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

cnn 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to CNN, for its measured but pointed response to political posturing by the Republican National Committee. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus threatened to bar both CNN and corporate sibling NBC News from the 2016 Presidential debate process, in response to a mini-series on Hillary Clinton being produced by CNN Films, another affiliate. Priebus said the program amounted to an “in-kind donation” for Clinton, a likely Presidential candidate, and her fellow Democrats. One can certainly debate the suitability of airing such a program, given the corprate connections and timing. But in a statement, CNN noted that the project is in its early stages, called on the RNC to reserve judgment, and noted, correctly, that the only people to be harmed by the RNC’s threat would be voters.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersLOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to summer blockbusters with bloated budgets. July may have been one of the hottest months on record  – but not at the box office. Movie studios are facing huge losses after a string of big budget releases tanked at the box office, including Pacific Rim, White House Down, After Earth, and, most notably, The Lone Ranger. Disney suffered a shellacking on that film, spending anywhere from $200 to $400 million when all the marketing was said and done, and taking in a relatively embarrassing $175 million. Star Johnny Depp blamed bad pre-release PR, Steven Spielberg prophesied the blockbuster implosion, and moviegoers merely stayed home and binge-viewed Orange Is the New Black on NetFlix. The upside? Maybe Hollywood is finally done with sequels to Transformers.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO President Obama for canceling his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the impetus for which clearly was Russia’s “disappointing” asylum-granting to Edward Snowden, the American secret-leaker. But to what end? A few weeks ago, Obama said he wouldn’t “scramble jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.” Now, he’s refusing to meet with world leaders over him. By canceling, the President himself has elevated The Snowden Affair to a whole new level. Instead of a tête-á-tête with the Russian president prior to the G20 summit, the White House announced, President Obama will head to that geopolitical hotspot, Sweden. Boy, Putin must be shaking in his fur-lined boots.

Witherspoon’s Withering PR Moment

 Witherspoons Withering PR Moment

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Reese Witherspoon, from arrest to partial apology.

The producers of the new film Mud, starring Reese Witherspoon, were probably hoping for publicity of a different sort for this week’s premiere. Instead of hitting the talk show circuit as planned, Witherspoon made the front pages after being arrested outside Atlanta for boozily mouthing off to a Georgia state trooper.

The officer had pulled over the actress and her husband, Hollywood agent Jim Toth, after seeing Toth driving erratically. As Toth was being arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, Witherspoon became unruly, belittling the trooper, refusing to stay in the car, and pulling out the classic ill-advised celebrity line: “Do you know who I am?”  She was taken away in handcuffs, charged with disorderly conduct, and spent the night in jail.

What an embarrassment for Witherspoon, an actress of the American Sweetheart variety with now-punchline ironic credits such as Walk the Line and Legally Blonde. As a 37-year-old mother of three, she can’t claim youthful indiscretion for this performance. Witherspoon canceled several scheduled appearances to promote her latest movie and issued an apology through her publicist.

Conspicuous by its absence in Witherspoon’s mea culpa, though, was a lack of acknowledgement of the seriousness of her and her husband’s alleged actions. The truly problematic issue here isn’t the disorderly conduct charge, but the couple getting into a car allegedly – and in her case admittedly – intoxicated. “Friends” like E! Host Chelsea Handler downplaying the incident didn’t improve on the situation. Given the broader implications of the arrests, Handler and others would do well to steer clear of this mess.

THE PR VERDICT:  “F” (Full Fiasco) for Reese Witherspoon, from the arrest to the partial apology.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Note to celebrities: Sometimes it’s not all about you. Throughout this unfortunate episode, Witherspoon doesn’t appear to have thought about anyone else besides herself and her husband. Though she may be under a legal directive to say little given the pending criminal charges, one hopes her image rehab will involve admitting their lack of judgment and perhaps taking a visible stand against drunk driving. Fortunately for the tipsy couple – and everyone else on the road – the only damage done here was on the PR front.

The Great PR Behind Gatsby

 The Great PR Behind Gatsby

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Gatsby’s PR campaign.

Ask any author, artist, or musician about the PR surrounding their latest offering and the persistent complaint is almost always the same: The Marketing and PR departments had no idea what they were doing. The PR was weak, uncoordinated, and didn’t happen. The PR punched below its weight. No one, it seems, is ever satisfied.

One example that seems, so far, to have broken that convention is the advance PR for The Great Gatsby. The latest film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel of the same name, the movie was directed and co-written by Baz Luhrmann and stars Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan. Opening in the summer, its launch has been preceded by a slick PR campaign that has covered all the bases.

