Letterman’s Sneak Attack on Lohan

 Lettermans Sneak Attack on Lohan

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Lindsay Lohan for keeping her cool.

LiLo, aka Lindsay Lohan, was on the stand again this week – only this time her interlocutor wasn’t a sour-faced judge but a late night TV host. In her first television interview in six months, the actress was ostensibly appearing on Late Night with David Letterman to promote her work in Scary Movie 5. From the moment she sat down, though, she was on the receiving end of a fusillade of questions about shoplifting, her addiction problems, and an impending stint in rehab.

A visibly uncomfortable Lohan tried gamely to avoid answering but was clearly at a loss when Letterman refused to abandon his line of questioning. At one point, she lightly chastised him, “We didn’t discuss this in the pre-interview,” and, at another, pleadingly asked that the conversation move on to discuss the movie (request not granted). In the end, Letterman appeared to get what he was after: Lohan was moved to tears and acknowledged she has career- and even life-threatening issues she needs to work on. She said accepts responsibility for her actions and sees the 90-day court remand as a “blessing.”

The attack-dog approach was out of character for Letterman, and it rubbed many observers the wrong way. That said, others felt the 65-year-old comedian came off as more of a stern and concerned parent than a heartless journo, which may be more of the truth: Lohan has appeared on Late Night since 1992, when she was seven years old.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Lindsay Lohan for keeping her cool. Breaking down completely or walking off the set would have generated even more headlines.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Expect the unexpected. Every meeting with a media representative should be treated as one that might cover the gamut, whether the interview takes place in the executive dining room or on the set of a talk show. Journalism has changed so dramatically over the past decade that what came to be known as  “ground rules” can no longer be relied upon, even for sought-after subjects like LiLo. Nothing is off limits, so be prepared for anything, and everything.

“Sorry” Seems To Be the Hardest Word for Armstrong

OprahLance2 150x150 Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word for Armstrong

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong.

How was Lance Armstrong’s weekend? Presumably he was disappointed reading the reviews and press commentary following his vaguely dull two-hour confessional with media pope Oprah Winfrey. Did his interview hit the PR targets he was aiming for – sympathy from the public, and the green shoots of a PR turn-around? The critics say a definitive no, and the public seems to agree.

There are many reasons why this confessional moment didn’t quite work. He didn’t seem sincere. He didn’t seem sorry. Why come clean now – why not take any of the myriad opportunities he had before? The list goes on. Above all, what rankles most is that Lance over the years was a bully, no doubt. And for the bullying, he has yet to make a sincere apology.

Renowned for suing and using his considerable financial muscle to silence his critics (ie, anyone telling the truth about his doping), he has made life for some journalists and former team members a “living hell” via the court room. One woman who is not going away is Betsy Andreu, wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu, who says their lives were ruined by Armstrong’s legal maneuvers. Appearing on CNN, she made it clear that all is not forgiven. Lance has more to do than just make a general apology.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong. Confessions to Oprah are not enough; personal clean-ups are needed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: One blanket apology won’t absolve. This PR train wreck needs multiple apologies, in particular to the numerous aggrieved parties who have been on the receiving end of Armstrong’s heavy-handed tactics over the years. With some of the most aggrieved still coming forward, Armstrong’s efforts will at best have a half life until he has cleared up the personal messes. Making peace with your critics before going public is the wiser move; afterwards is always too late. And do try for a bit more sincerity while you’re at it.

To see Betsy Andreu’s interview, click here.

Lie Strong

 Lie Strong

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong.

The interview that Oprah Winfrey calls “the biggest” of her career – with Lance Armstrong – hasn’t even aired yet, but the reaction to Armstrong’s apparent admission to doping is already in. However, it may not be what he was hoping for.

Over seven Tour de France wins, Armstrong was repeatedly accused of using performance-enhancing drugs; he denied all. After the US Anti-Doping Agency amassed an incredible amount of evidence against him, much of it from Armstrong’s former teammates, Armstrong relinquished his medals and watched sponsorships and contributions to his LIVESTRONG cancer charity burn. But he never admitted anything.

With his career and foundation in freefall, there seemed to be two courses to take: lay low and wait for the storm to pass, or have a “come to Jesus” moment with the only person who can influence public forgiveness: Oprah Winfrey. That moment came this week on Oprah’s OWN network. (At last, a ratings boost!

