Damage Control Handbook: When Celebrities Attack

 Damage Control Handbook: When Celebrities Attack

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Beyoncé, Jay Z, and Solange Knowles.

Publicists have always tried to control celebrity clients’ appearances and interviews; it reduces the need to break out the damage control handbook later. These days it’s especially important, when social media can go mad with, say, footage of Solange Knowles, sister of mega-star Beyoncé, attacking her rap icon brother-in-law Jay Z.

On Monday, social media went ablaze with a video showing a woman reported to be Knowles kicking and punching a man believed to be Jay Z. The video was security camera footage from an elevator at the Standard Hotel in New York. “Reported to be,” “believed to be,” “apparently”—in other words, nothing has been confirmed.

Nothing has been denied, either, and lack of denial is as good as a confirmation; were these not the people in question, flaks and lawyers would have responded with all the threatening impact of the Wildlings on Game of Thrones. So far the only comment has come from the hotel, “shocked and disappointed” about the release of the security camera tape. (They’ll need to go into damage control, too, to regain guests’ trust.) As time passes with no response from PRs, minor celebs opine, social media pundits make jokes, and the problem lingers… For now.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Beyoncé, Jay Z, and Solange Knowles.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Damage Control Rule #1: Think before you make a statement. Issues such as this require a huddle with all of the celebs’ representatives. Stick to the facts within your own confidential conversation, and then agree upon a plausible explanation that will douse the flames of interest. A misunderstanding; too many cocktails; people are making too much of this. Most important? Keep your clients quiet. The alternate route is to say nothing; it’s new page in the handbook, and one that allows the story to remain alive, but only for the few days it takes for social media to move on to the next viral trend.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

Clooney Alamuddin 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR FERFECT) to George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin, who did not announce their engagement this week. It’s standard Clooney MO not to talk about personal matters, but his lack of statement or attempt to hide the engagement (Alamuddin is sporting a rather large ring) led the media to dig. Therefore, what the media spoke about most is Alamuddin’s admirable human rights work via her law practice, which explains at least part of Clooney’s attraction. As for Cloons, previously a confirmed bachelor and serial dater, Alamuddin is a departure from his last companion, former World Wrestling Entertainment star Stacy Keibler.

rick scott 1 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who went looking for Obamacare horror stories and instead found praise. Scott, with media in tow, visited a senior center in Boca Raton last week to warn about cuts he said the Affordable Care Act would force on a popular Medicare program. Seniors, he said, “tell me stories about how their plans are being changed, how they are losing their doctors, the coverage is changing, and so what I’m here to do is just hear your stories.” But his fear-mongering didn’t fit with what seniors reported. “Not really,” said one, asked if she’d seen changes to her coverage. “Very happy,” said another. “Completely satisified,” said a third. None of which described Scott’s reaction.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. How jaded must we be that another revelation of the obstreperous mayor smoking crack cocaine — his second in less than a year — barely raises an eyebrow? This week, the Globe and Mail published photos of Ford holding what appears to be a crack pipe, while the Toronto Star posted audio of Ford, apparently inebriated, slagging off local politicians. Ford released a statement saying he’s going to take a “break” from his re-election campaign “to seek immediate help,” though he’s still refusing to go down with the ship, i.e. resign his office. The circus continues…

Times Gives Credit Where It’s Due (ie, Not to Gwyneth)

 Times Gives Credit Where Its Due (ie, Not to Gwyneth)

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Katherine Woodward Thomas, who owes the NY Times big time.

Though the “paper of record” has suffered a few black eyes in the last decade, the New York Times does its due diligence. In an article about the hot new catchphrase “conscious uncoupling” used by Gwyneth Paltrow last week to announce her separation from husband Chris Martin, the Times discovered the person who really launched the phrase: psychotherapist, relationship expert and author Katherine Woodward Thomas.

Thanks to the Times, Thomas is now enjoying renewed fame. Thomas is the author of Calling In The One, a self-help book that described how Thomas found her husband. Years later, after the couple parted, Thomas created a “conscious uncoupling” workshop.

Though Paltrow failed to cite Thomas as the source of the phrase in her now-famous divorce announcement –  a blog post on her website Goop – Thomas does in the Times. She attributes it to a friend who used it to describe his drama-free divorce, and Thomas asked if she could use it. Thomas also mentions that she’d been in talks with her publisher, Crown, about a book on the subject. After this article, it’s likely that Crown will be consciously rushing this one to the printer.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Katherine Woodward Thomas, who owes the NY Times big time.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Make sure credit is given where it’s due. It’s unclear from the Times article whether Crown alerted the Times to the true source of the catchphrase, or whether this was the result of a reporter doing extra digging. If it’s the former, good work. Though the term conscious uncoupling is mostly being made fun of, it’s of the moment and in the media. The originator can now ride the wave to sales. If, however, the truth was revealed not by a diligent flak but a curious reporter, someone at Crown has some explaining to do.

Madonna on Madonna, by Madonna

hbz november 2013 madonna reem acra 2 de 150x150 Madonna on Madonna, by Madonna

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Harper’s Bazaar and Madonna.

