The PRV Report Card: Special Celebrity Edition

 The PRV Report Card: Special Celebrity EditionPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Joan Rivers, who stormed out of a CNN interview while on a publicity tour. Rivers might have expected questions about her latest book, Diary of a Mad Diva, but host Fredricka Whitfield asked instead if Rivers felt she was being mean on her celeb fashion critique show Fashion Police, and why Rivers, an animal rights activist, wore fur on her book cover. Rivers answered for a few minutes before snapping, “You’re not the one to interview a person who does humor!” and walking off set. A stunned Whitfield later suggested the walkout was a publicity stunt; the video suggests otherwise. Calculated or not, Rivers won more buzz than she would have for any normal interview.

 The PRV Report Card: Special Celebrity EditionPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to The Daily Mail, which crossed a celebrity gossip line by reporting that George Clooney’s future mother-in-law opposed his marriage to Amal Alamuddin on religious grounds. Clooney struck back in an editorial printed by USA Today, saying that the article could inflame religious sentiment against his family. The MailOnline apologized and removed the story from the website, said to average 52 million visitors a month, but not without drawing criticism for the story.

 The PRV Report Card: Special Celebrity EditionTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Robin Thicke, who last week was the subject of embarrassing media attention about a Twitter PR stunt gone awry. #AskThick resulted in a slew of scathing tweets regarding the lyrics to “Blurred Lines,” Thicke’s worldwide hit regarded by many as misogynistic. The attention continued this week as a humbled, vulnerable Thicke tried to explain his latest album, Paula, an undisguised attempt to win back his estranged wife. Public meltdown, or PR gold? Either way, Thicke is reaping the level of media attention required to support a new album and tour, even if it’s the Train Wreck method of PR.

Sterling Crashes and Burns in CNN Interview

 Sterling Crashes and Burns in CNN Interview

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Donald Sterling.

If ever you’re compared to the Hindenberg, it’s a safe bet to assume something went terribly, terribly wrong.

That was how one CNN anchor described his network’s exclusive interview with Donald Sterling, the embattled owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Last month, Sterling was banned for life from the National Basketball Association, including his own team’s games, after audio recordings surfaced of him making racist statements. After weeks of silence, Sterling agreed to be interviewed by Anderson Cooper on Monday.

As he sat with Cooper sans handlers, the 80-year-old Sterling seemed unaware he was plummeting from frying pan to fire. He tried to blame his woes on Magic Johnson, the NBA hall-of-famer he insulted in the first place and who, Sterling said, told him everything would be all right. He admitted that his original comments were made in pursuit of sex with a woman 50 years his junior. Worst, he made another seemingly racist statement about African Americans’ philanthropic efforts, or lack thereof.

“What this was to PR, the Hindenberg was to blimps,” CNN’s Bill Weir said, while The Washington Post grimly noted it was “a study in damage control gone wrong.” Variety said Sterling  “gave the impression of somebody who was not mentally clicking on all cylinders” and that “the erratic, strange performance…will be studied in crisis public-relations classes for years to come.”

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Donald Sterling, who may be long in the tooth but who still hasn’t learned to keep his mouth shut.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: “No Comment” is a PR strategy.  Sometimes a situation is so incendiary that the only recourse is to lie low until the heat dies down. There are (at least) two hard-and-fast criteria for walking into the flames: be absolutely certain that your messages will clarify or put the crisis in context, and be able to deliver them expertly. In Sterling’s case, he failed on both counts.

