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.

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.

Airbnb Fights XXX Party’s Bad PR

 

 Airbnb Fights XXX Partys Bad PR

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Airbnb.

An amusing story about a man who inadvertently rented out his apartment for an orgy via  popular website Airbnb is anything but funny for the company.

Airbnb pairs travelers with homeowners willing to rent out their personal space – a popular option in New York City, where the price of even a modest hotel room often daunts out-of-towners. One resident, Ari Teman, agreed to rent his apartment out to “David,” who said he was seeking accommodations for a wedding. As he’d done before, Teman met with the renter, showed him around the place and went to spend the night elsewhere. But he returned to pick something up – and  walked in to a large crowd, overturned furniture, and a bag of condoms and liquor bottles strewn about his digs. Teman’s pad, it seems, was the venue for the “XXX Freak Fest.”

Many have gotten a chuckle out of the tale, but the top brass at San Francisco-based Airbnb aren’t laughing. Although Airbnb employs several methods  to validate the authenticity and trustworthiness of both owners and visitors, they  can’t guarantee that nothing untoward will happen in a client’s home. How to react to the bad PR? Airbnb immediately banned the renter from the site, put Teman up in a hotel for a week, wired more than $20,000 to him and said they will cooperate with law enforcement. Overkill? Not if there’s a possibility the salacious soiree could kill their business.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Airbnb, which recognized that this funny story could have a sad ending – for the company.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Don’t underestimate bad PR. Airbnb’s entire business model relies on homeowners trusting the people who rent their abodes. Since they can’t ensure that nothing bad will ever happen, they can do the next best thing – meaning, everything – when it does. Crises arrive in many forms. Sometimes they’re obvious;  other times less so. Airbnb was smart to see this as more than a joke. There is no such thing as too much damage control.

BlackBerry Ad Urges Customers Not to Hang Up on Them

 BlackBerry Ad Urges Customers Not to Hang Up on Them

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for BlackBerry.

One can’t help but think of the old joke from Monty Python and The Holy Grail: “I’m not dead yet.” That’s the underlying message of a full-page ad from BlackBerry running in 30 publications worldwide

Newspapers and the rest of the media have been reporting for the past few years on the downfall of a product once so ubiquitous and addictive it was commonly referred to as “CrackBerry.” Since then, the Canadian-based company has been eclipsed by Apple’s iPhone and other smartphones. Occasional technical difficulties and product misfires have led to BlackBerry laying off 40 percent of its workforce and putting itself up for sale, amid speculation that it’s terminal anyway.

Interestingly BlackBerry chose print ads to give its customers an update: the province of an older demographic, while younger smartphone users are happy with touch-screens.  The most loyal of BlackBerry’s customers say they’re holding onto their phones because of its now old-fashioned keypads and the ad, in the form of an open letter, reads, in part, “These are no doubt challenging times for us and we don’t underestimate the situation or ignore the challenges…” but, “You can continue to count on BlackBerry.”

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for BlackBerry. On one hand, good to reassure people it’s still alive; on the other, bad to have to do that.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: One option for damage control is image control. The company has a high media profile, but the news is almost all bad  and next steps are crucial when standing on a crumbling precipice. Given that the biggest demographic in America is Boomers, it might be wiser for BlackBerry to appeal to them and make a virtue of its old fashioned appeal. Appearing rejuvenated with a mild face lift, as the phone not of a future generation but the current one, might be the positioning that reassures that BlackBerry is alive after all.

Railroad CEO’s Vist a PR Disaster

 Railroad CEOs Vist a PR Disaster

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Rail World, Inc., and CEO Ed Burkhardt (center) for their perfect example of adding insult to injury.

Four days may not seem like a lot of time to most people. Yet for the citizens of Lac-Mégantic, a town in Quebec, Canada, four days was three too many. That’s how long it took Ed Burkhardt, CEO of Rail World, Inc., to visit the site where fuel-filled trains, owned by his company, derailed. A series of explosions resulted in part of the town being incinerated. Thousands were evacuated and fifteen fatalities were recorded, though dozens of people remain unaccounted for.

As days passed, the fires were put out, but not the anguish of townspeople. While questions as to the cause of the disaster were likely to remain unanswered until the wreckage could be examined, there was still no official representative from the company to come in and offer assistance, if not hard facts.

That is, until four days later. When Burkhardt  eventually made his way to Lac-Mégantic, the town had sufficient time to go from shock to anger. Burkhardt was heckled at his press conference, and the mayor debated whether to even meet with him. “I guess it’s my role to collect all this criticism,” Burkhardt said. It’s a role he brought on himself by waiting too long to show up.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Rail World, Inc., and CEO Ed Burkhardt for their perfect example of adding insult to injury.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When disaster strikes, take action. If your company is involved in risk-inherent business – say, transporting fuel on railways – prepare for the eventuality of trouble. PRs should have prepped Burkhardt to go to the disaster site the very next day. While he couldn’t give concrete answers, he could have assured the townspeople and the media that Rail World, Inc., would do everything it could to assist authorities. With every day’s delay, the company only looked more culpable and less caring: whether discussing train schedules or visits to disaster sites, timing is everything.

