Baker vs Mouse: Baker Wins

 Baker vs Mouse: Baker Wins

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to bakery owner and cronut creator Dominque Ansel.

The “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” PR strategy is a tough one to pull off, but it sometimes works. To wit: Dominique Ansel, whose bakery was shut down last week by the New York City Department of Health. The home of the original “cronut” (a croissant-donut hybrid), Ansel’s eponymously named establishment was closed after a patron took video of a mouse skittering across the floor.

Video footage of rodents running amok in a kitchen is usually a devastating blow to an eatery. Conventional PR wisdom would have Ansel issue multiple mea culpas, pledge to clean up his bakery’s act, and keep a low profile.

Instead, the Frenchman fumed. He took to Facebook to rail against small-business saboteurs: “[H]onest, hard-working businesses should not have to face cruel and sensationalized attacks that are not framed in the proper context…We urge our customers to seek deeper details and answers before jumping to conclusions.” He issued hard facts, stressing that no mouse was found and no droppings were in the kitchen. He stood outside his shop and vowed to come back like fictional prizefighter Rocky Balboa. “You take a hit, you go down, but you come back up stronger,” he proclaimed.

And… the gamble worked. Less then a week after Vermingate, lines for cronuts and other  delectables are just as long at Ansel’s bakery as they were before the mouse made his (or her) film debut.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to bakery owner Dominque Ansel.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When everything is on the line, nothing is out of bounds. Perception is important for all businesses, but critical for those in industries like food service; just a whiff of odiousness can be enough to send fickle customers across the street. It’s a difficult strategy to employ: the facts must be in your favor, and there’s a very fine line between being seen as rightfully indignant and a whiner who won’t accept responsibility. In this case, Ansel succeeded, and the cronut lives on.

Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

mark zuckerberg Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

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

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had just about enough of the government meddling with his website and spying on his users. So last week he called a pal to complain – President Obama.

Zuck casually mentioned the call in a Facebook page post responding to the latest revelation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden (via activist journalist Glenn Greenwald). The story, which the NSA flatly denies, described how government computers masqueraded as Facebook servers to send malware that infected Facebook users’ machines in order to spy on them. The automated process meant the NSA could target millions of users.

In his post, Zuckerberg said he was “confused and frustrated” by the continuing reports of  government surveillance. “When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.”

The White House confirmed the conversation took place but offered nothing more, and nothing will really come of it. Zuck and his tech pals are in the right, of course, but powerless to do anything other than complain – loudly and visibly.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Zuckerberg, who, if immobilized, at least needs to show he’s good and steamed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Talk the walk. In this matter, there seems to be little else that Facebook and other Tech Titans can do, at least publicly. With each new damning revelation, the public trust in sites like Facebook dies a little more, and that directly and dramatically affects the bottom line. When Snowden’s leaks first hit the press, the implication was that Facebook et al were complicit in the spying. That taint has never quite dissipated from the  seemingly interminable storyline. Zuck reached out in an necessary symbolic gesture with his phone call to the President – but it probably ended with, “Thanks, Obama.”

 

 

Internet Mogul Is a Media Mess

seanparker Internet Mogul Is a Media Mess

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for internet mogul Sean Parker.

Sean Parker, co-founder of the groundbreaking music sharing service Napster and first president of Facebook, is by many accounts a nice guy who these days is famous mostly for being really rich – and for earning bad press that gets worse when he tries to fix it.

You might recall Parker’s over-the-top, fairy tale-themed wedding in Big Sur last year that turned into a nightmare for him, and then some. Parker dug a deeper hole for himself by talking too much, authoring a 10,000-word defense that was as unintentionally hilarious as it was out of all proportion to the story.

