Hospital’s Unhealthy PR Response to Lawsuit

HUGUETTE CLARK 150x150 Hospitals Unhealthy PR Response to Lawsuit

PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Beth Israel Hospital. (Pictured: heiress and patient Huguette Clark.)

The story of copper heiress Huguette Clark (left) has all the makings of a soon-to-be optioned movie. Clark was a Manhattan heiress with an estimated $300 million fortune and no direct heirs of her own, who lived in seclusion on Fifth Avenue. In 1991 she was admitted to Beth Israel, a leading New York hospital, and continued to live there until her death in 2011 at the age of 104. During her stay she gave the hospital some $4 million in donations, not counting the $1,200 a day she paid daily in out-of-pocket expenses.

Beth Israel is now on the receiving end of a legal suit launched on behalf of the heiress’s distant relatives. Their accusation? That the vulnerable heiress was subjected to a relentless fundraising campaign that included showering her with trivial gifts and  exercising undue influence to encourage the donation of cash and highly valuable art. The case will be heard in September.

So far, Beth Israel has declined comment, referring the media to its publicly available legal filings. “Having provided lifesaving and compassionate care to a person of Ms. Clark’s wealth, it would have been surprising if Beth Israel had not approached her for donations . . . the amount of money she gave to Beth Israel was not very large, considering her vast wealth,” the filings state matter-of-factly. Hardly a face-saving PR strategy, for one of New York’s major hospitals.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Beth Israel for a truly disastrous response.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Separate PR from legal. Relying on filed defenses for a PR response is only tempting the fates. While wise to decline to comment on the specifics, why not reaffirm that Clark was a beloved and admired patient at the hospital during her twenty-year stay? Express regret that the distant relatives have decided to launch civil proceedings over donations that have been put to good use (and then mention what $4 million has bought). Above all, avoid saying it wasn’t very much anyway. Huguette Clark is unlikely to have agreed with Beth Israel’s assessment – $4 million, even in her book, was presumably not chump change.

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Passengers Launch Lawsuits Against Carnival Cruises

 Passengers Launch Lawsuits Against Carnival Cruises

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Carnival Cruise Lines.

The ship of the damned, Carnival Cruise Lines Triumph, lurched into port last Friday after days of horrendous conditions at sea. The luxury cruise ship suffered a fire early into its voyage and lost all power, leaving nearly 4,000 passengers and crew in the dark, with limited food and water, no air conditioning in sweltering temperatures, and toilets that quickly overflowed into the hallways.

There was little surprise that after the ground was kissed by passengers, lawyers were called, and as early as Sunday, lawsuits were being filed against Carnival. The first claimed Carnival “failed to provide a seaworthy vessel and sanitary conditions” with the plaintiff seeking compensation for “physical and emotional harm, anxiety, nervousness and the loss of enjoyment of life.’”

Carnival’s fine print states that the cruise line “shall not be liable for emotional distress and mental suffering.” However, that doesn’t cover physical damage. A second suit now cites physical injuries, including severe dehydration. It’s likely these will spawn further suits; one passenger mentioned during a morning show interview that she’d broken her ankle in the dark. Lawyers are at the starting line.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Carnival Cruise Lines. The cruise from hell may be over for the passengers, but it’s ongoing for a company still reeling from the ship-aground disaster in Italy.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Taking action speaks louder than simply saying “I’m sorry” . Carnival Chairman and CEO Micky Arison apologized via loudspeaker on the cruise liner when his defeated Triumph was towed into port, but passengers were in no mood. An indication of what could have been done came when passengers took time from detailing wretched conditions to praise the crew for taking good care of them, when they were suffering even more. The issue at sea went on for days with those aboard Tweeting about worsening conditions. What else might have been done? Why not airlift more food and water, no matter the cost? Or, make a bold and unprecedented move to show how much the CEO cared by airlifting him onto the ship and joining the passengers in hell. What a PR impression that would have made! He might have been as uncomfortable as his fellow passengers but that might have paled in comparison to the questions he now faces from Carnival’s board as it fends of a flotilla of lawsuits.

