentions toward illuminating the reasons for the jury’s verdict, or to quelling the increase of violent protest, were lost when another fact was revealed: Juror B37 had been offered a book deal, by the same agent who represents the former boyfriend of accused murderer Amanda Knox. The Twitterverse promptly bombed the agent with demands that she rescind the offer (which she did). Juror B37 also released a statement saying, “[Being sequestered] shielded me from the depth of pain that exists among the general public over every aspect of this case… The best direction for me to go is away from writing any sort of book and return instead to my life.”

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Juror B37. An opportunity to do good was lost in a bad decision.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: In volatile situations, put out the fire, and brush off your own clothes later. Once released from sequester, five minutes in front of a TV would have clued Juror B37 into the fact that this trial has polarized a nation. It’s natural to want to explain the process leading to a shocking verdict. It could even have been helpful, showing how the law works, and doesn’t. Zimmerman, Knox, and others acquitted of high-profile crimes may have no other financial recourse but to sell their stories to publishers, but for an anonymous juror, this seemed self-serving. Everyone wants to be rich and famous, but the needs of the many – in this case, a confused and dismayed nation – must outweigh the needs of the one.

Jason Collins Makes a PR Slam Dunk

 Jason Collins Makes a PR Slam Dunk

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to NBA star Jason Collins.

In the world of PR, it’s not just what you say, but what media outlet you say it to. A perfect example? Basketball star Jason Collins coming out in a cover story in Sports Illustrated. By all accounts, this was a major announcement: Collins is the first male major league athlete to reveal he’s gay. By PR accounts, the way he made the announcement was even more interesting.

That there are gay athletes is a given. Women’s sports seem to be more tolerant; women’s basketball pro Brittany Griner came out recently, and the hullaballoo rating was low.  But in men’s basketball, baseball, football, and hockey, the policy is don’t ask, don’t tell. While opponents, and even teammates, may be openly homophobic, there is also the question of fan reaction. Will the people who spend billions on sporting event tickets and merchandise tolerate openly gay players, and the teams who draft them?

This past Monday, Collins revealed that he was gay directly to a media outlet that speaks to the sports fan: Sports Illustrated. The magazine is known for its sports reporting but is most famous for its annual Swimsuit Issue, the cover of which – a barely clad female beauty – tells much about its audience. If fan reaction was in question, Collins addressed it directly.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Jason Collins. It’s not just what he said and how he said it, but to whom he said it.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When making an unexpected announcement, consider making it via an unexpected source. How typical – and not terribly brave – it might have been for Collins to weep on Oprah’s shoulder, or Ellen’s, or Anderson Cooper’s as the latter two compared coming out stories. The hosts would have been all too sympathetic, and Collins would have lost face with sports fans. However revealing his truth via Sports Illustrated almost said, “This isn’t a big deal.” It is, of course, and it may go into PR history books as a slam dunk.

State Dept. vs. CNN: War of the Words

 State Dept. vs. CNN: War of the Words

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the State Dept. for its unusually aggressive language. CNN is facing full PR heat.

The State Department and CNN are embroiled in a an ugly fight over the recovered journal of Chris Stevens, the late Ambassador to Libya, who was killed in a deadly attack on the US embassy. Using unusually strong language, State Dept. spokesman Philippe Reines said that when it comes to airing the contents of the journal, “CNN patting themselves on the back is disgusting” and that the cable news network “needed to be convinced to do the right thing.” CNN is now on the defensive. Has it been ethically caught out?

While the sequence of events is unclear, what is known is that CNN got hold of Stevens’ journal and used it in its reporting. Explaining that the journal was found four days after the attack, CNN says it notified Stevens’ family “within hours after it was discovered.” From there, the story gets messy.

The State Dept. says the network “completely ignored the wishes of the family” and reported on the contents of the journal before returning it to the family, despite the family’s repeated requests that nothing be used until they had a chance to review its contents. CNN went ahead with its story, saying it “felt there were issues raised in the journal which required full reporting.”

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the State Dept. for its unusually aggressive language. CNN is facing full PR heat.

The PR Takeaway: Self-interest rarely wins the PR battle. Having passed the journal’s contents around a newsroom and only then asking the family for permission for its use puts CNN in a ethically challenging spot. Unless CNN can get some ringing endorsement from the Stevens family, it has lost this PR battle. The State Dept. has the clear upper hand in this case, speaking on behalf of the family of the slain ambassador. Meanwhile, CNN is left looking like it might benefit from a refresher course in ethics and common decency.

Was Stevens’ journal fair game for journalistic reporting, or should CNN have abided by his family’s wishes? Give us your PR Verdict!

Anderson Cooper: PR Perfect

 Anderson Cooper: PR Perfect

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Anderson Cooper and his PR regarding his coming out.

So Anderson Cooper, CNN’s biggest “name” anchor, has confirmed he is gay. Cooper hit the headlines earlier this week with his e-mail correspondence to journalist and blogger  Andrew Sullivan, which included the unequivocal message, “The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be.” The phrase was reprinted endlessly over the next three days. The media wondered if anyone was shocked or scandalized. The definitive response: No.

From a PR point of view, this was handled perfectly. Cooper had never publicly indicated if he was–or wasn’t. That changed when a recent feature in Entertainment Weekly examined how celebrities handle coming out. Andrew Sullivan approached Cooper for comment, and Cooper’s response made headlines.

Cooper crafted a number of well-worded, thoughtful paragraphs explaining his reasons for coming out now and his previous reticence. He sent them to Sullivan who republished it in full, with Cooper’s permission. Next step: Cooper was unavailable for any interviews due to being on assignment. The void was filled with praise and endorsements from friends and colleagues. Nicely handled.

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Anderson Cooper and his PR regarding his coming out.  Simple message, no details, well expressed, STOP.

The PR Takeaway: This was an elegant PR exercise. Closeted celebrities, take note: Keep the message and the delivery simple. Make your point clearly. Say what you have to say and make sure it is unedited (therefore, stay away  from lengthy sit-down TV interviews). Place it with a friendly media source, and then be unavailable. Nothing more to add. Nothing more to explain. And, in Cooper’s case, get back to saving the world.

Will Anderson Cooper’s self-outing have any repercussions? Should he have come out, or kept himself out of the limelight? Give us your PR Verdict!