When you’re one of the most famous celebrities in the world, and have been for decades, what can there be left to say? This may have been the conundrum facing the American edition of Harper’s Bazaar once they got Madonna for their November cover.

The answer? Truth or dare: a game that has been around for ages and also the name of the 1991 documentary about Madonna. Anyone who has worked in the magazine industry can only imagine the staff fervently trying to come up with a fresh angle for the story. Truth or dare… Madonna has done many daring things in her life, hasn’t she? Let’s run with that.

And who better to examine a life lived daringly than the daredevil herself? “Madonna’s Back” reads as though Her Madgesty really wrote it; it’s not that smooth, more like a stream of consciousness. A simple idea but one that achieves the near impossible: a fresh take on a subject the world knows all too well.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Harper’s Bazaar and Madonna.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Complex situations often benefit from simple solutions. Mark Twain once said, “When in doubt, tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.” Having Madonna talk about the daring art of being Madonna was a fresh take on what otherwise might have been an article that has been written before. In this age of the ghostwriter, one never knows who really wrote the story, but a look at the self-revelatory writing shows that for Madonna and her readers, this was a fresh take on a subject that has otherwise been well worn.

To read the article, click here.

Barney’s and Jay-Z Get Bad Rap From Shoppers

Jay Z 150x150 Barneys and Jay Z Get Bad Rap From Shoppers

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Barney’s and Jay-Z.

It would take a lot to equal the PR humiliation suffered by Zurich boutique Tres Pommes when Oprah Winfrey asked to see a handbag and was refused by a clerk who said she couldn’t afford it. However, Barney’s may find itself in the running; the luxury Manhattan retail store recently suffered two embarrassing moments that could impact a big celebrity tie-in with rapper Jay-Z.

Trayon Christian, 19, said he was stopped by police after buying a $300 Ferragamo belt from Barney’s flagship store on Madison Avenue. Kayla Phillips, 21, was also questioned by police after purchasing a $2,500 bag. Both are African American.

While the incidents occurred earlier this year, they made the news recently in conjunction with Jay-Z’s November 20 launch of a line of clothing and jewelry in association with Barney’s. The negative publicity triggered a storm of protest and a petition calling for boycotts against Barney’s for racial profiling.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Barney’s and Jay-Z.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  In tandem projects, take care as to who says what when. As the negative press hit the media and Jay-Z was called out by fans and fellow musicians alike, Barney’s was the first to respond with a statement of apology and a review of practices. As for Jay-Z, he remained mostly quiet – and got flak for it. “I haven’t made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barney’s,” he said. Once Barney’s made its first move, Jay-Z might have been wise to jump in with some more supportive PR. After all, one speaker at a time makes good PR sense, but prolonged hesitation only dilutes the final message.

Miley Cyrus is Crazy (Like a Fox)

 Miley Cyrus is Crazy (Like a Fox)

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Miley Cyrus (left, as Hannah Montana; right, her new image).

Former Disney star Miley Cyrus has grown up very quickly lately. The teen singer and actress previously shot to mega-stardom as the star of Hannah Montana. Back then ratings were high and Cyrus’s albums hit the top ten, with movies and multiple merchandising tie-ins. Miley was everywhere.

But as her recent MTV Video Awards performance can attest, those days are way over. With a close-cropped platinum ‘do, a barely-there outfit, and a wildly suggestive tongue, Miley sent a message: Hannah Montana no more.

Chat shows talked to experts and outraged parents about what happened to this teen idol. The truth? It’s not insanity, drugs, or child stardom gone awry. It’s a combination of savvy star and manager using an old PR concept: sex sells. Cyrus’s new song “Wrecking Ball” has Cyrus, naked, riding a wrecking ball while tonguing the chain in the video: woah. Result? Millions of views, morning shows full of talk, and a star laughing all the way to the bank.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Miley Cyrus. If the aim of one’s career is celebrity (rather than artistry), it matters less what people say than that they’re talking about you.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Keep it simple. There is never an easy way to go from teen sensation to twenty-something star; ask Justin Beieber. Cyrus cut to the chase with a series of drastic measures – chopping off her hair, dying it, and making provocative videos, which are the celebrity equivalent of sexy photos. In short, she’s doing everything her formerly teen audience is doing in their real lives. This awkward transition is less train wreck than well-orchestrated PR symphony.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

hersman 300x300 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, for maintaining the accident investigation agency’s impeccable record of transparency and candor. Led by Hersman, the agency has gushed a steady torrent of salient findings on last weekend’s deadly crash of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco, prompting journalists to express “amazement at the unusual amount of detail flowing from the federal bureaucracy.” Her daily briefings have not been universally welcome. Pilot groups have decried premature disclosure of data that suggest pilot error, while other critics have clucked about Hersman’s intense ambition as the driving factor for her high visibility. Maybe, but so what? As Hersman noted this week, the NTSB’s unassailable credibility derives from its transparency: “We believe it is important to show our work and to tell people what we are doing.”

