Bottom Line? It’s Not Always About the Bottom Line

 Bottom Line? Its Not Always About the Bottom Line

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Mozilla.

When Brendan Eich stepped down from his position as chief executive of software company Mozilla last week, the general assumption was that his personal stance against same-sex marriage was to blame. But was morality the reason for Eich’s resignation from Mozilla after being appointed a mere two weeks ago? No, opines Farhad Manjoo in the international edition of Sunday’s New York Times. Manjoo instead points out a key factor about Mozilla that companies need to heed. For Mozilla, the bottom line isn’t the only bottom line.

Mozilla is a company with a mission, to promote “the development of the Internet as a public resource.” In other words, it’s not all about the money for Mozilla. In a highly competitive industry, Manjoo writes, corporate culture becomes as important as salary. Apple and Microsoft may be able to offer buckets of money to talented coders and software designers, but those people might go for the company offering something they believe in.

Mozillians spoke online of how Eich divided their community. One said, “He is actively harming Mozilla by not making a proper statement on these issues and making things right.” Eich’s probable forced resignation is yet another example of the importance of keeping one’s personal opinions out of business.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Mozilla, for distancing themselves from a debate that causes damage to their corporate culture and their brand.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Remember the refrain from The Godfather: It’s business, not personal. Whether you’re in business purely for profit or you have a mission, personal opinions can cost a company more than money. PR people exist for this purpose; had a few been consulted on this matter, Eich might not have a two-week position on his resume, and Mozilla wouldn’t have a new reputation of axing those it deems wrong.

OkCupid Hits the PR Target

 OkCupid Hits the PR Target

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for dating website OkCupid.

OkCupid’s arrow was on the mark. The online dating site made headlines this week for its clever slam of Brandon Eich, the new CEO at software collective Mozilla. Visitors to OkCupid who use Mozilla’s Firefox web browser were greeted with a message asking them to return via an alternative browser –  because Mozilla’s new head honcho apparently doesn’t support alternative lifestyles.

In 2008, Eich donated $1,000 in support of California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative declaring marriage as being between a man and a woman. The measure passed but was ultimately deemed unconstitutional. His donation, made public in 2012, caused some chatter that eventually died down.

With Eich’s appointment as CEO last week, however, concerns have resurfaced about his views.  OkCupid minced no words about its distaste, saying, “Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure. If you want to keep using Firefox, the link at the bottom will take you through to the site. However, we urge you to consider different software for accessing OkCupid.”

The company also gets extra PR points for the way in which it took its stand. A press release would have sufficed, but temporarily blocking visitors using Firefox was a real eye-catcher.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for OkCupid for inspiring such headlines as “OkCupid Makes War Not Love on Mozilla: ‘Don’t Use Firefox.’”

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Playing politics is potentially messy, but it’s not verboten. Certainly, companies should tread carefully when choosing sides on a controversial matter; it is easy to misstep. But there are times when doing so is a no-brainer and such was the case here. OkCupid says it’s in the business of “creating love,” so its objections to Eich’s appointment are both personal and professional. Even their statement notes that 8% of OkCupid matches are same-sex unions. As such, there is only benefit to standing up for equal rights for the LGBT community, and doing so loudly.

Yes, There Is Such a Thing As Bad PR

burkman 150x150 Yes, There Is Such a Thing As Bad PR

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Jack Burkman.

If you don’t know who Jack Burkman is, he didn’t get as much attention as he wanted. For the uninitiated, Jack Burkman is a Republican lobbyist who was so bothered by college athlete Michael Sam coming out that he’s drafting legislation banning gay athletes from the National Football League. A sample line from his statement: ”We are losing our decency as a nation. Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man. That’s a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country.”

Burkman’s “bill” becoming law is about as likely as Elton John announcing he’s straight. Only members of Congress can introduce legislation, and Burkman’s premise would seem to violate federal law. He claims to have supporters in Congress but none have rushed forward with hands raised.

But getting a law on the books isn’t really Burkman’s goal. Indeed, he’s basically admitted he just wants headlines, telling The Daily Beast that, “Of all the discussions that we’ve had, the legal (route) has been the last.” Rather, he said, he’s focusing on “substance” and “PR” to call attention to himself and his position. Can publicity stunts make their subjects look worse than they did pre-stunt? Observing Jack Burkman, the answer would appear to be yes.