However, even Oprah may not be able to save Armstrong. The New York Post‘s front page, above, summed up public reaction at being duped and their sympathies played upon. Morning show pundits brought up a damning point: Armstrong began doping before he contracted testicular cancer, the disease that served as the launching pad for LIVESTRONG. Oprah apparently did not ask Armstrong if he thought the drugs led to the cancer, but if that theory is even hinted at, LIVESTRONG won’t survive the month.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong. He may come to regret coming clean.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Better to admit to something or everything? Were Armstrong on his own, sure, tell all. But there is the foundation to consider, and should Armstrong not seem repentant enough, the public will turn on him and anything he touches. An admission also lays Armstrong open to lawsuits that will mean repayment of millions of dollars, as well as a suit by the US government for lying. The inevitable tell-all memoir offer may be waiting, but is there anything more the public will want to hear? Confession may be good for the soul, but in this case, it may harm everything Armstrong holds dear.

What In “God’s Plan” Was George Zimmerman Thinking?

screen shot 2012 07 19 at 11 53 58 am 300x254 What In Gods Plan Was George Zimmerman Thinking?

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for George Zimmerman.

Who knows what George Zimmerman was thinking when he went on Fox yesterday for an hour-long interview? He clearly had messages he wanted to convey but in the end, his sit down interview probably made matters worse. The self-appointed neighborhood watchman, who made national headlines for murdering unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, looks set to continue being an ongoing lightning rod.

Presumably Zimmerman wanted to set the record straight ahead of his trial. His key message, “I’m not a racist, I’m not a murderer,” got ample airtime, but it was his other responses that made headlines. Zimmerman was asked if there was anything he regretted about the night he killed Trayvon Martin. “No sir, “ was the response. “I feel that it was God’s plan and not for me to second-guess or judge it.”

Zimmerman tried to make some amends by saying he prays for the parents of Martin daily and that he would “tell them again that [he is] sorry.” The interview concluded with Zimmerman looking into the camera apologising that his actions have polarized America. The key takeaway? The only thing guaranteed was that the interview further enraged Martin’s parents. What a mess.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for George Zimmerman. Apologies don’t work when you invoke the work of others, perhaps even blaming them, and that includes God. Where was his prep before this interview took place?

The PR Takeaway:  There was so much wrong with this interview. An hour-long television interview is the wrong way to apologize. If you do choose this route, say you are sorry in a short interview without bringing God into it to reduce your culpability. After this interview aired, Trayvon Martin’s father issued a statement saying, “I simply really don’t know what God George Zimmerman is worshipping, because there’s no way that the God that I serve had in his plans for George Zimmerman to murder my son.” With this sound bite, the worth of Zimmerman’s lengthy interview was reduced to zero.

Should George Zimmerman have done this interview? Should he have been better prepped? Is there anything at all that went right with this God-forsaken interview? Give us your PR Verdict!


The Pet Whisperer of Park Avenue

berman The Pet Whisperer of Park Avenue

The PR Verdict: “B” for Dr Berman and his PR Profile.

The latest edition of Town and Country magazine includes a profile of the apparently famous Park Avenue veterinarian, Lewis Berman, DVM.  Described as the preferred confidant of Manhattan’s “elite dogs and cats for more than fifty years” the magazine enthuses that “pets and their owners both seem to look forward to visits with Dr Berman”.

For more than fifty years, Dr Berman has looked after the pets of the boldest of bold-faced names.  Andy Warhol had a dachshund called Amos, Lauren Bacall a King Charles Spaniel while the Shah of Iran had a Great Dane.  Writer Lillian Hellman was more devoted to her French poodle than other people.  “She didn’t like people that much”, he offers.

The lengthy interview talks of his early days in the business as well as his family and charitable causes.  Described puzzlingly in the article as “having a pleasing attractive face with unremarkable unexaggerated features” the article reads like a prelude to something bigger.  Is a book, TV program or franchise in the offing?

The PR Verdict: “B” for Dr Berman and his PR Profile.  We may be cynical but was the ground being laid for stage two of a publicity drive? All the ingredients were there but in the end no clue was given.

