Tech Founder’s Top 10 List Hits Bottom

pshih Tech Founders Top 10 List Hits Bottom

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for start-up founder Peter Shih.

In this week’s edition of “Rich Tech Start-up Founders Behaving Badly,” enter 1) Peter Shih 2) a micro-blogging site and 3) a really bad idea. Shih, who co-founded Celery, a well-funded payments start-up, decided to take to his Medium page with a Top 10 list of what he dislikes about San Francisco, where he moved from New York at the request of his backers. Among his pet peeves in the City by the Bay: the public transit system, the weather, homeless people, cyclists, and women who don’t measure up to his standards of pulchritude. (Shih eventually deleted the expletive-laden post, but it is viewable here.)

All in derisive fun, Shih claimed, but San Franciscans didn’t see it that way. They unleashed a Shih-storm of criticism at the startup “bro,” who managed to showcase in his listicle just about every abhorrent stereotype of the Silicon Valley parvenu – bratty, entitled, self-involved, and tone-deaf.

To Shih, the blowback hit below the money belt, with attacks aimed also at his start-up. “Hate all you want,” he wrote in his first attempt at damage control. “But please stop bringing my company into this.” His proper mea culpa came over the weekend. Contrite to a fault, it did little to quell the ire, reading as if the prevailing cooler head was someone other than Shih himself.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Peter Shih, for running his mouth like a high schooler on the playground, not an entrepreneur with a business he’d like to see succeed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Sarcasm rarely fits a business model. And when that business is your start-up, forget that you ever had an identity of your own. Shih embarrassingly lost sight of these two imperatives, as well as a third (at least): Have a good idea? Run it by someone. A brainstorm? Run it by three. And please, if you want to write something that shows you’re funny, do it on a napkin and put it in your pocket. Shih proved once again that 1) PR advisers and 2) grown-ups belong on the Top 10 list of “Things a Start-up Needs.”

Chipotle’s “Hacked” Tweets the Latest PR “Twend”?

Chipotle Logo 150x150 Chipotles Hacked Tweets the Latest PR Twend?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK ) for Chipotle’s Twitter “twick.”

Time was you were no one without a Twitter feed (Anthony Weiner, take note). But in the attention-challenged world of social media, trends move faster than you can click a Facebook “Like,” and the new mark of the Twitterati arriviste is to have your feed hacked. It’s so trendy, in fact, that some corporate marketeers are faking it.

Burrito franchiser Chipotle is the most recent case. A series of nonsensical non sequiturs crossed its Twitter feed last week before some guy named “Joe” tweeted about a “little problem with our account. But everything is back on track now!” Well whew!

As it turns out, it was all a marketing ploy, and by at least one measure it worked. The hourlong “hack” added 4,000 followers to Chipotle’s Twitter feed that day (compared to an average of 250), and the faux tweets were retweeted thousands of times (against a typical 75). “We thought people would pay attention,” a company rep later said, acknowledging that the “attack” was a tie-in to the company’s 20th anniversary promotion. Reaction, he said, was “overwhelmingly positive.”

Well, maybe. Not everyone thought the stunt was endearingly clever. Like its zesty Mexican fare, Chipotle’s spicy Twitter trick (“Twick,” anyone?) might have seemed a good idea at the time but result in little more than heartburn.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Chipotle, for taking a bite of PR risk that so far hasn’t bitten back.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Be careful with edgy humor, lest you become the punchline. The PR blooper reel is laden with jokes that backfired badly. The same caution goes for jumping on the latest trend or doing anything that potentially makes fun of your intended audience. With the corporate world’s rush into social marketing have come some embarrassing failures (remember #McDStories?). There is a growing backlash against companies that hamfistedly try to be hip or au courant with social media, and this is especially true among teen-to-twentysomethings to whom fast food chains like Chipotle cater. Skinny jeans don’t look good on everyone. Take a careful look from all angles to make sure what you’re doing fits.

Football Team Avoids a Foul

 Football Team Avoids a Foul

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for the New England Patriots. (Pictured: Former Patriots team member Aaron Hernandez.)

