The Truth About Wrongdoing, for the Right Reason

 The Truth About Wrongdoing, for the Right Reason

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart.

Thousands of children go missing each year, and in 2002, Elizabeth Smart was one of them. Smart was 14 when she was kidnapped from her Utah bedroom by Brian David Mitchell; she was found by police nine months later, less than 20 miles from her home. Over the past decade, she has been criticized for not attempting to escape, including one time when the pair were stopped by a police officer and Smart didn’t ask for help.

Now 25, Smart hit the media circuit this week to promote her memoir, My Story, which chronicles her horrific abduction. She says that the reason she’s telling “100 percent” of what happened to her in captivity, which included being raped daily, is because she wants to show other victims of sexual abuse that they can lead normal lives afterward.

She also wants readers to understand children’s mindsets in such circumstances.  Abused children are often brainwashed by their tormentors, she says. “I was a little girl,” Smart told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I had seen this man successfully kidnap me, he successfully chained me up, he successfully raped me, he successfully did all of these things. What was to say that he wouldn’t kill me…what was to say that he wouldn’t kill my family?”

Let’s be frank: a candid accounting of Smart’s ordeal will no doubt boost sales for her book. But Smart’s interviews also reveal a thoughtful, composed, and well-adjusted young woman with more than just a lurid story to tell.

THE PR VERDICT:  “B” (Good Show) for Elizabeth Smart, whose dark cloud has a silver lining for victims of similar abuse.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Good intentions can equal good PR. Smart has spoken about her kidnapping in the past, but it’s taken her more than a decade of reflection to tell her story. That lends credibility to the notion that she’s not just interested in making a buck. Her motivations for speaking now, and in such detail, seem genuine. From a PR perspective, Elizabeth Smart is a victim no more.

The Vatican Joins the World’s Conversation

Pope tweets 150x150 The Vatican Joins the Worlds Conversation

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to the Vatican for an image overhaul now underway.

Since Pope Francis’s appointment, the Pontiff has issued more than 30 tweets. Is it  proof that the Vatican’s unofficial PR makeover is underway? Instead of taking clearly dogmatic and non-negotiable stands on established issues, the Vatican, it seems, is adopting a different tone and is joining new conversations. Some of them are raising eyebrows, with the latest being the most controversial: economic justice.

The Pontiff’s latest tweet took aim at corporations, blaming them for rampant unemployment rates throughout the world. “My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centered mindset bent on profit at any cost,” tweeted the Pope. This followed his earlier tweet criticizing the labor conditions at the Bangladesh factory building that collapsed and killed hundreds of people. As the Twitterverse built on the discussion, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, was asked about the papal tweet at a news conference. “We are . . . frustrated, yes, certainly,” he said.

Suddenly, the Vatican is in the news for different reasons – talking about what’s already in the news instead of driving its own agenda. After ten years of terrible publicity concerning child abuse and accusations of irrelevancy to the modern age, the PR conversation is changing.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to the Vatican for an image overhaul now underway.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Rather than failing to start your own conversation, join an existing one. For ten years, the PR concerning the Vatican has been focused on four hot button issues: abortion, ordination of women, gay rights, and child sex abuse at the hands of clergy. All polarizing, and all laying the church open to the oft-made claim that it is out of touch and irrelevant. A decade of bad publicity has taken its toll, but with the latest tweets, an important repositioning is taking place. The Vatican is now joining the conversation that everybody else is already in, and as it does so, its relevance increases – along with a Twitterverse of future PR opportunities and listeners.


The BBC Adds Insult to Its Own Injury

 The BBC Adds Insult to Its Own Injury

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the BBC. (Pictured: Former BBC Director General George Entwistle.)

Much hand-wringing at the BBC these days. The venerable news organization continues to flounder following the broadcast of a news segment concerning allegations of child abuse. The most high-profile casualty so far is none other than the BBC’s Director General, George Entwistle, who resigned on Saturday.

For a while, it looked like Entwistle was going to make it. Following the crisis management rulebook, he was saying and doing the right things: taking responsibility, calling for answers, and promising reform. Ultimately, though, that didn’t save him. He was taken down by an astonishing interview given on BBC radio. The fifteen-minute segment is now widely credited as being Entwistle’s undoing, and interviewer John Humphry has been praised for it. His BBC colleagues might want to re-examine those kudos.

In the incendiary interview, Humphry dispenses altogether with the notion of allowing listeners to decide.  Basically telling his boss he should have known better, he does a lot of telling and not much asking. Entwistle does his best to stay on message and answer questions, but Humphry becomes belligerent, hopelessly drunk with the power of the chair he is sitting in. The interview sounds like an exercise in personal and organizational retribution. If the BBC is worried about its PR (and trust) with the public, this didn’t help. The BBC can claim scalps in its interviews, but in so doing makes it entirely clear how the current issues came about in the first place.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the BBC, which demonstrated the thinking that  got its news department into hot water.

The PR Takeaway: Fair and balanced is the media motto. While Fox News is routinely derided for being aggressively opinionated, Humphry’s “news” interview would sit perfectly on a Fox talk show. If the PR problems of the BBC relate to the inadequate editorial checks and balances in its news department, then this interview serves its critics well. Instead of celebrating the “gotcha” moment, a stronger commitment to facts, not opinions; more asking, less telling – might be the change that starts the BBC’s PR turnaround.

To listen to the interview, click here.