PR Takeaway: Credibility is key to building a professional profile.  Dr Berman seems to have mastered the art, even if unintentionally.  Positioning himself as the dog and cat whisperer to Manhattan’s elite, he struck the right note of experience, wisdom and geniality.  Even if Dr Berman doesn’t intend to start his own franchise, create a shampoo line or launch a DVD/book on pet care, the article might flush out interested buyers of the business, if he is tempted that is.

The article is not available online. Print edition only. For a link to Town and Country click here.



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Justin Bieber and Dinner with Mommie

justin bieber 02 300x207 Justin Bieber and Dinner with Mommie

The PR Verdict: “F” for Justin Bieber.

Does anyone, apart from pubescent teenage girls, find Justin Bieber even vaguely interesting?  Not really, might be the inevitable response.  While the 18-year-old singer continues to enjoy extraordinary popularity in his target demographic, his PR minders have obviously been wondering if they should explore further afield.  Cue an interview in the latest edition of GQ Magazine.

On paper the interview made complete sense.  How can we make Justin seem more interesting to another demographic? Why not young(ish), fashion conscious men who might want to hear more about him?  “How about a sit down interview with GQ?” must have been the excitement at the morning meeting.  Let’s see what we can arrange!

Bieber did the interview.  Nice enough. But the bad news is that it did nothing more than reinforce his image as a young kid, taken by surprise by his own success.  GQ describes him as ‘ a very small human being’ who resembles the Star Wars super hero Luke Skywalker,   “if he had his own perfume line”.  The interview was finally completed, after having been rearranged multiple times to squeeze in dinner with his mommie.

The PR Verdict:  “F” for a failed strategy.  It will take more than an interview with GQ to make him into the bad boy of music.  And next time don’t mention dinner with mommie.

PR TAKEAWAY:  Give a journalist something new to write about, otherwise the default content will be what has been written already.   This was an interview searching for a subject matter.  Bieber (all of 18) was unable to identify a cause, issue or romantic interest that would takes his profile to the Mickey Rourke or Sean Penn level.  GQ concluded the interview by opining that for Bieber “manhood can wait”.   Sadly , this interview was at best five years too early.

To read the interview click here.

Is Tom Cruise Really That Dull?

tom cruise Is Tom Cruise Really That Dull?

The PR Verdict: “A” for Cruise and his PR strategy.

Is Tom Cruise as achingly dull as his recent profile in Playboy would seem unintentionally to suggest? In honor of his fiftieth birthday and to publicise his new movie Rock of Ages, he has given an interview the length of War and Peace to the once racy, but now vaguely suburban magazine.  His interview is almost as tough to get through as the Russian novel.

For an actor who has had his share of PR blunders it is little wonder he became media shy.  Whether it was bouncing around on Oprah’s couch talking about Katie Holmes, criticizing Brooke Shields about post natal depression or waxing lyrical about Scientology , his star fell and his box office allure faded.  Suddenly America’s leading man was polarizing instead of interesting.

Playboy’s recent interview should help remedy that.  Cruise talks about his love of Katie, his children and his strong work ethic.  Yes, he considers himself blessed and fortunate and no, he doesn’t read negative press about himself.  As it happens, he  hasn’t had plastic surgery and his secret to keeping in shape is eating right and exercising.  Cruise has made the PR transition from Hollywood loon to male soccer mom. And done it in Playboy!

The PR Verdict: “A”  for Tom Cruise and his PR Strategy.  An astonishingly dull interview that has got his PR profile back on track.

PR Takeaway:  Being boring has its rewards.  The most interesting insight Cruise offers in the article is that he realised his own PR missteps cost him plenty.  He took a PR break, stayed out of the press and what has now followed is an interview that gives him the space to sound reassuring and not the slightest bit controversial or interesting.  While sensible for the box office and his PR machine, we did prefer him jumping up and down on Oprah’s sofa.  Much more amusing.

What’s your PR Verdict?

What Did Ryan O’Neal Describe As Pointless?

ryan oneal1 What Did Ryan ONeal Describe As Pointless?

The PR Verdict: “C” for Ryan O’Neal for an interview he was struggling to get through.

Why was there a band-aid on Ryan O’Neal’s nose during his interview with Matt Lauer on Today?  The former film icon has just published a memoir of his thirty year relationship with the equally famous Farrah Fawcett, called Both of Us.   The book he said is not a tell all – but rather a tribute to the highs and lows of their volatile relationship.   Bizarrely, the distracting band-aid remained on his nose for the entire interview and was never mentioned.

