Not Quite Pretty As a Picture

kate middleton portrait 150x150 Not Quite Pretty As a Picture

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for artist Paul Emsley (pictured, with his portrait of Princess Kate)

Kate Middleton’s official royal portrait was released this past week, to a universally poor reception. Critics have described this latest daub by artist Paul Emsley as “rotten,” “flatulent,” and “old and tired,” with Princess K described in most articles as looking ten years older than her real age. What went so horribly wrong?

The only happy favorable comments came from the royal couple themselves, who graciously described the portrait as “absolutely beautiful.” But the art world has given its catty judgment, dismissing it as nothing more than a “dull” picture, and the Internet is an online gallery of a thousand mock variations, none of them kind. Emsley’s reputation faces death by a thousand sneers. The whole affair paints a less than pretty PR picture.

In subsequent interviews, Emsley tried to minimize the damage by making the case that royal portraiture is not an easy assignment. The challenge for an artist, he said, is to find something original to express about an image that is already ubiquitous. True enough. This is one commission that, while it may seem prestigious, is more likely an example of perfect PR misalignment.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR problematic) for Paul Emsley and his PR reputation. Making a royal portrait look innovative has proven a difficult task indeed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Cutting edge and staid do not mix. Historically, despite Lucian Freud’s 2001 portrait of the Queen, most royal portraits need to meet a standard of creativity that is resolutely uncontroversial and unchallenging. For artists wanting to create buzz, this prestigious gig is not the route to take; the art world inevitably sneers “sell out,” critics are critical, and the public is at best indifferent. Artists, take note: Opt for a racier commission and focus on celebrities who crave the very controversy this picture is designed to avoid. Perhaps Lindsay Lohan is available for a sitting?

The Ruffled Feathers of Opera News

operanews  The Ruffled Feathers of Opera News

The PR Verdict: “D” for the Metropolitan Opera and Opera News.

What a puzzling (and entertaining) fuss at Opera News, the venerable classical music magazine, published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild, the fund raising affiliate of NY Metropolitan Opera.  Feathers have been ruffled by the magazine’s decision to no longer review the productions of its parent, New York Metropolitan Opera.

Peter Gelb, the controversial head of Met Opera gave an interview to the NYTimes confirming the decision was made in collaboration with the Met’s Guild.  The Editor of Opera News then gave perfunctory confirmation that the magazine is no longer reviewing Met Opera productions.  He also added that no other opera company has been banished from its review pages.

Whispers suggest that the policy is prompted by the Met, annoyed with recent negative reviews of its own productions.  Conspiracy theorists are claiming censorship.   Whatever the case, negative reviews of costly Met Opera productions, published in an affiliate magazine, hardly enhance fund raising.

The PR Verdict: “D” for the Metropolitan Opera and Opera News.  The diva in this case should have let the understudy do the talking.

PR Takeaway.  Who explains an issue to the media is as important as what is said.  To minimise the suggestion that there was undue influence from the Met, the ONLY person who should have spoken to the media was the editor of Opera News . The key message might have been that reviews would no longer be published to minimise conflicts of interest with current fundraising drives.  This was one case where Peter Gelb, General Manager for Met Opera, would have been better advised to be unavailable for comment and let the editor of Opera News do all the talking.

UPDATE : Since publication of the NYTimes article,  Metropolitan Opera has reversed its decision. The Met issued a statement late yesterday that it has changed its decision “because of the passionate response of the fans.”