The Great PR Behind Gatsby

 The Great PR Behind Gatsby

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Gatsby’s PR campaign.

Ask any author, artist, or musician about the PR surrounding their latest offering and the persistent complaint is almost always the same: The Marketing and PR departments had no idea what they were doing. The PR was weak, uncoordinated, and didn’t happen. The PR punched below its weight. No one, it seems, is ever satisfied.

One example that seems, so far, to have broken that convention is the advance PR for The Great Gatsby. The latest film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel of the same name, the movie was directed and co-written by Baz Luhrmann and stars Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan. Opening in the summer, its launch has been preceded by a slick PR campaign that has covered all the bases.

From Mulligan’s cover on the May issue of Vogue to a lengthy feature in Architectural Digest about the sets used in the film, magazines have been waxing lyrical about the movie. Venerable retailer Brooks Bros. has just launched a fashion line in honor of the film, launched with an exhibition of the film’s costumes in London. Stage two involves a blizzard of interviews with the director and cast about Gatsby and its hold on America. This PR is firing on all cylinders.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Gatsby’s PR campaign.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Start with a myth and work from there. What’s impressive about the PR building up to the film’s opening is how pervasive the coverage has been. From an elaborate social media program that has strategically placed the movie trailer on multiple sites to articles and interviews highlighting the fashion and interiors of America’s favorite age, this is one launch that has taken full advantage of the public’s ongoing fascination with the Gatsby myth. It goes to prove that with good material and strategic thinking, PR can launch a punch way above its weight.

J.C. Penney: Everything Old is New Again

 J.C. Penney: Everything Old is New Again

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the board of J.C. Penney.
(Pictured: ousted CEO Ron Johnson.)

Shareholders may be asking the board of J.C. Penney “Penny for your thoughts?” Or perhaps demanding it, after the startling news of a CEO switcheroo this past Monday. That CEO Ron Johnson was ousted is not a surprise. The real surprise came when the board announced Johnson’s replacement: his predecessor, Myron Ullman, who was fired by that same board in 2011.

When Johnson arrived he moved forward with a radical makeover for Penney: boutique stores under one roof. This idea included securing Martha Stewart, who assured Johnson she could step out of her exclusive contract with Macy’s. That plan blew up like a bad soufflé, with Johnson in court admitting he’d never read the fine print of Stewart’s contract with Macy’s, and thousands of Martha’s products being court-barred from shelves.

Now comes news that Johnson is being replaced by the very predecessor he took over from, ostensibly because the man wasn’t doing a bang-up job to begin with. JCP’s price tumbled 10.3 percent after a brief spike when Johnson’s termination was announced. Shareholders aren’t just calling for a replacement for him, but for the entire board. This is practically a textbook example of PR “dont’s.”

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the board of J.C. Penney.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When playing poker, keep your hand facing in – no need to show all cards to the other players. A new CEO, a drastic new plan; where were the checkpoints along the way? With only one of the ten J.C. Penney board members having retail experience, no wonder the organization is in trouble. The board clearly realized that it needed to oust Johnson to stem the falling revenues and bad publicity, but the answer is rarely to go back in time. As Plan B is nothing more than a return to former issues, then it may be worth delaying until a more palatable alternative is found. If the board insists on reuniting with a former CEO, then coach the ill-chosen replacement not to admit that he was re-hired only last weekend and has no plan to speak of. Showing the losing hand is always a losing tactic and in this case, likely to cost JCP a pretty penny.

A Sweeter Apple?

 A Sweeter Apple?

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Apple’s apology to Chinese customers.

What a difference a CEO makes. The change in Apple Inc.’s executive suite was evident this week when the company posted a fulsome apology from CEO Tim Cook on the Apple China web site. Apple, it seems, was not properly responding to complaints about its warranty and repair programs, prompting the Chinese government and state-run media to launch a fortnight of blistering criticism. In Cook’s mea culpa, which ran 12,000 Chinese characters (about 800 words), he apologized for appearing arrogant and outlined several changes the company will be making in China.

This is the second time in recent months that Cook has taken the higher road. Last September, he acknowledged the failure of Apple Maps, a cartographic catastrophe so inaccurate it stranded several iPhone users in an Australian desert wasteland with no food or water for more than 24 hours.

The softer approach is a departure from that of Apple co-founder and longtime leader Steve Jobs, who was called egotistical as often as brilliant. When customers complained in 2010 that holding the iPhone at a certain angle obliterated reception, Jobs snapped “Just avoid holding it that way” before eventually, begrudgingly, apologizing and giving away free cases.