From Mulligan’s cover on the May issue of Vogue to a lengthy feature in Architectural Digest about the sets used in the film, magazines have been waxing lyrical about the movie. Venerable retailer Brooks Bros. has just launched a fashion line in honor of the film, launched with an exhibition of the film’s costumes in London. Stage two involves a blizzard of interviews with the director and cast about Gatsby and its hold on America. This PR is firing on all cylinders.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Gatsby’s PR campaign.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Start with a myth and work from there. What’s impressive about the PR building up to the film’s opening is how pervasive the coverage has been. From an elaborate social media program that has strategically placed the movie trailer on multiple sites to articles and interviews highlighting the fashion and interiors of America’s favorite age, this is one launch that has taken full advantage of the public’s ongoing fascination with the Gatsby myth. It goes to prove that with good material and strategic thinking, PR can launch a punch way above its weight.

Guest Column: Angelina Jolie to Syria’s Rescue

Angelinajolie1 150x150 Guest Column: Angelina Jolie to Syrias Rescue

PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for UNHCR and its association with Angelina.

Tired of reading about celebrities in US Weekly or People? Then turn to the Financial Times. The FT just ran an op-ed from Angelina Jolie, special envoy to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), co authored by António Guterres, the UNHCR High Commissioner and former Prime Minister of Portugal. Both made a plea to support Syrian refugees and the latest UN appeal drive.

This latest FT column follows Jolie’s televised visits to Syrian refugee camps, guaranteeing coverage where the plight of the refugees might not have ordinarily rated a mention. During the visits, Jolie appeared shaken and emotional; critics might say that’s no big stretch for an actress, but following up her well-publicized visits with the op-ed route was wise. No charity glamour, just simple facts and arguments.

The column summarized the situation clearly. Wearing her UN hat, Jolie got right to the point: This appeal is not just about helping refugees, but making sure help is on a sustainable footing. The FT ran a photo of the glamorous special envoy on its front page. Her co-author had to be content with a byline; presumably he doesn’t sell newspapers in quite the same way.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for UNHCR. Celebrity coverage is the stepping-stone for more serious follow up, but is Angelina Jolie the right celebrity?

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Choose your celebrity wisely. By pairing up with Jolie, the UNHCR got its cause more attention than it might have otherwise. But the nagging issue with Jolie is that it’s never really clear if she is smart and cool, or a wanna-be humanitarian who, in her personal life, is a bit of a loon. She has still not been able to shake off her “crazy” image, which includes an endless array of children and tattoos. (Have we forgotten the vial of Billy Bob’s blood she wore as a necklace?) Bottom line, her sincerity isn’t in doubt, but does she have the gravitas to take this issue any further?

To read Angelina Jolie’s and António Guterres’s op-ed column, click here.

What’s your opinion of the UNHCR’s choice of Angelina Jolie as representative? Give us your PR Verdict!

PR Science for Scientology

 PR Science for Scientology

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Scientology’s crisis management of this latest hit to its reputation. (Pictured: Nazanin Boniadi)

Where on earth is Nazanin Boniadi? To those unfamiliar with her name, Boniadi was allegedly put forward as a potential girlfriend to Tom Cruise, by the Church of Scientology’s top brass in 2004, as they sought to couple up their leading celebrity. The full story in the October issue of Vanity Fair continues to generate headlines since its publication, and The PRV gave Cruise and Scientology the “Loser of the Week” award for their mutual mishandling of this major reputational hit. Why?

Vanity Fair cites numerous sources and quotes them in detail, naming dates, places, and schedules throughout the article. The bad news for Cruise and his pals, is that the story is not a vague piece of celebrity journalism citing unnamed sources but Scientology didn’t seem to care and responded in the article with assertions that the article contains “lies” and “garbage.” Blanket aggressive denials were never going to turn this story around. This was poor PR handling.

The article describes the Church as having a culture of fear, secrecy, blackmail, spying, and routine informing by peers, with summary punishments involving loss of liberty. Vanity Fair tracks Boniadi’s trajectory from Church member,to potential Cruise girlfriend, to later exile at a Scientology campus. If the story is truly “garbage,” why didn’t Scientology make Boniadi available to Vanity Fair to set the record straight?

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Scientology’s crisis management of this latest hit to its reputation. Throw cold water on the allegations with another set of facts and change the direction of the story.

