Google Co-Founder Shows Why Honesty Isn’t Always the Best PR Policy

larrypage Google Co Founder Shows Why Honesty Isnt Always the Best PR Policy

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Google’s Larry Page.

Google co-founder Larry Page has a chronic voice condition that forces him to speak not much above a whisper. But what he says can still raise the roof.

Page, who is worth $32 billion, sat for an interview with Charlie Rose last week in Vancouver and confirmed a statement he has made before: He would rather another entrepreneur billionaire inherit his fortune than leave it to charity. As for a candidate, he mentioned Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and founder of Tesla, who aspires to send people to Mars with another company he runs, SpaceX. The interview was summarized in Wired and picked up on tech blogs.

Page’s point: That money in the hands of a forward-thinking entrepreneur at the helm of an enlightened company isn’t such a bad thing. In Musk’s case, Page said: “He wants to go to Mars. That’s a worthy goal.” Perhaps, but Page’s comments paint him more as a plutocrat, not a philanthropist.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Google co-founder Larry Page, who probably should have ducked what was a pretty loaded question.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Leave nuanced opinion to the Op-Ed page. While Larry Page might have a point, when conveyed in a soundbite the meaning is lost and the entire interview hijacked. Page spoke about many things to Rose, security and privacy among them. But what people will likely come away with is a less-than-favorable view of another Silicon Valley rich guy who wants to give his money to another rich guy. As another observer noted, does that make Page a donor, or an investor? Either way, this probably isn’t the sort of PR Page and his people wanted.

Damon and Affleck Amaze with Omaze Charity Videos

 Damon and Affleck Amaze with Omaze Charity Videos

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s Omaze.com charity date and videos.

Celebrities stumping for charities went from being a good use of excess fame to standard operating procedure, and a tool for PR flaks to use when naughty clients need to make penance. The public has gotten wise and grown bored. So when Ben Affleck and Matt Damon wanted to raise money for their pet causes, they really upped the ante.

Affleck’s East Congo Initiative benefits organizations in that war-torn area. Damon’s Water.Org is on a mission to provide clean water around the world. Both worthy causes, but in a sea of celebs asking for donations for equally good causes, how to gain attention, and dollars? With a contest, and a series of hilarious videos to promote it.

Visitors to Omaze.com can enter the contest for $10. The prize is a trip to Los Angeles for a double date with Affleck and Damon at a Hollywood event, and a stay in a four-star hotel (presumably without the two married Academy Award winners). The promotional videos are the two old friends taking potshots at each other. “You could learn about…how incredibly short Matt Damon is,” says a smiling Affleck. “Or the fact that Ben’s left eye twitches every time you say the word ‘Gigli’,” Damon retorts, referring to Affleck’s bomb with then girlfriend Jennifer Lopez. The videos alone are worth the donation.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s Omaze.com charity date and videos.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: In a crowded room, find a way to stand apart. Clearly, both actors’ causes are worthy, but a world confronted with a steady stream of bad news can’t bear more sad details that usually tug heartstrings and loosen pursestrings. Humor goes a long way, as does clever incentive. A reasonable donation of ten bucks buys a chance at a dream trip with a pair of famous, and obviously fun, actors: pure PR genius.

BOfA and Bono Team Up for Charity

 BOfA and Bono Team Up for Charity

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for BofA’s brand-building philanthropy.

When was the last time an activist rock star gave a standing ovation to a “too-big-to-fail” bank? That’s just what happened last week when U2 front man Bono extolled the generosity of Bank of America and joined CEO Brian Moynihan at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Moynihan and U2 frontman Bono announced a $10 million BofA commitment to RED, the AIDS charity co-founded by Bono. In a clever promotional twist, the bank will tie its donation to U2’s newest album release during the upcoming Superbowl. BofA agreed to pay for every download of the album’s song “Invisible” for 24 hours, an investment they will back with expensive Superbowl advertising.

Rarely have Moynihan and his bank basked in such a warm reception. Under the bright Davos sunshine, CNBC and The Financial Times (among other news media) took turns interviewing the Boston-based banker and his rock activist partner. The visual contrast was nearly as noteworthy as Bono complimenting the bank for its “game-changing influence.”

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for BofA’s brand-building philanthropy.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Regain trust by carefully picking your allies. Despite continuing efforts to engage in a public dialogue and foster good will, progress has been incremental over the past five years. In Davos last week, BofA wisely avoided interviews about its business. Instead, it joined a unique global health initiative and happily played back up to a true superstar. Well done, BoFA.

Yet Another Blow for LIVESTRONG

 Yet Another Blow for LIVESTRONG

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Lance Armstrong’s cancer charity LIVESTRONG.

