Venture Capitalist Enters PR Forbidden Zone

tom perkins 2.png Venture Capitalist Enters PR Forbidden Zone

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Tom Perkins.

Tom Perkins is on a roll – straight downhill. The venture capital icon who founded Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has cemented his reputation among the Obscenely Wealthy Behaving Badly for comments he made last week likening rich techies and other members of the vilified “1 percent” class to victims of the Holocaust.

Perkins, in a weekend letter published in the Wall Street Journal, compared recent protests by affordable housing advocates in San Francisco against Google buses to Nazi targeting of Jews. “I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent,” he wrote. Forget the unspoken rule of debate that whoever first invokes Nazis in an argument loses automatically. Perkins later apologized – sort of – for his gaffe, but really, one should expect nothing less from him. He has always been over the top, shockingly, even willfully flouting the concept of noblesse oblige at every turn. Hard to believe that the man Perkins partnered with to start his VC firm in 1972 had himself fled the Nazis.

Perkins cited that relationship in a next-day TV interview, in which he sported a $380,000 watch and lamented how his eponymous firm chose to “throw me under the bus” for his comments. All that privilege and still a victim.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Perkins, who is far too rich, and perhaps a bit too daft, to choose his words more carefully.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: To end a losing conversation, stop talking. Of course, this is not Tom Perkins’s way. In his post-comment comments, he sought to explain his choice of words and clarify his point, to little avail. A direct, unqualified apology would have been better, but big egos are rigid and only become more sclerotic with time, incapable of adapting and absorbing new lessons. One of those lessons: Before committing words to paper, and thence to print, have someone else run a soundcheck.

What To Say When Sued?

ELLENPAO What To Say When Sued?

PR Verdict: “C” for venture capital firm Kleiner and its handling of Ellen Pao's lawsuit.

What’s the wisest thing to say when being sued? That must have been the question Silicon Valley’s favourite venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers asked itself when recently probed about its sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit.  “We will defend ourselves vigorously” was its unimaginative statement to the media.  Ho hum at best.

The NY Times has taken up the pending case of Ellen Pao a junior partner at the firm, hired several years ago to work as Chief of Staff to one of the firm’s higher ups.  Trouble started brewing when another junior partner made sexual advances to her.  She consented a couple of times and then, as they say in the movies, she called the whole thing off.  The claim alleges that as a result of ending the relationship, her thwarted paramour started a five-year campaign of retaliation.

The filing alleges systemic discrimination against Pao and other women, including poorer pay than her male counterparts and the distribution of less lucrative investment opportunities to women in the firm, while juicy assignments go to male colleagues.  In brief the main complaint is that the firm fails to give women the full range of opportunities to be successful.  Presumably this is not the sort of publicity that Silicon Valley’s leading venture capital firm wants or needs?

The PR Verdict: “C” for Kleiner and its handling of this story.  Wasn’t there an opportunity to go further than the standard PR response?

The PR Takeaway:  The power of the archive is strong.  The firm, even if it settles on undisclosed terms, now has a major article in the internet archive that raises many questions. True the article did draw attention to it having more female partners than peers  but being more vocal in defense of the firm might have been a better tactic.  A female partner defended the firm saying  “I was drawn to the firm because of its diversity and have excelled here as have other women. …Everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed”.   Why not say the same thing from a corporate point of view and come out in the media as strongly as the defense planned for the courtroom?  What would have been the harm done?

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