The PR Takeaway: Fight fire with fire. The easiest way to take the wind out of a damning story line is to go on-the-record with an alternative view of events that casts doubt on the prevailing version. A few choice words from the former girlfriend in question might have done the trick. Defensive denials are PR 101; on-the-record comments win the day over flat denials.Next time let Nazanin do the talking.

What else could the Church of Scientology done to manage this PR fiasco? Give us your PR Verdict!

Editorial note: Friday’s PRV Weekly Wrap contained an incorrect news item regarding Julian Assange and Wikileaks. The item has been removed; we apologize for the error. 

Katie Holmes’s Stealth Divorce Bombshell

 Katie Holmess Stealth Divorce Bombshell

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Katie Holmes and her stealth divorce bomb.

TomKat–Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes–are now officially over. Just like that. The surprising announcement that Holmes had started divorce proceedings seemed to catch her actor husband Cruise off guard. The filing was made on Thursday afternoon; the media went crazy on Friday. What happens now?

Speculation has already begun as to the cause of the marriage breakdown. Whispers of Holmes’s resistance to Cruise’s Scientology pals abound, as does the sneaking suspicion that the marriage was, from the start, a five-year contractual understanding. Other media speculate that Cruise’s alleged ambiguous sexuality is the genesis of the crisis, with one New York tabloid sarcastically commenting, “Holmes will keep the house while Cruise keeps the closet.”

Was the split expected? The gossip magazines had not speculated about Cruise’s third marriage in any meaningful way (despite ongoing low-level chatter). Cruise showed up alone at the recent premieres of his latest film Rock of Ages with no significant adverse comment. With the media off guard, the time for Holmes to file was now. At least on the PR front, this was minimally damaging, given the couple’s notoriety.

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for  Katie Holmes, whose divorce strategy is like a precision bomb. Taking the media by surprise means that phase one of the divorce agenda is owned by Homes, hands down.

The PR Takeaway:  Quick precision bombing has its advantages. Making a sudden filing before the weekend, while not making substantive comments keeps the scandal level relatively low. Holmes followed the template of her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s own divorce from second wife Nicole Kidman: no comment, no explanation–the PR exercise equivalent to ripping the band aid off quickly. No one ever really got to the bottom of the Kidman/Cruise divorce in part because it seemed so unexpected. The explanations this time around might be just as elusive.

Will Katie Holmes’s sudden, stealth divorce bomb shatter the media’s speculative attack? Give us your PR Verdict, below.

Hey ! Did you see that the Financial Times (Alphaville) republished our PRV on Barclays? Take a look:

Getting Naked with John Travolta

johntravolta Getting Naked with John Travolta

The PR Verdict: “B” for Travolta who was quick with a robust and unequivocal denial.

What else is there to know about John Travolta and his genitals?  According to a thrillingly prurient and detailed lawsuit filed by an unnamed masseur at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the public now knows more than it ever expected.  After recovering from allegedly being groped by the iconic star, the distressed masseur is now suing Travolta for damages.

Seeking $2 million (what might have been claimed if they went all the way?) the masseur’s filing (his name has been withheld) gives a minute-by-minute retelling.  He claims Travolta’s erect penis is approximately 8 inches in length and his pubic hair is “wirey (sic) and unkempt.”  Travolta, on being rebuffed, yelled “Hollywood is controlled by homosexual Jewish men who expect favors in return for sexual activity.”   Undoubtedly an odd response… but bring on the headlines!  They’re guaranteed!

Team Travolta responded with indignation and anger. “Untrue!”  and “False!”   None of the events claimed ever occurred, said his rep.  Besides, Travolta wasn’t in LA at the time of the alleged incident.   The rep said they would fight it and once thrown out, cross sue the masseur for malicious prosecution.   But hold on!  Now a second masseur has come out and joined the Californian lawsuit, claiming Travolta made similar moves at a hotel room in Atlanta.

The PR Verdict: “B” for team Travolta who were quick off the mark with a robust and unequivocal denial. Credibility is going to be strained though if additional complainants join the lawsuit.

PR Takeaway:  As complicating facts emerge it becomes tougher to stick with flat out denials and indignation.   Why not feign indifference?  What a frivolous and cynical lawsuit!  We have handed it to our lawyers.  Point out that Travolta wasn’t even there on the night in question while conceding agreement on three points: the masseur is suing for $2 million in damages, he never approached the police and he filed his opportunistic complaint anonymously.  Next question?

To read more click here

Who would you place money on? Team Travolta or the Masseur.

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