Jump to last week and across the country to New York, where Parker’s snowbound Greenwich Village neighbors complained that the internet billionaire had the street torn up to have high speed fiber-optic communications installed in his $20 million pied-a-terre. Parker responded personally to the report, conciliatorily at first. But then came another story , another response, and another story. In the run-up, Parker got angrier and angrier, finally raising the true white flag of public press feuds – he called his critics Nazis.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Sean Parker and his lack of restraint. His publicist must be both stressed and lonely.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know when to fold. Parker’s overzealous pursuit of redemption through the press accomplishes just the opposite, sustaining the story and making him look guilty as well as petty. Back in the day, the popular caution was “Don’t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.” Now, with worldwide bandwidth mere keystrokes away, it’s all the more critical that you learn to grin and bear it. If you’re famous, accept that you will sometimes get bad press. Respond if you must, but in a manner that ends the conversation. And leave the job to your publicist so you remain above the fray.

As Facebook Turns 10, Zuckerberg Comes of Age

 

 As Facebook Turns 10, Zuckerberg Comes of Age

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook turned 10 years old this week, and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO of the world’s most successful social networking platform, used that milestone to come of age.

Zuckerberg, the 29-year-old entrepreneur who started Facebook in 2004, has never been much of a media fan. For Facebook’s birthday, however, he participated in several interviews, including NBC’s Today Show and Bloomberg Businessweek. Though he briefly alluded to the early days, he spent the bulk of the interviews speaking about the network’s massive cultural impact and detailing current and future business plans (three-, five-, and ten-year plans, to be exact). The result? He came off as a successful and confident executive at the helm, adroitly steering Facebook into its next decade.

This evolution of his persona is significant both for Zuckerberg, and for Facebook. In the past, he’s been depicted as a brilliant but arrogant smart aleck whose tech prowess eclipsed his business acumen. In recent months, too, media coverage has focused on how Facebook may be losing traction with teenagers, the base on which it was built. These interviews gave Zuckerberg a broad platform to speak directly to multiple stakeholders at what may be a turning point in the company’s young history.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Maturity looks good on him.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: The media can offer redemption as well as criticism. Several things conspired to make this a PR success. Zuckerberg’s reluctance to do media has worked in his favor. When he does have something to say, the media listens. He pinned his interviews to Facebook’s 10th birthday, a built-in news hook. And he was clever about the venues he chose: the Today Show speaks to millions of (older) users and potential users, while Bloomberg Businessweek took care of the business side of the Facebook story. It’s a winning combination that artfully conveyed his message: Mark Zuckerberg is a big boy now.

Google’s Ferry Service Misses the Boat

ssgoog Googles Ferry Service Misses the Boat

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

First by land, now by sea? Google, trying to get its San Francisco employees to and from work through the car-choked Silicon Valley corridor without aggravating the local gentry in the process, now has a private ferry to go with the buses that piggyback on city bus routes, clog streets, and generally irritate residents who don’t happen to work at Google. So how was the seemingly civic- and green-minded move greeted locally? More catcalls.

The buses, among others used by tech firms including Apple, Facebook, and Yahoo, use city bus stops to take on and discharge passengers. Their “unlawful” use of city infrastructure, coupled with rising disdain for tech’s rampant hegemony over city life, drew a raucous protest last month when protesters blocked a Google bus and smashed a window. Last week, the city proposed a $1-per-stop tax on each bus, expected to cost each company about $100,000 annually – a fee that critics derided as, well, mere bus fare.

Enter the gleaming, Wi-Fi-equipped, hydrofoil-assisted catamaran Google has hired for a 30-day trial run. The company said it hoped the move would help spare residents inconvenience. Inconvenience perhaps, but not ire. Nothing like the sight of techies zipping by on a flashy boat that used to take kids out for whale-watching tours to bridge the cultural and socioeconomic divide. Think of the children!

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Google, for a yeoman’s effort that slightly missed the boat.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Look past the problem. Sometimes the solution has nothing to do with it. The issue here for Google and others isn’t buses; it’s style and tone. If these firms put more effort, and money, into being good corporate citizens, there might be less of an uproar about whose bus stops where, and less of a sense that Googlers and their ilk seem to breathe better air than the rest of San Franciscans. All aboard now!

Yet Another Tech CEO’s Filter Error

gopman Yet Another Tech CEOs Filter Error

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Greg Gopman of AngelHack.

