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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR Perfect) to French authorities for pursuing criminal charges against those responsible for last year’s topless photos of Kate Middleton. The photos, which not only infuriated the Royals but also privacy advocates, were taken from afar, then published in French magazine Closer, owned by Mondadori, and eventually in several other European publications. If convicted, Mondadori CEO Ernesto Mauri and the as-yet-unnamed photographer could spend up to a year in jail, be forced to cease business for five years, and/or face a fine of 45,000 euros. Yes, this may be a little over the top, but given the long term abuses of the tabloids (as seen in the hacking scandals in the UK), the charges send an unmistakable message: Invasions of privacy will not be tolerated ici.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to KPMG Chairman Michael Andrew, who told the Financial Times that a recent insider-trading scandal involving a former partner was a ”one-day wonder” that generated coverage only because it was a “slow news week.” We love keeping calm and carrying on, but in cases like this, too much sang-froid just looks downright careless. If JP Morgan regrets CEO Jamie Dimon’s comments about a “tempest in a teacup” regarding the $6 billion London Whale trading loss, then Andrew’s equally cavalier comments may end up haunting him. In the new age of corporate contrition, this was a misstep. Both clients and staff must have been wondering: What was he thinking?

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO the George W. Bush Library dedication ceremony. Timing is everything, and whether this was a good week or a bad one to dedicate the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum was debatable. The event was a patriotic photo op for sure, with all five living presidents – Bush father and son, Carter, Clinton, and Obama – there to open the center. But the same event was candy for detractors, who pondered whether the Bush legacy of war and financial foundation for the recession was grounds for commemoration, and if a library was really the most apt choice for Dubya. Considering the past two weeks of North Korean missiles at the ready, ricin-laced letters to politicians, and a terrorist attack in Boston, this celebratory move seemed somewhat oddly timed.



Not Quite Pretty As a Picture

kate middleton portrait 150x150 Not Quite Pretty As a Picture

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for artist Paul Emsley (pictured, with his portrait of Princess Kate)

Kate Middleton’s official royal portrait was released this past week, to a universally poor reception. Critics have described this latest daub by artist Paul Emsley as “rotten,” “flatulent,” and “old and tired,” with Princess K described in most articles as looking ten years older than her real age. What went so horribly wrong?

The only happy favorable comments came from the royal couple themselves, who graciously described the portrait as “absolutely beautiful.” But the art world has given its catty judgment, dismissing it as nothing more than a “dull” picture, and the Internet is an online gallery of a thousand mock variations, none of them kind. Emsley’s reputation faces death by a thousand sneers. The whole affair paints a less than pretty PR picture.

In subsequent interviews, Emsley tried to minimize the damage by making the case that royal portraiture is not an easy assignment. The challenge for an artist, he said, is to find something original to express about an image that is already ubiquitous. True enough. This is one commission that, while it may seem prestigious, is more likely an example of perfect PR misalignment.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR problematic) for Paul Emsley and his PR reputation. Making a royal portrait look innovative has proven a difficult task indeed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Cutting edge and staid do not mix. Historically, despite Lucian Freud’s 2001 portrait of the Queen, most royal portraits need to meet a standard of creativity that is resolutely uncontroversial and unchallenging. For artists wanting to create buzz, this prestigious gig is not the route to take; the art world inevitably sneers “sell out,” critics are critical, and the public is at best indifferent. Artists, take note: Opt for a racier commission and focus on celebrities who crave the very controversy this picture is designed to avoid. Perhaps Lindsay Lohan is available for a sitting?

All Apologies

 All Apologies

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for the Australian DJs who staged the tragic Kate Middleton prank call.

The two Australian DJs who made the prank call to Prince Edward hospital have broken their silence with an explanatory interview with Australian media. Solemn and deeply apologetic, Michael Christian and Mel Greig, the two DJs behind the Kate Middleton-related hospital prank call that led to the suicide of the nurse who put them through, say they are “incredibly sorry” for what transpired. Speaking on behalf of the pair, Christian said both were “gutted, shattered, heartbroken.”

The fourteen-minute interview covered the predictable: Whose idea was it? Was this terrible outcome ever anticipated? What was their reaction on hearing about the suicide? And what happens now? At every turn, both gave a good interview. Prank calls have been around for years, they said, and they had no idea how this could happen. The call was meant to be nothing more than a funny routine prank. And, of course, they said they were very sorry.

