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 Mother Jones MagazineMuckraking Mother Jones has done it again. The magazine that broke the infamous “47 Percent” video that broke Mitt Romney’s presidential chances has overturned another ugly political stone. This time, they leaked an audio recording of a meeting between Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and his staff discussing ways to discredit actress Ashley Judd, who was at one time considering an opposing run against him. McConnell blamed the current Democratic administration for bugging his office, but MJ reporters steadfastly refuse to name their source. For a magazine few had ever heard of pre-47gate, Mother Jones is building a reputation as a source of nonpartisan truth.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to the President of Malawi for her recent comical spat with Madonna. President Joyce Banda issued a media statement following a visit from Madonna calling her a “bully” and saying she harassed airport officials while trying to queue jump at the airport. (Apparently this sort of behaviour is unheard of in Malawi!). Madonna promptly denied the claim, saying it was nonsensical. The President, who one might have hoped had better things to do, retaliated with another statement that Madge has exaggerated her contribution to the country and wants Malawi be forever chained to “an obligation of gratitude.” We can safely assume President Joyce Banda has never heard of taking the PR high road.

Osteen hoax 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Justin Tribble, the man behind an elaborate Internet hoax aimed at televangelist Joel Osteen. Tribble created a fake web site and Twitter account to proclaim the preacher was renouncing Christianity and closing his ministry. Some outlets fell for it briefly, including the Drudge Report and CNN (which Tribble promptly screengrabbed and posted on the faux sites). Tribble went to a lot of trouble, so he must really hate Osteen, right? Well, no, he’s actually a “big fan,” he says. He just wants the preacher to stop using clichés and talk about more serious issues like genetically modified foods. Huh?

Maker’s Mark: Mistake, or Marketing?

 Makers Mark: Mistake, or Marketing?

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Maker’s Mark.

Maker’s Mark, one of the best-known American bourbon whiskies, has gotten more than its share of media attention recently. First, the small-batch distillery announced that global supply shortages were forcing it to produce more of its sweet spirit. To do this, the company said it would reduce its alcohol content from 45% alcohol (90 proof) to 42% (84 proof). Since bourbon lovers tend to like their alcohol, customer response was swift and unhappy. Aficionados questioned the company’s commitment to producing quality whiskey, and many threatened to switch brands. Within days, the spirit maker reversed its decision and issued a deeply humble statement that said, in part: “While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision. You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.”

It would appear that Maker’s Mark senior management learned a lesson from Coca-Cola’s infamous marketing debacle of the 1980s, when the soda maker abandoned its wildly popular flagship product in favor of “New Coke.” Three months later, facing full-scale revolts from both customers and bottlers, they were forced to return to their original formulation.

Or…was this all a grand publicity stunt? Bourbon, made only in the United States (Kentucky, specifically) has recently enjoyed growing popularity in Europe and Asia. Internet chat boards are rife with speculation that the quick backpedal suggests Maker’s Mark never intended to actually change their product. Instead, conspirators whisper, this “mistake” has successfully highlighted their name and commitment to a high-octane product in a time of rising global demand.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show). Strategy or stunt – really, does it matter?  Either way, people are talking about Maker’s Mark.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Never underestimate the affection for a brand icon. With its distinctive square bottle and red wax seal, Maker’s Mark has become one of America’s leading liquor brands. At a minimum, intensive market research should have been conducted before pursuing such a significant change. That said, management recognized the error and fell on its sword swiftly enough to limit serious damage to the brand. Cheers!