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 PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

cnn 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to CNN, for its measured but pointed response to political posturing by the Republican National Committee. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus threatened to bar both CNN and corporate sibling NBC News from the 2016 Presidential debate process, in response to a mini-series on Hillary Clinton being produced by CNN Films, another affiliate. Priebus said the program amounted to an “in-kind donation” for Clinton, a likely Presidential candidate, and her fellow Democrats. One can certainly debate the suitability of airing such a program, given the corprate connections and timing. But in a statement, CNN noted that the project is in its early stages, called on the RNC to reserve judgment, and noted, correctly, that the only people to be harmed by the RNC’s threat would be voters.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersLOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to summer blockbusters with bloated budgets. July may have been one of the hottest months on record  – but not at the box office. Movie studios are facing huge losses after a string of big budget releases tanked at the box office, including Pacific Rim, White House Down, After Earth, and, most notably, The Lone Ranger. Disney suffered a shellacking on that film, spending anywhere from $200 to $400 million when all the marketing was said and done, and taking in a relatively embarrassing $175 million. Star Johnny Depp blamed bad pre-release PR, Steven Spielberg prophesied the blockbuster implosion, and moviegoers merely stayed home and binge-viewed Orange Is the New Black on NetFlix. The upside? Maybe Hollywood is finally done with sequels to Transformers.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO President Obama for canceling his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the impetus for which clearly was Russia’s “disappointing” asylum-granting to Edward Snowden, the American secret-leaker. But to what end? A few weeks ago, Obama said he wouldn’t “scramble jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.” Now, he’s refusing to meet with world leaders over him. By canceling, the President himself has elevated The Snowden Affair to a whole new level. Instead of a tête-á-tête with the Russian president prior to the G20 summit, the White House announced, President Obama will head to that geopolitical hotspot, Sweden. Boy, Putin must be shaking in his fur-lined boots.

Can Al Jazeera News Work in America?

 Can Al Jazeera News Work in America?

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Al Jazeera America.

One of the most important developments in television news in nearly 20 years is underway in the US, but you might not even know it. Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based broadcasting giant, has been quietly building Al Jazeera America, the first major US news channel since Fox News and MSNBC launched in the mid-1990s.

Having acquired the network infrastructure with its $500 million purchase of Al Gore’s Current TV in January, Al Jazeera has hired nearly 700 employees, including CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, and is planning to open a dozen US news bureaus. Al Jazeera America, which is scheduled to launch on August 20, says it will distinguish itself by focusing on in-depth reporting of stories that many Americans say they don’t get from the current slate of news channels.

Compared to the hefty corporate investment, the PR push has been minimal. There have been press releases and meetings with top editorial boards but, overall, Al Jazeera has been conservative in promoting the new channel. This makes sense. Although the network certainly wants to attract a broad audience, there is risk associated with this venture. Most Americans first heard of Al Jazeera in 2001, when it broadcast messages from Osama bin Laden following the September 11th terrorist attacks. It’s not unrealistic to think many potential viewers will associate the name with that event. Others will worry that Al Jazeera will attempt to push certain ideological agendas. Management’s focus now should be on building a fully fledged news operation with a keen understanding of what American viewers are looking for.

THE PR VERDICT:  “B” (Good Show) for Al Jazeera, whose ambitious plans may alter the American landscape of network news.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Show, don’t tell. When something is risky or untested, let the product speak for itself.  For Al Jazeera, there is little to be gained by hyping the channel prior to launch. Doing so will inevitably invite criticism that the network can’t answer yet. Instead, Al Jazeera America should keep on keeping on: staying in the press by hiring top talent, opening news bureaus, and being selective about the interviews it does. Bring out the PR bells and whistles once the channel is up and running.

Will She, Or Won’t She? Hillary Gets Coy

 Will She, Or Wont She? Hillary Gets Coy

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Rodham Clinton was so determined to succeed in her run for president, there were doubts that cooperation between her and the man who would be President, Barack Obama, was even possible. Vice President was out; would she even accept Secretary of State, or would she pack up her toys and go home? Everyone knows the answer to that one, as this week Secretary of State Clinton leaves her post having logged more flight miles than any of her predecessors. Now that her consolation prize post is over, is she setting her laser-beam sights again on the big chair?

There are no indications coming from her directly, though there are enough indications swirling around her to give political pundits much to speculate about. First came a positively chummy interview Sunday past, with Hillary and President Obama on 60 Minutes. When asked if she was considering another run in 2016, Clinton replied, “I don’t think either [Obama] or I can make predictions about what’s going to happen tomorrow or next year.” The interview was seen by many as an endorsement, despite the president’s attempt to laugh that off.