The interviewer asked if responsibility stops with the DJs or with management, which approved the prank before the segment aired (as did the radio station’s legal department). The answer? No one could have expected the tragic outcome. While neither DJ blamed management, both pointed out that they had not acted alone. The interview ended with confirmation from management of the radio station that it has banned any future prank calls. Might this be the end of the matter?

The PR Verdict: “B” for DJs Michael Christian and Mel Greig. A redeeming interview for the pair, and quite possibly for management.

The PR Takeaway: Take Your Lumps and Don’t Blame are the right tactics in a case such as this. This interview improved both DJs’ personal standing. By the end, it is clear that they’re stunned the prank caused the damage it did. With advertisers leaving the station in droves and the company’s share price falling, the temptation might have been to blame the radio station’s management for what happened. Instead, management might now want to thank its two employees. They avoided adding another layer of blame that would have shifted the focus from personal blame, but prolonged the crisis by looking at management’s role in the whole debacle. With this apologetic interview from the two protagonists, management might have just saved its skin.

For the full text and video excerpts of the interview, click here.


The Royal Revelation

 The Royal Revelation

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Buckingham Palace.

KATE EXPECTATIONS trumpeted one headline, announcing the news fans of Britain’s royal family have been waiting to hear: Princess Kate is pregnant. Press officials for Buckingham Palace made the announcement yesterday afternoon but the royal family barely beat the media. Had they not rushed the news, the headlines might have been altogether different.

The princess’s last experience with the media came a few short months ago, when she learned that for her, there is no longer any such thing as privacy. Even sunbathing on a secluded estate is meaningless when you’re royalty, and among the most popular members of the royal family at that.

Typically, pregnancy announcements are made well after the risky first trimester; Kate is a mere 10 weeks along. In her case, the revelation was forced when she was hospitalized due to hyperemesis gravidarium, a serious type of morning sickness that can require IV fluids as no food or liquid can be kept down.

Had the media got wind of Kate’s unexplained hospitalization, or heard that she was pregnant through the inevitable loose lips, the headlines would have focused on the worst: the princess and royal heir in danger! However, the royals seized control of the situation quickly. The announcement? We’re pregnant! (And oh, by the way, Kate’s in hospital, but just as a precaution.)

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the royal family for scooping the media and accentuating the positive aspect of the news.

The PR Takeaway: When revelations are inevitable, make them quickly – and to your own advantage. By making the announcement themselves, the royal family were able to focus on the aspect they wanted – the pregnancy – and not Kate’s illness. Imagine for a moment if the media had made the announcement; the sensation would have topped those topless photos. Secrets cannot be kept, but they can be controlled. How it comes out depends on the one doing the telling.

Guest Column: The Trouble With Prince Harry? None At All

 Guest Column: The Trouble With Prince Harry? None At All

The PR Verdict: A (PR Perfect) for Prince Harry.

The headlines are too easy: “The Trouble With Harry.” “Dirty Harry.” Prince Harry’s escapade in Las Vegas—a strip poker game that ended with photos of a naked royal—was almost a gift to the tabloids. And yet the Crown may have a PR ace up its sleeve in Harry.

Harry has always been the heir apparent for royal scandal. As third in line for the throne, the pressure to conform to royal standards of propriety is relatively low. Need we go into his father’s anatomical declarations of love for Camilla Parker Bowles? Please, let’s not.

And yes, the young prince occasionally acts out. But this latest adventure had a curious side effect: Harry’s generation seems smitten with him. He is like his peers, caught in some NSFW (Not Suitable For Work) photos. Among Harry’s generation, fame—in any context—is gold. Sealing the turn from scandal to success was Harry’s appearance at a charity event, where he acknowledged his escapade with self-effacing humor (read about it here). Scandal averted, Harry is now the unlikely hero.

The PR Verdict: A (PR Perfect) for Prince Harry. If Buckingham Palace is smart, they’ll continue to rap Harry’s knuckles—and keep him in front of his adoring public, continuing his mother’s legacy: Could he become the People’s Prince?

The PR Takeaway: Mini-scandals can move the PR dial. After doing something naughty but harmless, a public appearance for charity and self-effacing humor are the golden tickets to winning the public’s, and the media’s, hearts. The ploy was used to excellent effect by Fred Willard in the US; days after the actor was caught with his pants down in an X-rated movie theater, he joked about the incident brilliantly on late night TV. Prince Harry should continue to do good works, which offset his occasional lad-like behavior; both bring a younger generation closer to the Crown.