Apple’s most recent apology seems to be smart. China is Apple’s second biggest market today and, as Cook told state-run Xinhua news agency in January, he believes it will become its first. All the more reason to keep customers extremely happy.

THE PR VERDICT:  “C” (Distinctly OK) for Apple. While the apology was the right move, it came two weeks into a negative PR blitz. It will be interesting to see if Apple sales in China have been affected.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Markets change, and so must marketing strategies. Part of Apple’s early allure was that its groundbreaking technologies and higher pricetags created an air of exclusivity; the attitude that occasionally exuded from leadership contributed to the appeal. Today, however, the competitive landscape is much more crowded, and Apple can’t afford to alienate buyers in such fertile ground as China. An apology today helps pave the way for a bigger footprint tomorrow.

Sandberg Leans In

 Sandberg Leans In

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star) for Sheryl Sandberg.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, is currently everywhere, talking about her big idea for America’s working women. Her new book, Lean In, is about “women, work and the will to lead.” Her advice? “Stop leaning back and lean in.”

With some clever and strategic PR, anticipation leading up to the book’s release yesterday had been building. Starting with the Sunday talk shows, Sandberg was in most of the weekend press, followed by ubiquitous appearances on morning radio and TV chat shows. Her message is that women have stalled in their climb upward because they “quietly lean back,” worrying about how they’ll manage family and work commitments sometimes years before the issue is relevant. Sandberg says, keep your foot on the pedal until you need to brake.

Not a new message, but it sounds fresh. There is no mention of the glass ceiling, instead, Sandberg prescribes different wording to give her readers another way to look at an old issue: When you lean back, you lose momentum. How about leaning in and seeing what happens?

THE PR VERDICT: ”A” (PR Perfect) for Sandberg’s repackaging of established material, making a punchy sound bite and media blitz.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Old news can become new news. With a charismatic messenger and punchy sound bite, it is truly astonishing how much coverage and energy Sandberg has garnered for her new book. The secret: an elevator pitch that explains and instructs simultaneously. Sandberg’s message and the phrase  “Lean in” is set to become part of the modern lexicon, as popular as Facebook’s “Friending.” Sandberg has given American women not only timely advice, but also a new way to describe (and solve) and old problem. Smart.

IKEA Magic: Now You See Her, Now You Don’t

 IKEA Magic: Now You See Her, Now You Dont

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for IKEA.

Furniture retailer IKEA was caught off guard this week when a Swedish newspaper published pages from the Saudi Arabian edition of IKEA’s catalog.  What a surprise! Women in the Saudi edition had been Photoshopped out by local Saudi management.  Cue embarrassment for IKEA, a retailer that prides itself on liberal values.

The global catalogue is distributed to approximately 200 million households, but for the Saudis it contained unacceptable images that needed removing. What caused offense? A woman in her pajamas beside a bathroom sink. In Saudi Arabia, a Muslim country, women must conceal their bodies and hair. IKEA said in a statement that its does “not accept any kind of discrimination… We regret the current situation.” Management was keen to explain that the changes “do not align with IKEA Group’s values.”

IKEA Saudi Arabia is run by a franchisee outside the IKEA Group. Nevertheless, the company said it is “reviewing routines to safeguard correct content presentation from a values point of view.” Sensible and sensitive handling of this issue but, there could be trouble ahead.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for IKEA and a brand remaining true to its liberal streak, but beware of starting something that could become a cultural flashpoint.

The PR Takeaway: Marketing and discussions on broader cultural values rarely mix. What is puzzling about this news story is why IKEA hasn’t had this trouble before. Was a woman featured in the 2011 catalogue? What happened in the Saudi version then? It might have been easier to characterize this latest fuss as a breakdown in established procedures between a franchisee and a head office. IKEA has now stuck its neck out and committed publicly to a conversation about values. In a country as seemingly inflexible as Saudi Arabia, some things are best left unsaid. Better to have described this as a one-off business dispute between two partners and done the rest of the negotiations behind closed doors.

To read more, click here.

What’s your opinion of how IKEA handled this situation? Give us your PR Verdict!


Guest Column: Nokia’s Embarrassing Stumble

 Guest Column: Nokia’s Embarrassing Stumble

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Nokia. (Pictured: Nokia CEO Stephen Elop)

Last week, Nokia introduced its new smartphones, the Lumia 820 and 920, at a media launch. The biggest selling point? Lumia’s “PureView Camera Technology,” which separates this phone from the rest of the pack. A fancy launch, complete with a promotional video and advertisements, showed images taken using Lumia’s new “optical-image-stabilization” feature (OIS).  The trade press was meant to swoon.

