Mariel Hemingway’s Crazy (But Not Insane) PR Blitz

 Mariel Hemingways Crazy (But Not Insane) PR Blitz

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Mariel Hemingway.

This past weekend, readers of the New York Times Magazine met a vibrant health nut with an outlook as sunny as her blonde hair. Similarly, viewers of highly-rated news program CBS Sunday Morning watched this same woman bouncing on a trampoline and discussing her family. Neither would be extraordinary except when speaking of Mariel Hemingway, granddaughter of legendary author Ernest Hemingway and heir to grave family misfortune.

In contrast to Mariel Hemingway’s smoothie-making, trampoline-jumping optimism is the legend of the rest of her family. Ernest’s story, ended by his own hand with a shotgun blast, is well known, but only one of many suicides in the Hemingway clan, including Mariel’s sister, supermodel Margaux.

Mariel has made conscious, if somewhat predictable, life course changes: yoga, meditation, a clear eye at the role alcoholism played in her family. She is now the subject of a documentary, aptly titled Running From Crazy. The film premiered to praise at Sundance and will open in theaters November 1.

Hence the media blitz, and a more perfect subject could not be found. At 51, Mariel Hemingway is beautiful, fit, and swiftly becoming that latest darling of buzzphrases, a “lifestyle brand.” She’s a happy surprise in the “whatever happened to” annals of celebrity. She comes from one of the most storied families in America, and she’s more than willing to discuss her family tragedies. However, she’s not airing dirty laundry. Rather, she seems to be saying that if she can survive the Hemingway curse, adversity is something that can be bounced back from. Perhaps on a trampoline.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Mariel Hemingway.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: While using the PR playbook, rewrite and improve. Some typical PR ops are celebrities making a comeback; celebrities getting healthy; celebrity memoirs; and famous family secrets. Hemingway puts a new and optimistic spin on them. This is a story that could have gone so wrong and yet has gone so right. Instead of being a joke or a bore, Hemingway is the happy ending her grandfather could not have written.

Facebook Does the Right Thing, But Doesn’t Get “Liked”

FB mastect crop Facebook Does the Right Thing, But Doesnt Get Liked

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Facebook, regarding mastectomy photos on the site.

Remember Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy story? Of course you do. The attention she garnered propelled Facebook, the Internet’s favorite whipping boy, into a conversation about breast cancer survivors that it never wanted, and from which it could never gain.

A photographer posted dramatic photos of mastectomied women and was temporarily banned from the social network under Facebook’s vague guidelines regarding nudity. His cause was taken up by an activist outraged at Facebook’s seeming insensitivity. The activist, a Stage IV cancer survivor herself, started an online petition calling on Facebook to reverse itself – and got more than 20,000 signatures overnight.

Facebook, to its credit, reached out to the activist and clarified its policy on post-mastectomy photos, which is now its own paragraph on the site’s community standards page. In a statement, Facebook said it had always permitted such photos, but took some down after users complained. The reworded policy made their acceptability on the site explicit. The action should have generated “win-win” type headlines. Instead what emerged were headlines of Facebook “bowing  to consumer pressure.” For Facebook, no good deed goes unpunished.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Facebook, for suffering the PR consequences without complaining.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  A measured response is always best. When you have bigger PR headaches – like allegations that you let the Government spy on your users, for example – it could be tempting to look for a way to deflect  negative attention and polish your public image. But doing so carries risks you look callow and opportunistic. Facebook could have made more noise about its policy change to garner good publicity but recognized that the story was not in their control. Better then to take  your lumps and turn the page. In the world of PR, it’s important not to bring a fly swatter to a gun fight. And don’t bring an F-16, either.

Michael Douglas’s Loose Lips Sink a PR Opportunity

 Michael Douglass Loose Lips Sink a PR Opportunity

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Michael Douglas.

There isn’t a big enough candelabra in the world right now for Michael Douglas to hide behind. Douglas, currently promoting his starring role as Liberace in Behind the Candelabra, shocked the world by telling a British newspaper that his throat cancer was caused by oral sex. Previously, the cancer had been attributed to smoking and drinking in Douglas’ younger days.

The story played out over multiple news cycles, first with the admission itself and then with a clumsy “clarification” by Douglas, who now maintains that he was speaking more generally about links between human papilloma virus (HPV) and certain cancers – an explanation that doesn’t quite jibe with the journalist’s audio tape of the interview. Imagine the scene chez Douglas, with a livid Catherine Zeta-Jones, the Welsh actress and Douglas’ wife, berating her husband for his loose lips, and what this implies about her.