When an employee is arrested for a crime, should the company stand by the person? That was the question facing US football team The New England Patriots recently when police began investigating one of their star players, Aaron Hernandez, in the death of an acquaintance.

At first, team management was quiet on the matter. As details began to emerge, however, they moved into damage-control mode. Shortly after Hernandez’s arrest, the Patriots announced they would release him. A few hours later, Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder.

From a PR perspective, the Patriots did three things right: They fired Hernandez (at significant financial expense) before he’d been charged; their statement expressed both condolences to the victim’s family and their horror that a Patriots player might be involved; and they offered to exchange, for free, team jerseys inscribed with Hernandez’s name, many of which are owned by the team’s younger fans.

Arrests of professional football players are on the rise so the Patriot’s decision was an important one. In 2013, at least 39 players have been charged with serious crimes. The Patriots are one of the most well-managed and competitive teams in the league. By cutting ties to Hernandez, they sent a powerful message: criminal activity won’t be tolerated, even by lucrative star players.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Patriots, whose swift decision saved face.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  “Innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t apply when it comes to the brand. The decision to walk away from beleaguered employees sounds heartless, but an employee’s misconduct – real, perceived, or as yet confirmed – can cast dark shadows on an organization. These unusual situations must be decided on a case-by-base basis; there may be times when evidence is less than compelling, or a suspension makes better PR and legal sense.  As a general rule, though, the sooner a company parts ways with the accused, the better.

Yahoo Appeals to Its Own Vanity

yahoo logo 600 Yahoo Appeals to Its Own Vanity

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Yahoo! and its recycled ID plan.

Everything old is new again at internet giant Yahoo! Silicon Valley’s wannabe comeback kid announced plans to recycle unused account IDs to free them up for new users – a bone-toss to any user saddled with alphanumeric mouthful like johndsmith12345. “If you’re like me, you want a Yahoo ID that’s short, sweet, and memorable,” Jay Rossiter, Yahoo’s SVP for Platforms, announced on the company’s Tumblr blog.

Not everyone loved the news. Hackerphobes quickly raised concerns that recycling IDs could expose users to identity theft and other security threats. Traditionally account IDs are almost never recycled for fear that hackers can use them to gain access to other, still active accounts. A writer for Wired Magazine who has chronicled his personal experience with a crippling hacker attack called Yahoo’s plan “a spectacularly bad idea.”

Yahoo on the other hand, seeking to inject new enthusiasm into its brand and still fighting a “Your Father’s Internet” reputation,  promised that appropriate security safeguards were in place. But embarrassingly , when pressed, it couldn’t assert that the plan was hacker-proof. Yahoo is now left wiping spam off its corporate face.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Yahoo’s questionable plan and hedgy commitment to user security.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Prepare for the obvious. Coming as it did amid revelations of Internet spying by the government, Yahoo’s pitch to new users seems particularly poorly timed and bound to raise tough questions. Not even a PR magician could salvage what appears to be an ill-conceived, poorly-vetted plan. Besides the legitimate security issues, recycling user IDs seems slightly gimmicky. In the end Yahoo couldn’t vouchsafe on questions of security. The result? Yahoo looked desperate to make a splash and walked straight into a PR blunder.

Nike Drops Charity, Yet Their PR Image Lives Strong

 Nike Drops Charity, Yet Their PR Image Lives Strong

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Nike, which very quietly severed a costly tie with Livestrong.

Yesterday, Nike announced they would cease production of products associated with the Livestrong brand. Livestrong, the charitable organization founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong, had a nine-year relationship with the world-famous sportswear brand that raised over $100 million through the sales of products. “We expected changes like this,” said a Livestrong spokesperson. As did the PR world.

After Armstrong admitted to doping his way through all seven of his Tour de France wins, his sponsors jumped ship faster than any of Armstrong’s cycling records, Nike included. But how would it look if they abandoned a charitable foundation? Livestrong was blameless, their only crime guilt by association.