In San Francisco, the backlash against privileged, self-absorbed Titans of Tech is rising faster than city rents – themselves cresting to new heights on the buying power of civic-blinded techies. With a round-the-clock public platform but no internal filter, these kids keep saying the darnedest things. The latest Marie Antoinette moment comes from Greg Gopman of AngelHack, a start up for start ups, who’s apparently tired of stepping over – or is it trampling? – homeless people to get to work.

The rant on his Facebook page was astonishing. “Why the heart of our city has to be overrun by crazy, homeless drug dealers, dropouts, and trash I have no clue,” he wrote.  In other cities, he wistfully noted, the less fortunate “keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests… There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us.”

Gopman deleted the post and apologized the next day. AngelHack disavowed him a day later, saying he had officially left the firm in October –  they just hadn’t announced it yet – and channelling a more beneficent attitude. No surprise that the apologia drew far less press than the gaffe that prompted it.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Greg Gopman, for embarrassing himself, his company and his entire industry in a city that is starting to profoundly resent it.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: In PR, no one is an island. The saying is especially inviolate for anyone whose celebrity derives from business prominence. Unleashed on social media’s open seas, your late-night brainstorm could produce a storm of quite another type. Interactions with the have-not class are inevitable for most city dwellers, but not everyone turns that into a 300-word screed. Develop a fiilter that asks: Does this need to be said, by me, right now? If in doubt, ask someone else.

Tech Titans Flex Anti-Surveillance Muscle With… a Website?

SurvReform Tech Titans Flex Anti Surveillance Muscle With... a Website?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Big Tech’s anti-snooping website.

The tech sector’s biggest names – Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others – have taken a hit this year for their complicity with government surveillance programs. With each new creepy disclosure on the depth and scope of the spying, the tech firms have found more courage to fight back  for the freedom of the Internet and the privacy rights of their users. Hence this week we have their boldest move to date…um, a new website?

Well, a feckless-looking Silicon Valley had to do something. Eight firms with a combined value of $1.4 trillion have signed on to an effort to reform “global” government surveillance – though clearly the main bogey is the US. Taking the time-honored but largely symbolic tack of an “open letter to Washington,” the tech firms cite the “urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide” and implore the US to take the lead. “For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure,” they add. Not to mention their business models.

What’s missing? How about telecom companies, network equipment makers, financial interests like credit card companies? Again, it’s a start. As a skeptic notes, the effort is driven more by economic than good-government interest, as the firms continue to face backlash for cooperating with the surveillance effort in the first place.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the tech sector backers of surveillance reform.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Give your cause higher purpose. You’ll win more friends, allies and better headlines. The Tech sector backers of the surveillance reform effort have a clear economic interest in protecting their users from prying government eyes. But “Don’t spy on our users – we might lose money” is hardly a rallying cry. Silicon Valley is imbued with a libertarian spirit that abhors government intrusion, if not always for the noblest reasons. Whether the website is just a PR move, or a lead-in to real political action backed by the sector’s considerable economic might, will be monitored closely. And not just by government snoops.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Trustwave Spider Labs, for being credited with identifying a massive hacking operation of over two million social media account usernames and passwords stolen from Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, and other sites. Trustwave researchers found this latest cache after a massive attack on Adobe that left an astounding 38 million accounts vulnerable. “We don’t have evidence [the hackers] logged into these accounts, but they probably did,” said John Miller, a security research manager at Trustwave. The compromised companies notified users after Trustwave tipped them off. Kudos to the PR flaks who alerted the media that it was Trustwave, not the individual sites, that found evidence of the breaches.

googlevil The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Google, following disclosure that it funded political lobbying groups that helped force the recent US government shutdown. The “Don’t Be Evil” doers have, in fact, supported a number of right-wing organizations and are fairly transparent about it. Their contributions to Heritage Action, which actively pushed for the government shutdown, came to light in a report last week by a liberal non-profit. Google, like other big tech firms, has a strong libertartian, anti-tax streak and an active cash-backed lobbying effort in Washington that, like most, gets spread around to all sides. But it’s one thing to back both sides in a legitimate policy debate, and another entirely to fund what amounts to domestic political terrorism.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford for the most recent plot twist in the bizarre political theater playing out in Canada’s largest city. Ford’s latest disavowal is that he did not offer $5000 and a car to alleged drug dealers in exchange for a video of him smoking crack cocaine. “Number one, that’s an outright lie and number two, you can talk to my lawyers about it,” Ford said on a Washington DC-based radio program, to which he was invited to discuss football. This, of course, follows his denial-then-admission of smoking crack in the first place, and his denial that he orally pleasured a female staffer (“I’ve got more than enough to eat at home,” was his comment).  At this point, even football isn’t a safe topic for Rob Ford to speak about.