This was however the second attempt at an interview.  The first interview never got off the ground with O’Neal leaving the studio in a frantic hurry after what he later conceded might have a been a panic attack.  “I don’t know what was wrong,” he confessed to Matt Lauer second time around. “I just broke out into a terrible sweat, so I just went home.”

His second interview was emotional and full of stops and starts.  He talked of his family’s problems including Fawcett’s addiction to antibiotics.  Lauer quoted O’Neal in the memoir as saying the couple’s behaviors arose because “we both had a feeling of leading pointless lives.”  O’Neal looked genuinely startled.  “Did I say pointless?” he asked rhetorically.  Even Matt Lauer didn’t know where to turn.

The PR Verdict:  “C” for Ryan O’Neal for an interview he was clearly summoning all his energy to get through.  A gentler print interview might have been a better route for this client.

PR Takeaway:  This interview had the hallmarks of a sympathetic therapist talking to a troubled patient.  Sometimes it might be better to give the PR prize of a national interview a pass, and stick with some gentler, less exposing forms of publicity.

To read more and see the interview click here.

What ‘s your PR Verdict?

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Mr Brand? Will That Be All?

Russellbrand Mr Brand? Will That Be All?

The PR Verdict: “B” for Russell Brand and his well-structured testimony.

There was something surreal about the testimony of comedian Russell Brand to the British Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee yesterday on drug abuse.  Was it is his sleeveless black shirt, the wild man beard, the crazy hair or the multiple rings and chains?  Was this Russell’s Sunday best?

Appearances aside, he made his points clearly.  The dozen-times arrestee said substance abusers should get treatment and not be sent to prison.  He spoke with passion and conviction about a topic he has been public about many times.  His key message?   Drug abuse is a public health issue not a criminal issue.

From a PR point of view he was clear about what he wanted to comment on and what he didn’t.  He batted back various questions including the legalization of drugs and other wider social issues claiming he was not “particularly qualified” to make that call.   But then he didn’t stop talking…Enough Russell !  And please sit still!

The PR Verdict: “B” for Russell Brand and his well-structured testimony.  This might have been an “A” but if only he would STOP talking. Sometimes enough really is more than enough.

PR Takeaway:  Make your points and watch them land.  Wait for a response and say nothing.  Brand’s testimony gave some unintentionally good pointers as to how to handle a media interview.  Style of delivery is just as important as content and Brand fluctuated between skittish and grounded, overexcited and solemn.  In the future stay confined to short bullet point paragraphs and make it clear when finished.  No need to fill in the blanks.  Just wait for the next question.  And why NOT tuck your shirt in?

To see very brief excerpt click here and to see a longer excerpt click here.

What’s your verdict on Russell’s testimony?

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What Did the Princess Ask For? Is That All?

PRINCESS What Did the Princess Ask For? Is That All?

The PR Verdict: “C” for the Princess and her call for reform.

Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz (is there a shortened form?) gave the BBC a surprising interview yesterday, calling for change in her native Saudi Arabia.

From her London base, the daughter of King Saud, former ruler of Saudi Arabia, identified five needed reforms for the kingdom.  Radical in scope they included the constitution, divorce, education and social services.  She also criticised the current chaperone system for women as “infantilizing”, turning Saudi women into “a burden on their men and on society.”

The urgency of her calls came undone when she added in the interview that she is opposed to women driving, urging a delay  “until we are educated enough and until we have the necessary laws to protect us.”

The PR Verdict: “C” for the Princess and her call for reform.  She let the air out of the balloon by urging caution.  By saying that allowing women to drive is not for now, she pushed her five lofty reforms into the distant future and delayed  a simple reform from happening anytime soon.

Key PR lesson: Always start with a call to action that immediately mobilizes.  Give people something to do.  Arguing for constitutional and legal reform has its role but the Princess’s foray into free speech left her energized sympathizers limp.  While her five suggestions can be the subject of endless academic debate,  the question of women driving is a straight forward yes or no.  More importantly, it is the gateway for broader change.  Sadly a missed opportunity.

To read the interview click here

What’s your PR Verdict?

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