Nike’s PR team knew that withdrawing money from a charity, even in the wake of a disgraceful scandal could backfire on them. The more sensible and low risk option? Pull the plug on the products and continue to fund the charity directly.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Nike for beginning to sever ties with a high-profile charity with minimum fuss.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When ties must be cut, don’t hack; slice gently. The harsh fact is that Nike had to distance itself from Armstrong and all to do with him. However, this is a charity; how to distance without looking like villains? Stop production of products –  a practical measure anyone could agree with – while confirming to the media that the company will keep making donations to the charity. Without patting themselves on the back, Nike still comes out looking like a decent company, despite dealing what may well be a fatal blow to Livestrong. (Actually, their founder did that.) What happens to Livestrong remains to be seen, but Nike has already come out ahead.

Sex and the Single Gurley Brown

 Sex and the Single Gurley Brown

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Helen Gurley Brown.

What is the PR secret to staying “on- message” and in the public eye for over forty years? The death this week of Helen Gurley Brown (HGB), former Editor- in-Chief of Cosmopolitan and author of once scandalous books, provides some clues. Since the 1970s, she never stopped preaching the same message. And women in particular, kept on listening.

Feminists were never quite sure where to place HGB. Some staged a sit-in at her offices in protest during her editorship of Cosmo, while others lambasted her “teenage immaturity.”  She certainly knew how to scandalize, claiming “I’ve never worked anywhere without being sexually involved with somebody in the office.” Did this include her boss? “Why discriminate against him?” was her tart reply. Cheeky!

Having shocked America with her thesis that unmarried women not only had sex but also enjoyed it, the NY Times recently wrote that she spent “the next three decades telling those women precisely how to enjoy it even more.” Bottom line, her aim, she said, was to tell women “How to get everything out of life — the money, recognition, success, men, prestige, authority, dignity — whatever she is looking at through the glass her nose is pressed against.” So it wasn’t just about sex after all.

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for HGB. Her message was simple: Kick off the conversation with headline-grabbing sex, but broaden into “having it all.” No wonder she was still listened to.

The PR Takeaway: Lasting success comes from wrapping a simple message into a wider discourse. Weighing in at 100 pounds all her life, HGB was a socio-political heavyweight, talking about sex in the wider empowered context of “having it all” and being your best. The mistress of the sound bite, HGB was famous for her motto, “Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere.” Back in 1970, she was already speaking to the Sex & the City zeitgeist, perhaps even helping to create it. Forty years later, her message still resonates; no small achievement for someone who was supposedly just talking about sex and the single girl.

To read more about HGB, click here.

Did Helen Gurley Brown help to objectify or liberate women? Give us your PR Verdict!

 

 

 

 

 

Burger King’s Big Fat Risk

The New Burger King Bacon Sundae 300x205 Burger Kings Big Fat Risk

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Burger King and their new bacon sundae.

While the controversy about America’s out-of-control obesity epidemic rages unabated Burger King is cheerfully hitting the headlines with a revamped summer menu. What’s new and exciting? A bacon sundae.

The world’s second-largest hamburger chain is offering vanilla soft-serve ice cream topped with fudge, caramel, bacon crumbles, and a slice of bacon. The salty-sweet bacon sundae has 18 grams of fat, 61 grams of sugar, and approximately 510 calories.

Burger King has not yet made it clear how this new “summer only” product launch, works with an earlier campaign that had the chain targeting a broader demographic. With much fanfare, that menu was then expanded to include fruit smoothies, wraps, and salads.  Take the summer off,  Burger King now seems to be telling weight-conscious America, and relax . . . with a bacon sundae.

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Burger King. New launches like this undermine claims that the industry is dedicated to helping solve the national obesity problem. Why not mitigate by coming out with a new lo-cal smoothie at the same time?

PR Takeaway: Actions needs to mirror words. If the fast food industry wants to be taken seriously and viewed as friend, not a foe, in the health debate, then it would be better to stand behind the wraps and smoothies they rolled out earlier. The bacon sundae is bound not to win over health advocates. Any more of these launches, and Burger King could find itself fighting the unloved corner in the national conversation about obesity. Just ask Big Tobacco what that feels like.

What’s your PR Verdict on BK’s bacon sundae? Tell us by leaving a comment, below.

PR Verdict in the news: Today’s NY Times quotes the PRV re Goldman Sachs, click here to see what we had to say.