More Turbulence for Abercrombie & Fitch

 More Turbulence for Abercrombie & Fitch

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Abercrombie &Fitch and CEO Mike Jeffries.

When is someone going to make a reality TV show about life at retailer Abercrombie & Fitch? The racy clothier (and public company) continues to have more than its fair share of outrageous accusations and legal suits. The latest drama is a lawsuit filed by the pilot of Abercrombie’s corporate jet, Michael Bustin, who claims he was replaced by a younger man. The claim is part of his age discrimination suit that alleges Abercrombie & Fitch prefers younger people – yet another in a growing list of complaints.

The documents filed for the lawsuit make for thrilling reading. Bustin gives an insider’s view of Abercrombie & Fitch’s oddly secretive corporate culture and vaguely culty ways. He includes details of life aboard CEO Mike Jeffries’s corporate jet, on which the flight attendants are male models and everything is rigorously managed to alarming levels of micromanagement.

The 47-page in-flight instruction manual spares no detail, including the seating arrangement of the CEO’s dogs and the precise temperature at which the crew may wear winter coats. The flight crew/models onboard must respond to the CEO by saying “No problem”; other phrases, including “Sure” or “Just a minute” are verboten. Stuff like this would make a great TV show, but for a public company, this sort of PR is a headache.

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Abercrombie &Fitch. CEOs should always be worried about tales from the corporate jet.

The PR Takeaway: Times have changed, and the imperious CEO is out of fashion. For a firm that has so closely monitored its marketing image, there is something genuinely puzzling about the scant attention paid to its corporate profile. The business page headlines regarding A&F have focused for some time on lawsuits and declining sales. For CEO Mike Jeffries, this can only mean trouble. If A&F were a private company, the heat might be lower, but as the file of media cuttings thickens, the life of the controversial CEO inevitably shortens. It’s a PR lesson Jeffries may want to learn sooner rather than later. To read more, click here.

Lights, Camera, Lawsuit: The Real Drama Behind Documentaries

2012 queen of versailles 001 300x200 Lights, Camera, Lawsuit: The Real Drama Behind Documentaries

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for David and Jackie Siegel.

Why does anyone agree to take part in reality TV-style documentaries? Invariably they end in tears and lawsuits. The forthcoming documentary The Queen of Versailles, about a thrillingly tacky billionaire couple that embarks on a quest to create America’s largest home, proves the point. Well before the film’s release date on July 20, lawsuits began flying.

Meet David and Jackie Siegel, the couple with royal pretensions. David is the billionaire founder of Westgate Resorts. At 77 years of age, he says with pride that Westgate is the largest privately owned time-share company in the world. His wife, 31 years his junior, marvels in the film at her crocodile boots by Gucci ($17,000), her ten kitchens, spa, and bowling alley–requisites, obviously, of any comfortable home. The dream? To create a palace to rival Versailles, in the principality of Orlando, Florida.

The dream turned nightmarish when the film’s final edits came through. Westgate, like many other business, hit the headlines for running into problems with the collapse of the property boom. The film suggests that David Siegal was in financial trouble and juxtaposes images of ongoing and then ceased construction.  Wasn’t this meant to be about business success and not business failure? We’ve been stung–call the lawyers!

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for the Siegels and their delusional expectation that this documentary would be anything but problematic.

PR Takeaway: It’s all in the final cut. The longer the filming, the bigger the edits.  If Siegel wanted a documentary about his business success, he should have paid to have a promo film made about him and his firm. As the film crew followed the construction of the 90,000 square foot house, requiring months of filming, any control of the final outcome was relinquished. Not even a generous banquet with the producers in the Siegel’s Hall of Mirrors would shift the story line on this one. Their best hope is to take a leaf out of the Kardashian book and see how they can milk their new notoriety.

To read more, click here.

Should the Spiegels have expected anything other than drama, or are they getting a room with a view to reality? Give us your PR Verdict, below.