Clinton was more direct during an interview with CNN yesterday, during which she said she had “absolutely no plans to run.” A forthcoming memoir may provide a few more interesting clues – or not. For now, the former First Lady and outgoing Secretary of State will keep everyone wondering whether she’ll try to add the ultimate title to her resume.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Hillary Clinton. Altogether more intriguing than any other politician.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Keep people guessing, and you keep people thinking about you. Clinton knows when to give, as she did during her very real testimony on the attack on the American consulate in Libya. She also knows when to withhold, with a blithe smile, as she does whenever she’s asked about another attempt at the presidency. Hillary Rodham Clinton has become a master of giving and withholding information, ensuring that the public, love her or hate her, will snap to attention whenever she speaks. Give a little . . . but not too much, and you’ll get the lion’s share of attention.

“Sorry” Seems To Be the Hardest Word for Armstrong

OprahLance2 150x150 Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word for Armstrong

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong.

How was Lance Armstrong’s weekend? Presumably he was disappointed reading the reviews and press commentary following his vaguely dull two-hour confessional with media pope Oprah Winfrey. Did his interview hit the PR targets he was aiming for – sympathy from the public, and the green shoots of a PR turn-around? The critics say a definitive no, and the public seems to agree.

There are many reasons why this confessional moment didn’t quite work. He didn’t seem sincere. He didn’t seem sorry. Why come clean now – why not take any of the myriad opportunities he had before? The list goes on. Above all, what rankles most is that Lance over the years was a bully, no doubt. And for the bullying, he has yet to make a sincere apology.

Renowned for suing and using his considerable financial muscle to silence his critics (ie, anyone telling the truth about his doping), he has made life for some journalists and former team members a “living hell” via the court room. One woman who is not going away is Betsy Andreu, wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu, who says their lives were ruined by Armstrong’s legal maneuvers. Appearing on CNN, she made it clear that all is not forgiven. Lance has more to do than just make a general apology.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong. Confessions to Oprah are not enough; personal clean-ups are needed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: One blanket apology won’t absolve. This PR train wreck needs multiple apologies, in particular to the numerous aggrieved parties who have been on the receiving end of Armstrong’s heavy-handed tactics over the years. With some of the most aggrieved still coming forward, Armstrong’s efforts will at best have a half life until he has cleared up the personal messes. Making peace with your critics before going public is the wiser move; afterwards is always too late. And do try for a bit more sincerity while you’re at it.

To see Betsy Andreu’s interview, click here.

Murdoch, Think Before You Tweet!

 Murdoch, Think Before You Tweet!

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Rupert Murdoch.

When it comes to controversial tweets or scandalous emails, one of the more predictable cries from the media is to ask, what was this person thinking? Every smarty-pants commentator let’s us know: Nothing is private, all is public. Don’t write it if you don’t want it on the front page.

Apparently, media mogul Rupert Murdoch hasn’t been listening; he just learned his humiliating lesson in the world of social media the hard way. His Twitter followers were presumably puzzled by his Tweet this past Sunday that accused the “Jewish owned press” of favoring Gaza over Israel in news coverage concerning the latest military action. He asked his followers, which number over 360,000, “Why is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?”

Immediately, the commentators were wondering who could Rupert have been referring to. In previous Tweets, Murdoch complained of  “CNN and AP bias to point of embarrassment.” But as neither are “Jewish owned,” the comments seemed genuinely confusing. The wider consensus is that The New York Times, his US foe in the newspaper world, was the target. But the mystery now looks like it will never be solved.  Murdoch apologized unreservedly, describing his Tweet as “awkward and inappropriate,” adding he should not have brought in “irrelevant and incorrect ethnic matters.” Case closed.

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for one of the world’s leading media tycoons. However, it’s touching to realize that even a media mogul can get social media wrong.