As Lance Armstrong entered a public event for the first time since his admission of doping banned him from professional cycling, news show CBS Sunday Morning did a segment on Armstrong’s cancer charity LIVESTRONG. Just as there were questions about whether Armstrong won seven Tours de France without enhancement, some are now asking whether LIVESTRONG is a charity, or an enhanced way to make money.

The first blow to LIVESTRONG was, of course, the doping scandal. Armstrong stepped down from the organization to avoid tainting it, and for a while, that seemed to work. Months later, Nike dropped its lucrative sponsorship deal with the company, saying it couldn’t tacitly approve of Armstrong’s doping and lying by maintaining sponsorship. Still, LIVESTRONG insisted they’d soldier on in their efforts to benefit those stricken with cancer.

And what, exactly, are those benefits? A donor and former LIVESTRONG volunteer is asking, via a lawsuit. The Sunday Morning report revealed that LIVESTRONG no longer invests donated funds into cancer research. A LIVESTRONG spokesperson says they help cancer survivors improve their lives via  free advice and referrals and that 82 cents of every dollar donated goes to help cancer survivors. The report reveals that the figure includes marketing, a “rainy day” fund of $13 million, and executive salaries. Whatever the breakdown, while Armstrong distanced himself from LIVESTRONG, questions of truthfulness haven’t gone far.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for LIVESTRONG. Revelations such as this may be the death of this “cancer survivor” organization.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Stay true to your mission, or face possible consequences. Consumers reacted badly to New Coke; how will donors react to the revelation that LIVESTRONG, a cancer fund, does not fund cancer research? This switch in focus came about rather quietly, as has the fact that LIVESTRONG sold their name to a for-profit health and fitness company that runs LIVESTRONG.com, as opposed to LIVESTRONG.org. Among charities, transparency is key to long life and steady funding. When that transparency reveals an inconsistent message, prepare to divert some of those funds to damage control.

To read the CBS Sunday Morning report, click here.

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.

Trump Too Easily Trumped

 Trump Too Easily Trumped

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Trump PR machine.

What was always going to be the most likely follow-up question to Donald Trump following his challenge to President Obama over his academic transcripts? The Guardian newspaper asked it and inadvertently scored a PR coup by getting the Trump organization very ruffled. It’s now clear: The Donald wants others to show theirs, but he won’t show his.

Michael Cohen, Executive Vice President at the Trump Organization and special counsel to Trump, had a wildly unsuccessful but widely released phone call with Guardian journalist Adam Gabbat. The straightforward request from Gabbat? Would Mr. Trump make his own college transcripts available? The conversation went south from the get-go, with Cohen quickly turning defensive and changing PR tack no less than three times. Cohen breathlessly defended his boss, saying there are thousands of books written about Trump, adding with bravado that there is more information available on Donald Trump than “pretty much anybody on the planet.”

A journalist asking Trump for his own transcripts was always going to be the most likely outcome of Trump’s much-hyped challenge to the President. Following the PR basics of simple scenario forecasting might have been step one in an overall PR strategy. In this case, Trump’s counsel did his client no favors.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Trump PR machine.

The PR Takeaway: Don’t just expect the unexpected; expect the expected. There is nothing surprising about a journalist making the same challenge that Donald Trump just issued to the President of the United States. This was one contingency that should have been easily anticipated. Making Trump’s transcripts publicly available before the announcement would have taken the wind out of the sails of Trump’s critics. Standing on a platform of transparency and access to information inevitably results in reciprocal demands. This was a Q&A and scenario plan that even a PR intern would have known to prepare in advance.

To listen to the conversation, click here and scroll down to the end of the page.

What’s your opinion of Donald Trump’s challenge to POTUS, and the subsequent PR gaffe? Give us your PR Verdict!

Donald Trump, Master Buffoon

404232 542890259059818 265212859 n 150x150 Donald Trump, Master Buffoon

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Donald Trump.

The art of buffoonery hit new highs yesterday with the announcement by Donald Trump of what he had been promising for three days would be HUGE news. Trump hit Trump-friendly airwaves such as Fox earlier in the week, saying that on Wednesday he would make a BIG announcement concerning the President. Speculation was rife. What could The Donald know that every political operative in a closing election race hadn’t already hoped to find as political ammunition? The big reveal was yesterday at noon on YouTube.

The Donald’s BIG news was… nothing of the sort. Continuing with a variation on the birther argument, he called Barack Obama “the least transparent President in American history” (Richard Nixon might have sprung to mind). The Donald then congratulated himself in the video for having “gotten the President to release his long-form birth certificate – or whatever it may be.” He now says he has a deal for the President.

