Facebook Does the Right Thing, But Doesn’t Get “Liked”

FB mastect crop Facebook Does the Right Thing, But Doesnt Get Liked

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Facebook, regarding mastectomy photos on the site.

Remember Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy story? Of course you do. The attention she garnered propelled Facebook, the Internet’s favorite whipping boy, into a conversation about breast cancer survivors that it never wanted, and from which it could never gain.

A photographer posted dramatic photos of mastectomied women and was temporarily banned from the social network under Facebook’s vague guidelines regarding nudity. His cause was taken up by an activist outraged at Facebook’s seeming insensitivity. The activist, a Stage IV cancer survivor herself, started an online petition calling on Facebook to reverse itself – and got more than 20,000 signatures overnight.

Facebook, to its credit, reached out to the activist and clarified its policy on post-mastectomy photos, which is now its own paragraph on the site’s community standards page. In a statement, Facebook said it had always permitted such photos, but took some down after users complained. The reworded policy made their acceptability on the site explicit. The action should have generated “win-win” type headlines. Instead what emerged were headlines of Facebook “bowing  to consumer pressure.” For Facebook, no good deed goes unpunished.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Facebook, for suffering the PR consequences without complaining.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  A measured response is always best. When you have bigger PR headaches – like allegations that you let the Government spy on your users, for example – it could be tempting to look for a way to deflect  negative attention and polish your public image. But doing so carries risks you look callow and opportunistic. Facebook could have made more noise about its policy change to garner good publicity but recognized that the story was not in their control. Better then to take  your lumps and turn the page. In the world of PR, it’s important not to bring a fly swatter to a gun fight. And don’t bring an F-16, either.

Angelina Jolie’s Brave Announcement

Screen Shot 2013 05 14 at 9.37.25 PM 150x150 Angelina Jolies Brave Announcement The New York Times editorial started off sentimentally, with superstar Angelina Jolie writing of how her mother died young, at just 56 years-old, and before she had a chance to meet all of Jolie’s six children. Soon, though, it was clear Jolie was making a shocking announcement: she had recently undergone an elective double mastectomy after learning she carries a genetic mutation linked to significantly higher incidence of both breast and ovarian cancer.

The decision to have her breasts removed without a cancer diagnosis was surely an anguishing one for the 37-year-old Jolie, considered one of the world’s sexiest women. In the editorial, she explained her decision-making process and went into detail about the procedures. She addressed the emotional impact that mastectomy can have on a woman, and the critical role that partners (in Jolie’s case, the actor Brad Pitt) play during this difficult time. By saying she “started” with breast removal, she also hinted she may continue with more prophylactic surgery, such as a hysterectomy.

In all likelihood, Jolie could have kept mum about this life event. However, she said, she chose to go public to raise awareness about the genetic testing available to women and to give reassurance to those agonizing over the same decision. As one columnist at National Public Radio noted: “Someone will think about having a mastectomy and remember that Angelina Jolie had one, and she wasn’t embarrassed, and she still felt pretty, and she told everyone that it can be survived.”

THE PR VERDICT:  “A” (PR Perfect) for Angelina Jolie, whose announcement was a flawless example of using one’s celebrity platform in a constructive and selfless manner.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: The way an announcement is made can be crucial to how it is perceived. Ms. Jolie shunned a huge press conference or one-on-one interview in favor of writing a thoughtful editorial in one of the world’s most venerable publications. In doing so, she was able to express herself fully and eloquently yet also remain protected from a barrage of follow-up questions. Perhaps most importantly, by writing the op-ed she made her announcement more about a health concern shared by many women and less about Angelina Jolie. Well done.

Guest Column: Angelina Jolie to Syria’s Rescue

Angelinajolie1 150x150 Guest Column: Angelina Jolie to Syrias Rescue

PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for UNHCR and its association with Angelina.

Tired of reading about celebrities in US Weekly or People? Then turn to the Financial Times. The FT just ran an op-ed from Angelina Jolie, special envoy to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), co authored by António Guterres, the UNHCR High Commissioner and former Prime Minister of Portugal. Both made a plea to support Syrian refugees and the latest UN appeal drive.

This latest FT column follows Jolie’s televised visits to Syrian refugee camps, guaranteeing coverage where the plight of the refugees might not have ordinarily rated a mention. During the visits, Jolie appeared shaken and emotional; critics might say that’s no big stretch for an actress, but following up her well-publicized visits with the op-ed route was wise. No charity glamour, just simple facts and arguments.

The column summarized the situation clearly. Wearing her UN hat, Jolie got right to the point: This appeal is not just about helping refugees, but making sure help is on a sustainable footing. The FT ran a photo of the glamorous special envoy on its front page. Her co-author had to be content with a byline; presumably he doesn’t sell newspapers in quite the same way.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for UNHCR. Celebrity coverage is the stepping-stone for more serious follow up, but is Angelina Jolie the right celebrity?

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Choose your celebrity wisely. By pairing up with Jolie, the UNHCR got its cause more attention than it might have otherwise. But the nagging issue with Jolie is that it’s never really clear if she is smart and cool, or a wanna-be humanitarian who, in her personal life, is a bit of a loon. She has still not been able to shake off her “crazy” image, which includes an endless array of children and tattoos. (Have we forgotten the vial of Billy Bob’s blood she wore as a necklace?) Bottom line, her sincerity isn’t in doubt, but does she have the gravitas to take this issue any further?

To read Angelina Jolie’s and António Guterres’s op-ed column, click here.

What’s your opinion of the UNHCR’s choice of Angelina Jolie as representative? Give us your PR Verdict!