Lights, Camera, Lawsuit: The Real Drama Behind Documentaries

2012 queen of versailles 001 300x200 Lights, Camera, Lawsuit: The Real Drama Behind Documentaries

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for David and Jackie Siegel.

Why does anyone agree to take part in reality TV-style documentaries? Invariably they end in tears and lawsuits. The forthcoming documentary The Queen of Versailles, about a thrillingly tacky billionaire couple that embarks on a quest to create America’s largest home, proves the point. Well before the film’s release date on July 20, lawsuits began flying.

Meet David and Jackie Siegel, the couple with royal pretensions. David is the billionaire founder of Westgate Resorts. At 77 years of age, he says with pride that Westgate is the largest privately owned time-share company in the world. His wife, 31 years his junior, marvels in the film at her crocodile boots by Gucci ($17,000), her ten kitchens, spa, and bowling alley–requisites, obviously, of any comfortable home. The dream? To create a palace to rival Versailles, in the principality of Orlando, Florida.

The dream turned nightmarish when the film’s final edits came through. Westgate, like many other business, hit the headlines for running into problems with the collapse of the property boom. The film suggests that David Siegal was in financial trouble and juxtaposes images of ongoing and then ceased construction.  Wasn’t this meant to be about business success and not business failure? We’ve been stung–call the lawyers!

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for the Siegels and their delusional expectation that this documentary would be anything but problematic.

PR Takeaway: It’s all in the final cut. The longer the filming, the bigger the edits.  If Siegel wanted a documentary about his business success, he should have paid to have a promo film made about him and his firm. As the film crew followed the construction of the 90,000 square foot house, requiring months of filming, any control of the final outcome was relinquished. Not even a generous banquet with the producers in the Siegel’s Hall of Mirrors would shift the story line on this one. Their best hope is to take a leaf out of the Kardashian book and see how they can milk their new notoriety.

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Should the Spiegels have expected anything other than drama, or are they getting a room with a view to reality? Give us your PR Verdict, below.

Would You Call Yourself a Close Friend of Rajat Gupta?

rajat gupta Would You Call Yourself a Close Friend of Rajat Gupta?

The PR Verdict: “B” for Rajat Gupta and friends

For those who missed it, yesterday was day one of the trial of Rajat Gupta the former managing director of McKinsey & Company and former board member of Goldman Sachs.  He is charged with passing on secret tips to convicted hedge funder Raj Rajaratnam who is now serving a lengthy sentence for insider dealing.  Gupta is accused of leaking price sensitive information to Rajaratnam about Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble.

Not everyone agrees.  Gupta’s attorneys describe him as a man of “great integrity,” a philanthropist and a victim of prosecutorial overreach.  As part of his PR campaign Gupta’s friends have rallied a high flying list of supporters who point to his social, civic and business record.  Author Deepak Chopra and one of India’s richest men are among those who have signed an open letter defending Gupta’s record at a website simply called www.friendsofrajat.com,

“He’s like a dolphin caught up in a tuna net,” says a high powered friend who manages the website. “The government refuses to admit it’s a dolphin and not a big fat tuna, and they’re not going to give up. That’s what my website is trying to do, tell the story about the other Rajat.”  Friends have turned out in force but are they the right ones?

The PR Verdict: “B” for Rajat Gupta and his friends.  They have made their case well, arguing they want to counterbalance negative prejudicial coverage by presenting a fuller version of Gupta’s business pedigree.  Next time why not find a move diverse group of supporters?

The PR Takeaway:  Diversity broadens reach and lowers risk.  For a man steeped in the business affairs of corporate America it is surprising how few non-south Asian names have signed the letter.  The insider-dealing network of convicted Raj Rajaratnam was partly based on a series of close ties with people who shared the same cultural background.  A few more non-Indian names from big-shot corporate America might have improved the chances of providing Gupta the air cover and distance from the Rajaratnam case that his well meaning friends have stepped in to provide.