AT&T Will “Never Forget” Its 9/11 Memorial Tweet

ATT911tweetpic AT&T Will “Never Forget” Its 9/11 Memorial Tweet

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for AT&T and its 9/11 blunder.

Pity the poor social networking marketer: Your fails, be they on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere, are instantly transmitted to a vast audience and forever on display, whether you yank them or not.

This week’s poster child? AT&T, who while observing the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, crossed the line of good taste. AT&T took to Twitter on the 12th anniversary of the event with a Photoshopped image of the annual “Tribute in Light” display at the World Trade Center site, as seen through the camera of a (wisely unbranded) smartphone. “Never forget” was the caption, and sure enough, the Internet immediately saw to it that AT&T won’t – but not as the telecom giant intended.

AT&T pulled the pic after the Twitterverse erupted with criticism, calls for boycott, and threats to switch providers as the company was accused of using 9/11 to market their phones. The company  tweeted a tepid mea culpa, apologizing “to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste. The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy.” That kind of apology puts the burden on those offended, rather than the offender – not the proper way to own up to a blunder, and only further highlighting the initial gaffe.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to AT&T, which almost earns a second fail for how it responded to the first.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Murderous terrorist attacks are not a branding opportunity. AT&T could have done a respectable, perhaps even poignant tribute to 9/11 and “those affected” if it had simply left the phone out of the image. The product tie-in changed everything. Then, by limiting its apology to “anyone who felt” the post was in poor taste, AT&T ducked taking responsibility for its mistake. An upfront acknowledgement of bad taste and an unqualfied apology would have likely put an immediate stop to the damage and maybe even earned AT&T a measure of respect for its candor. Perhaps they’ll remember that next year.

Why Internet.org Can’t Get a “Like”

internetorg Why Internet.org Cant Get a Like

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) to Internet.org and its tech sector backers.

Facebook Founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org plan has a seemingly noble purpose: to bring low-cost internet connectivity to the two-thirds of people in the world who don’t have it. It’s a praiseworthy and unassailable plan at first look, given the field-leveling potential it represents for the world’s have-nots. So where’s the love? Not in the business or tech press, that’s certain.

Here’s why: The mobile tech companies backing the initiative with Facebook all stand to profit nicely from the increased global internet usage it envisions. Internet.org’s chief goals are to make mobile connectivity more affordable and data transfer more efficient, while incentivizing businesses to lower the cost of access. Tellingly, the consortium includes handset makers and software companies but as yet no service providers, for whom the business impact is potentially less lucrative.

Defending the plan against attacks that it is self-serving and disingenuous, and its potential benefits dubious, Zuckerberg noted that the disparities created by the so-called Digital Divide could not be “solved through altruism alone” and that any plan needs to be economically sustainable. He acknowledged that Facebook, now at a billion users strong but forever needing more to grow, would “theoretically” benefit even though real profits might be a very long way off. “But I’m willing to make that investment because I think it’s really good for the world,” he said. So can he get a “Like?” Unlikely.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) to Zuckerberg and his Internet.org partners, for trying to save the world by helping themselves.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Business and philanthropy don’t mix, so don’t try. As a going concern, if you want to give something back, support a charity or start your own. Zuckerbook & Co. would have encountered less flack if they presented the business case for their plan first and then called out its potential economic and humanitarian upside. Corporate social responsibility is about engendering goodwill, but today’s Internet is more about business than social justice. Given Silicon Valley’s free-market allergy to regulation, its tendency toward conspicuous consumption, and occasional displays of plain disdain for the non-cognoscenti, it’s hard to accept this claim of enlightened self-interest at face value.