If Obama “hands over” his college records and passport application records to Trump, he will give $5 million to a charity of the President’s choice. As long as this is done “to my satisfaction,” says The Donald immodestly, he will deliver the check immediately. The forms must be in by October 31. He urged the President to meet the challenge and added that he was speaking on behalf of the entire US population.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco ) to Trump. Donald, you’re fired.

The PR Takeaway: Big talk and bluster equal buffoonery. Donald Trump, the Master Buffoon, has sealed his own PR image with this latest YouTube insanity. His video and language give no reason to suggest this is anything other than a self-serving publicity stunt. Does he know something we don’t? The much anticipated news “from the Desk of Donald Trump” was well-packaged as an unreservedly ego-driven publicity stunt, but the more publicity (of this type), the lower his credibility falls. At this rate, it may soon be political suicide to be publicly aligned with Trump. The sneaking suspicion is that he may not care.

To see the video, click here.

What’s your opinion of The Donald’s latest publicity stunt? Give us your PR Verdict!

Armstrong’s Brand at the Finish Line

 Armstrongs Brand at the Finish Line

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Lance Armstrong

So, Lance Armstrong doesn’t have nine lives after all. The US Anti-Doping Agency report released last week implicates Armstrong yet again in using banned substances. Previously, he’s denied everything; recently, he gave up all seven of his Tour de France medals, and yesterday, Armstrong announced that he would stand down as Chairman of his Livestrong cancer charity. Yet the rumbles continue.

With a net worth estimated at $125 million, Armstrong is one of the world’s best-paid athletes, pulling in over $15 million in endorsements a year. Despite years of allegations, his sponsors stuck with him. His agent recently told the media that Armstong’s primary sponsors have been “incredibly supportive,” with Nike confirming its endorsement, given that Armstrong had been “unwavering” regarding his innocence.

That all changed yesterday. Less than a week after pledging support, Nike has had a volte face. “Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him,” said a spokesperson. Anheuser-Busch, another sponsor, immediately fell into line, as have others, including RadioShack, Trek bicycles, and Oakley sunglasses. Nothing can change the direction in which this train is headed.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Lance Armstrong; with each sponsor that  falls away, the USADA report gains in credibility. Is there a Plan B?

The PR Takeaway: When one domino falls, they ALL do. Having to hand back his awards and stand down from his charity as Chairman, Armstrong is hoping to avoid the complete collapse of the Armstrong brand. Now that his sponsorship deals are null and void, he may want to think about a radical rethink and complete change of his legal strategy and start afresh from there. Next step: start studying how fallen heroes rehabilitate their reputations. Livestrong may hold the key to his ultimate PR salvation. What Lance Armstrong now needs most urgently is time out of the public spotlight to regroup and think what a new legal and PR strategy might bring him.

To read more, click here.

Is there any way Lance Armstrong can save his reputation? Give us your PR Verdict!

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!


Guest Column: Foul Ball for Toronto Blue Jays

YUNEL ESCOBAR2 150x150 Guest Column: Foul Ball for Toronto Blue Jays

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Yunel Escobar.

Could Yunel Escobar be any dumber?  The 29-year-old starting shortstop for the Toronto Blue Jays drew what is generally interpreted as an anti-gay slur into the eye black he wore during a major league baseball game last week. Predictably, his face was subsequently splashed across the media and Escobar and his team’s owners, Rogers Communications, one of Canada’s largest telecommunications providers, seemed to be taken aback by the resulting criticism.

The phrase in question, “Tu ere maricon” is Spanish slang for “You are a f—-t,” but in some contexts, Escobar explained,  it is interpreted as an emasculating insult only. “Amongst Latinos it’s not something that’s meant to be offensive,” Escobar said during a fumbling news conference in which he apologized while insisting he was misinterpreted. “For us it doesn’t have the significance to the way it’s being interpreted right now.”

The Blue Jays PR machine did what PR machines do: Investigations were held, news conferences were called. Escobar offered apologies, all of which appeared disingenuous. Platitudes were shared about cultural differences, sensitivity training, more education for Blue Jays personnel. Escobar was suspended for three games and his salary (approx $90,000 USD) donated to charities. Ouch! Unfortunately, there was never an explanation to the fundamental question: What could he, or his team managers, have been thinking?

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Escobar and the Toronto Blue Jays for this tepid response. In what world is an anti-gay – or even emasculating – slur acceptable?

The PR Takeaway: Crisis Communications templates are nice, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. The Blue Jays (and Major League baseball, for that matter) need to say they are concerned, and ACT like they are concerned. Stiffer penalties and proactive policies that leave little wiggle room for interpretation about what players can wear on the field might be a step in the right direction… First Amendment rights notwithstanding.