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to advertising mogul Charles Saatchi, who announced he is divorcing his wife, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson. The soon-to-be-ex Mrs. Saatchi was the one expected to start divorce proceedings photographs of Saatchi choking her during lunch at a restaurant hit the media. After minimizing his repeated attacks as “a playful tiff” to the press, Saatchi gave a statement saying he was “disappointed that [Lawson] was advised to make no public comment to explain that I…have never abused her in any way.” No doubt all who read it were not merely disappointed but frankly aghast that Saatchi was not advised to keep his mouth shut.

female force paula deen1 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO Bluewater Productions, which said it will go ahead with a planned comic book featuring that legendary icon of female empowerment…erm, Paula Deen? Yes, the company said “Female Force: Paula Deen” will  hit the stands in October despite the celebrity chef’s plummeting stardom. Deen’s empire began to crumble after she admitted to using racial slurs, something she attributed to having grown up in the South. Bluewater said it chose Deen as its next superhero because she “changed Southern cooking for women” (meaning, now even more will develop diabetes?) and that it will somehow incorporate Deen’s fall from grace into the storyline – that should be interesting. Apparently, Bluewater doesn’t need its heroines’ consent to publish; the company admitted Deen hasn’t returned its calls. Given that corporate sponsors are dropping the 66-year-old chef like a hot butter-and-sour-cream-laden potato, however, that could change.

 

Galliano Fashions a PR Comeback

 Galliano Fashions a PR Comeback

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for John Galliano.

Is John Galliano’s exile from the fashion world over? The designer has finally broken his silence, following his spectacular fall from grace in 2011 after making anti-Semitic rants in Paris. One episode in particular was videotaped, prompting his immediate firing from Dior and later conviction by a French court.

In his first interview since the scandal, Galliano opens up to a very sympathetic Vanity Fair.  His story has the making of an epic novel – the “un-idyllic” childhood in a multi-cultural but rough London neighborhood, where he was bullied for his homosexuality; his ascent into the world of high fashion; and the demons unlocked in fashion’s world of high pressure and unhealthy pampering. En plus, the unclear provenance of the incriminating video, fed to the media before Galliano’s arrest, provides just a hint of conspiracy. Vanity Fair spares no effort to exonerate, consulting and quoting experts to make the case that, when he hissed those spiteful things to people, Galliano just couldn’t help himself: Alcohol and drugs had simply made him insane.

Center stage in the article is Galliano’s contrition. Friends and other supporting sources, such as Jewish leaders he met through an executive of Vanity Fair’s publisher Condé Nast, vouch for the same. He studied the Holocaust, attended service at a synagogue, and is finally making tentative steps back into his profession, supported by fashion royalties such as Oscar de la Renta and Anna Wintour. Shalom, John, welcome back!

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for John Galliano. With a little help from influential friends, a comeback is always possible.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: For perfect rebound PR, timing is everything. Prepare the line-up of your supporters carefully, and make sure potential antagonists remain silent; one of the key stakeholders in this saga, Galliano’s former employer LVMH, declined to comment due to ongoing litigation about Galliano’s compensation. (The article hints at a soon-to-be-expected “human-to-human” apology from Galliano to his former bosses.) The glitterati love a tormented, artistic soul, and once confession and amends have been made, one may be pardoned and permitted to go back to work. Our PR advice? Post-comeback, work in silence.

 

Michael Douglas’s Loose Lips Sink a PR Opportunity

 Michael Douglass Loose Lips Sink a PR Opportunity

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Michael Douglas.

There isn’t a big enough candelabra in the world right now for Michael Douglas to hide behind. Douglas, currently promoting his starring role as Liberace in Behind the Candelabra, shocked the world by telling a British newspaper that his throat cancer was caused by oral sex. Previously, the cancer had been attributed to smoking and drinking in Douglas’ younger days.

The story played out over multiple news cycles, first with the admission itself and then with a clumsy “clarification” by Douglas, who now maintains that he was speaking more generally about links between human papilloma virus (HPV) and certain cancers – an explanation that doesn’t quite jibe with the journalist’s audio tape of the interview. Imagine the scene chez Douglas, with a livid Catherine Zeta-Jones, the Welsh actress and Douglas’ wife, berating her husband for his loose lips, and what this implies about her.

The great shame here is not the potential cause of Douglas’ cancer, but that he missed a golden opportunity to turn an embarrassing gaffe into a cause celebré. Before his backpedaling, Douglas was being lauded by health experts and pundits the world over for openly discussing the touchy subject of HPV, considered an epidemic yet still a taboo topic because it’s sexually transmitted. Having a major celebrity recount his experience and urge HPV prevention strategies could have prompted a much-needed national conversation, but Douglas wouldn’t put his reputation where his mouth is.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Michael Douglas’s clumsy retraction and lost chance to redirect the story toward a good cause.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Everyone makes mistakes, but with the right PR they can be spun. As much as Douglas may not have relished becoming a spokesperson for HPV, the truth is that everyone now believes this is how his cancer was caused. By turning the blunder into a platform, Douglas could have both spun himself out of a PR mess and contributed to the greater good. If a celebrity can’t handle the truth and its consequences, perhaps it’s better for him to keep his mouth shut in the first place.

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.