THE PR VERDICT: F (Full Fiasco) for Jack Burkman, who got what he wanted on one level: now, more people know he is a bigoted crackpot.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: All news is not good news. Publicity stunts have always been an unpredictable animal; clever ones are lauded as canny marketing, such as the lead-up to The Blair Witch Project, which had moviegoers thinking they were seeing a real documentary. The ones that fail are also memorable, and not in a good way: Remember Richard Heene, the attention-seeker who claimed his son had floated away in a homemade balloon when the 5-year-old was hiding in a garage? He got jail time and fines. It seems safe to say Burkman’s bid falls in the latter category.

 

Pasta Maker’s Remarks Land Him in the Sauce

157691 guido barilla Pasta Makers Remarks Land Him in the Sauce

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Barilla Group Chair Guido Barilla.

If you’re tempted to feel sorry for Guido Barilla, resist the urge. The chairman of Barilla Group, the world’s leading pasta maker, blundered wildly in an Italian radio interview last week as he tried to justify why his company doesn’t feature gay families in its advertising. From a business perspective – never mind society in general – no one who heads a company of any size could be excused such a miscue.

In one of the more forgiving and contextualized translations of his remarks, Barilla said his family-owned company had “a slightly different culture” about the “traditional” family. “If gays like our pasta and our advertisings, they will eat our pasta; if they don’t like that, they will eat someone else’s pasta. You can’t always please everyone not to displease anyone,” he said. Excluding gays was “not for lack of respect toward homosexuals – who have the right to do whatever they want without disturbing others – but because I don’t agree with them, and I think we want to talk to traditional families.”

The LGBT activist community took up Barilla’s invitation to “eat someone elses’s pasta,” winning broader support for boycotts as the CEO tried to apologize and walk back for his remarks. Buona fortuna with that. Thanks to his misplaced candor, Barilla’s pasta isn’t the only thing morally-outraged consumers aren’t buying.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Barilla and its CEO, for a PR disaster that undid years of built-up brand goodwill in a matter of seconds.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Leave personal politics in the kitchen, away from your business, your branding and – per favore! – any microphones. This is especially true for broad consumer brands. If you get thrown a curveball question in an interview, be ready to demur. Your attempt at a nuanced explanation won’t survive the news cycle, much less translation, and in today’s linked-up world, transmission happens almost instantly. Finally, be prepared with a contingency plan that says more than “I’m sorry.” Barilla needs to take positive corrective action to show a true change of heart, not just remorse.

Boy Scouts PR Move: More Talk, Less Action

 Boy Scouts PR Move: More Talk, Less Action

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Boy Scouts of America.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) got a lucky PR break last week. As the Catholic Church prepared for the conclave, the PR spotlight was turned away from the US organization that continues to ban openly gay Scouts and Scout leaders. The conclave inadvertently bought the BSA some breathing space as the Boy Scouts, just like the Catholic Church, grapples with the complex challenge of how to please its diverse constituents while remaining relevant for future generations. The BSA was out of the  PR heat – at least for a week.

The BSA stumbled earlier this year after a press leak, later confirmed, that suggested change was imminent on its policy regarding openly gay members. In fact, the BSA Board was deeply divided. Its solution? It deferred its decision and retreated from the public eye to regroup.

Now, in part to follow up on the recent controversy, the BSA is surveying adult Scouts and their families about the role of gay members and leaders in Scouting. Described as “neutral and not intended … to provide a certain outcome,’” the BSA is at pains to point out that it is now listening to its members. But time will tell whether being in listening mode helps the BSA cure its PR ills.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Boy Scouts of America. Listening to members is fine, but sometimes leadership calls for just that: leadership.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Change the debate to change the crisis. Shifting the terms of the debate is a hallmark of good PR, and it is hard to quibble with asking members for their views; a survey just might identify attitudes and beliefs that can lead to meaningful discussions. In the long run, though, more will be needed. Sometimes leadership requires making a tough decision and taking a public stand. For an organization committed to building the minds, morals, and characters of America’s future leaders, this is one  leadership lesson it can’t afford to ignore.