The PR Takeaway: Press “pause” before “send.” The Murdoch incident is a flash in the PR pan, but it does show that even the most experienced media practitioners can get it very wrong. What’s obvious with the benefit of hindsight is sometimes not obvious at the time. Murdoch might want someone in his entourage to check Tweets before sending them; this is not a one-on-one conversation, after all. Take note, Wendi.

To read more, click here.

Ahmadinejad Courts Satan’s Media

 Ahmadinejad Courts Satans Media

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for yet another loony Ahmadinejad appearance at the UN.

Do the rules of PR apply to President Ahmadinejad of Iran? In New York for the UN Summit, he has participated in a dizzying media blitz of interviews including CNN, CBS, the AP, and other national outlets. The Iranian President, who has previously described the US as “Satan,” seems oddly keen to court domestic US opinion, or at the very least, take advantage of Great Satan’s media.

His scheduled interviews appeared to be part of a typical PR curtain raiser, designed to drum up anticipation for his speech before the UN. He told CNN and other outlets that his main message is that he wants “a new world order for all of humanity.”

Ahmadinejad describes this new world order as a world where there is “justice, morality, purity, and compassion.” He can’t help mentioning that this utopia would ultimately involve the “elimination” of Israel, although he softened his message by saying he would be neutral on the issue of his child marrying a Jew. If Ahmadinejad’s intention was to court US opinion – and why else talk to all the outlets – his messaging was clearly irreconcilable with most US mainstream views.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for yet another loony Ahmadinejad appearance at the UN, buttressed by a thorough PR blitz that guaranteed coverage while doing nothing to enhance credibility.

The PR Takeaway: The most basic PR lesson is “Without trust, nothing works.” Ahmadinejad said in multiple US interviews that he would “not dismiss” one-on-one talks with America on his nuclear program and that he was open to negotiation. If his PR intention was to soften US domestic opinion,  then his PR offensive was a resounding failure. As long as he continues to trade in his grab bag of hate names and villains, then his PR blitz only reinforces the perception that he is not to be trusted, notwithstanding his plea at the UN to “hold hands with all of humanity.”

Have you heard the Iranian President’s speech at the UN? Give us your PR Verdict!

State Dept. vs. CNN: War of the Words

 State Dept. vs. CNN: War of the Words

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the State Dept. for its unusually aggressive language. CNN is facing full PR heat.

The State Department and CNN are embroiled in a an ugly fight over the recovered journal of Chris Stevens, the late Ambassador to Libya, who was killed in a deadly attack on the US embassy. Using unusually strong language, State Dept. spokesman Philippe Reines said that when it comes to airing the contents of the journal, “CNN patting themselves on the back is disgusting” and that the cable news network “needed to be convinced to do the right thing.” CNN is now on the defensive. Has it been ethically caught out?

While the sequence of events is unclear, what is known is that CNN got hold of Stevens’ journal and used it in its reporting. Explaining that the journal was found four days after the attack, CNN says it notified Stevens’ family “within hours after it was discovered.” From there, the story gets messy.

The State Dept. says the network “completely ignored the wishes of the family” and reported on the contents of the journal before returning it to the family, despite the family’s repeated requests that nothing be used until they had a chance to review its contents. CNN went ahead with its story, saying it “felt there were issues raised in the journal which required full reporting.”

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the State Dept. for its unusually aggressive language. CNN is facing full PR heat.

The PR Takeaway: Self-interest rarely wins the PR battle. Having passed the journal’s contents around a newsroom and only then asking the family for permission for its use puts CNN in a ethically challenging spot. Unless CNN can get some ringing endorsement from the Stevens family, it has lost this PR battle. The State Dept. has the clear upper hand in this case, speaking on behalf of the family of the slain ambassador. Meanwhile, CNN is left looking like it might benefit from a refresher course in ethics and common decency.

Was Stevens’ journal fair game for journalistic reporting, or should CNN have abided by his family’s wishes? Give us your PR Verdict!