The great shame here is not the potential cause of Douglas’ cancer, but that he missed a golden opportunity to turn an embarrassing gaffe into a cause celebré. Before his backpedaling, Douglas was being lauded by health experts and pundits the world over for openly discussing the touchy subject of HPV, considered an epidemic yet still a taboo topic because it’s sexually transmitted. Having a major celebrity recount his experience and urge HPV prevention strategies could have prompted a much-needed national conversation, but Douglas wouldn’t put his reputation where his mouth is.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Michael Douglas’s clumsy retraction and lost chance to redirect the story toward a good cause.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Everyone makes mistakes, but with the right PR they can be spun. As much as Douglas may not have relished becoming a spokesperson for HPV, the truth is that everyone now believes this is how his cancer was caused. By turning the blunder into a platform, Douglas could have both spun himself out of a PR mess and contributed to the greater good. If a celebrity can’t handle the truth and its consequences, perhaps it’s better for him to keep his mouth shut in the first place.

Burger King’s Big Fat Risk

The New Burger King Bacon Sundae 300x205 Burger Kings Big Fat Risk

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Burger King and their new bacon sundae.

While the controversy about America’s out-of-control obesity epidemic rages unabated Burger King is cheerfully hitting the headlines with a revamped summer menu. What’s new and exciting? A bacon sundae.

The world’s second-largest hamburger chain is offering vanilla soft-serve ice cream topped with fudge, caramel, bacon crumbles, and a slice of bacon. The salty-sweet bacon sundae has 18 grams of fat, 61 grams of sugar, and approximately 510 calories.

Burger King has not yet made it clear how this new “summer only” product launch, works with an earlier campaign that had the chain targeting a broader demographic. With much fanfare, that menu was then expanded to include fruit smoothies, wraps, and salads.  Take the summer off,  Burger King now seems to be telling weight-conscious America, and relax . . . with a bacon sundae.

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Burger King. New launches like this undermine claims that the industry is dedicated to helping solve the national obesity problem. Why not mitigate by coming out with a new lo-cal smoothie at the same time?

PR Takeaway: Actions needs to mirror words. If the fast food industry wants to be taken seriously and viewed as friend, not a foe, in the health debate, then it would be better to stand behind the wraps and smoothies they rolled out earlier. The bacon sundae is bound not to win over health advocates. Any more of these launches, and Burger King could find itself fighting the unloved corner in the national conversation about obesity. Just ask Big Tobacco what that feels like.

What’s your PR Verdict on BK’s bacon sundae? Tell us by leaving a comment, below.

PR Verdict in the news: Today’s NY Times quotes the PRV re Goldman Sachs, click here to see what we had to say.

Coke: Don’t Sugar-coat the Issue

RhonaApplebaum 28750 011 300x200 Coke: Dont Sugar coat the Issue

The PR Verdict: “F” for Coke and Rhona Applebaum.

Pity Dr. Rhona Applebaum, Coca-Cola’s vice president of science and regulatory affairs.  She has the uphill battle of giving Coke’s response to Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to ban the sale of sodas in containers larger than 16 oz.  The ban, which would apply only to places other than grocery or convenience stores, has the food and drink lobby agitated. So what does Coca-Cola think?

Applebaum says the issue is about public health.  Appearing on CNN and talking in confusing metaphors, she said “Being gusty does not mean being right,” and “Stepping into traffic is not a leadership moment.”  Whatever that means, bottom line, Coke’s PR message is that obesity is about physical activity and a balanced diet.

With a long list of celebrities and opinion formers coming out in favor of the ban, Coca-Cola might be on a losing streak.  No one disagrees that smaller portions are part of a logical solution to obesity.  The smarter tactical move for Coke would be to make a conciliatory gesture and get on board.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Coca-Cola.  Claiming you are as concerned about diabetes and obesity as the next person while advocating the sale of jumbo sodas is a hard sell.  Why resist the flow toward health for consumers?

PR Takeaway:  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. In any PR issue, it’s important to follow the groundswell of public opinion.  On this one, despite some nanny state concerns, Bloomberg seems to be winning the day.  Applebaum’s comments might have sounded so much more convincing if she had simply conceded that this was an interesting first step.  The ban, after all, is limited in scope.  Why not agree with it, and then move the conversation onto the broader issues that ultimately take soda drinks out of the direct firing line?

To read more and see the interview, click here.