Cuisine Queen Burns to a Crisp

 Cuisine Queen Burns to a Crisp

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Paula Deen and her PR team.

In the annals of PR freefall, celebrity chef Paula Deen is now a case study. Last week, the queen of Southern cuisine faced a deposition by a former employee who charged that Deen used racial slurs in the workplace. Problematic, to be sure – yet that was only the beginning.

During the deposition, Deen was asked if she had ever used the “n” word. Her answer? “Of course” – one can only imagine a member of her PR team having heart palpitations – “probably when a black man burst into the bank I was working at and put a gun to my head.” This came across rather like justification. The deposition stated that Deen used the slur more recently, in reference to servers for a Deen-planned wedding reception with a Plantation theme.

But wait, it gets better, or rather, worse. Deen scheduled a damage control appearance on the Today Show, but come Friday morning, she was a no-show. An irked Matt Lauer reported, “Her publicist says she’s exhausted.” Probably from the news that the Food Network, on which Deen has several shows, was not renewing her contract.

Then came the apology videos. The first, slickly produced by Deen’s team, lasted a single derided hour before being replaced by an unedited video that came across the same as the first: Deen was sorry – mostly, it seemed, because she got caught.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Paula Deen and her PR team.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Damage control shouldn’t cause more damage. Only last year, Deen’s credibility took a hit when she revealed her previously hidden diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, often caused by the kind of cooking Deen’s multi-million dollar empire is built on. With her credibility already stretched, this was the time to let cooler heads prevail. How about proper coaching prior to the deposition that would have stressed bewilderment about why this issue has surfaced? While in legal matters, the truth must be told, in this case it might have sweetened with contrition, best served simply and without qualification.

To watch the Paula Deen apology videos, click here and here.

Should John Edwards’s Mistress Tell All?

 Should John Edwardss Mistress Tell All?

The PR Verdict: “D” for Rielle Hunter, John Edwards’s mistress.

Rielle Hunter, former mistress of Senator John Edwards and mother of his love child, is ready for her moment in the sun. Having previously been moved to and from various safe houses to avoid media scrutiny, as though she was in a witness protection program, Hunter is now poised for interviews. The Justice Department has confirmed it will not retry the case of campaign finance fraud against her former beau, and Hunter’s publicist says she will now end her “silence.”

Hunter is no stranger to the media. A filmmaker herself, she bared all in an interview with GQ in 2010. Describing her affair with Edwards as  a “magnetic force field,” she told readers, “I know he loves me… I have never had any doubt at all about that.”

Hunter is setting the record straight with interviews on ABC’s  “20/20,” and a host of other media appearances. What’s new? Her tell-all book, What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me. Hunter’s PR said, “Ms. Hunter is looking forward to speaking the truth, and we believe [interviewer] Chris Cuomo will allow her story to be told with candor and respect.”

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Rielle Hunter and her forlorn stab at publicity. Hasn’t her moment passed?

PR Takeaway:  Choosing the right moment is just as important as realizing when that moment has passed. Despite her claim that she remains devoted to Edwards, Hunter risks pulling jurors’ reactions out of the woodwork and reigniting lurid details from the trial (and talk of Edward’s deceased wife Elizabeth) that Team Edwards is presumably keen to put behind it. Making the transition from “the other woman”  to something more neutral is where Hunter’s PR salvation lies. Our suggestion: Follow the Camilla Parker-Bowles PR template on how to rehabilitate an image.

What’s your PR Verdict–should Rielle Hunter capitalize on her claim to fame or move on? Tell us in Speak Your Mind, below.

Better Damage Control for Bryson?

 Better Damage Control for Bryson?By anyone’s standards, U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson has had a difficult past few days. News reports have been filled with tales of the senior government official rear-ending a car, driving away, and then crashing into a second car before police found him alone and unconscious in the Los Angeles suburbs.  What happened? Is there a scandal to be uncovered?

Having apparently suffered a seizure in his car while driving alone, he hit the headlines after being cited for felony hit-and-run. Instead of being booked in jail, he was taken to an area hospital for medical attention. That’s when the media went from excited to very excited.

The first thing his PR pointed out was that “Secretary Bryson was involved in a traffic accident” and that he suffered a “seizure.” While the official police comment was “The investigation is in its preliminary stages,” Bryson’s spokesperson quickly said that drugs and alcohol did not appear to have been a factor in the two alleged hit-and-run crashes.” So far, so good PR–but how else could the volume and excitement be turned down on this story?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the PR handling of Bryson’s car accident. A clear and straightforward approach efficiently done. We’re withholding a top grade as one crucial element was missing…

PR Takeaway: Adding non-official voices to any incident softens the story. The problem with the PR response so far is that it remains in the realm of a police investigation. Take the story in another direction: Have a statement issued by his four daughters. The family is rallying around their father whose recovery is now the number one priority. Reiterate collective relief that no one was hurt and use a term other than “ investigation.” Far better to confirm Bryson is assisting with inquires and focusing on rest and a quick recuperation. Thanks for your kindness and understanding, case closed.

To read more click here.