But – whoops – the press noticed that neither the promotional video nor the still images in the ad were taken with the Lumia 920 camera in the phone. Did anyone get photos of Nokia executives’ red faces? But wait, the cringing wasn’t over yet: Nokia was unable to state a date as to when the product would arrive in the market. After all, they’ve been busy… Apparently finding good photos to use for press materials.

The company issued a pro forma apology for the ad, saying that it “should have posted a disclaimer stating this was a representation of OIS only” [emphasis added]. Nokia said that its aim was to show what the Lumia 920′s OIS technology will be able to do once available and apologized for the confusion it caused. No intention to mislead, and yes, “There was poor judgment in the decision not to use a disclaimer,” a Nokia spokesperson told Bloomberg.

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Nokia. See what can happen in the rush to market products?

The PR Takeaway: Don’t be bullied by the market, and you’ll avoid later embarrassment. Companies need to control their competitive impulses. The smartphone market is driven by quick sales and product differentiation demands; everybody appreciates that. But what is the point in creating demand when the public will find only empty shelves, and the company may be accused of manipulative sales tactics? In this case, further damage was arrested with a quick apology, but in the future, how about a more thoughtful and cautious analysis of reputation risk? After all,  the rule is simple: be careful what you promise and when. That will avoid vividly red faces from showing up in the press.

What else should Nokia have done to avoid this kind of media embarrassment? Give us your PR Verdict!


When Tragedy Strikes: Keep Calm, But Don’t Carry On

120720 aurora dp1 330a.photoblog500 150x150 When Tragedy Strikes: Keep Calm, But Dont Carry On

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Warner Bros.

America is reeling from the horror of the cinema shooting in Aurora, Colorado, last week, and news broadcasts continue to be saturated with coverage of the deadly event. The PR and marketing whizzes working on the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises must be wondering, where to now?

The juggernaut marketing and PR initiatives designed to promote the film and promote its cult status were already activated and in full play before the tragic shooting. Advance promotions were booked months ahead, as were the press tours, interviews, and PR programs. But when tragedy strikes, what is the appropriate response in the middle of a national tragedy?

Warner Bros. PR response so far, seems to be the best in a worst-case scenario. Director Christopher Nolan, the producers, and the cast have individually issued statements relaying their immense sadness and incomprehensibility at the turn of events. Warner Bros. has been rightfully low key, issuing a two-line statement restricted to talking about the victims and their families, to avoid any suggestion it is trying to salvage a now imperiled investment. Spot on. Next,  advertising was pulled, premieres and interviews halted, and box office receipt figures were withheld. All that was left to do was continue to express solidarity with the families of the deceased and the rest of the country, and wait.

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect). A well-handled and sensitive response to the unforeseen and unimaginable. With no handbook response available for such an event, this is ultimately a matter of common sense and taste.

The PR Takeaway: Individuals make the difference. With the director and stars of the film issuing their own statements, this tragic event remained clearly in the domain of the personal, and not about business or commercial interests.  The key priority in an emergency PR plan of this sort is to halt all promotional activity immediately, to avoid it running alongside a news story covering the same event. Definitely not business as usual. For now, this is  a national conversation, not a commercial exercise.

To read more, click here.

What’s your opinion of Warner Bros. response to the tragedy in Aurora? Give us your PR Verdict.

Google and Larry’s Laryngitis

 Google and Larrys Laryngitis

The PR Verdict: The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Google. (Pictured: Google CEO Larry Page.)

Larry Page, Google’s CEO, regrets he is unable to lunch today. And not just today, it seems, but all the way into mid July. The reason? Larry has “lost his voice” and “can’t do any public speaking engagements for the time being,” says Google. That includes the second quarter earnings conference in three weeks’ time. His voice is gone, and it isn’t coming back anytime soon.

The announcement has spooked investors. In an industry that endlessly speculated about the on again, off again health of Steve Jobs at Apple, this sort of news gets the rumor mill activated. Google says it is business as usual and that Page is “OK”  and continuing to run the company. “He’s running all the strategy business decisions and all that,” reassures Google.

Not all investors buy it. JP Morgan described the announcement as ”odd,” and others are wondering. One told the Wall Street Journal that the decision to miss an earning call was “highly unusual.” He said, “It’s hard to imagine a CEO missing that much stuff and not having a serious problem,” echoing what could become a rumbling chorus.

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Google. Who knows what the real situation is, but this explanation doesn’t reassure the market. Already suspicion is growing that Google is being less than frank.

PR Takeaway: Don’t over-complicate. Let’s face it, losing your voice doesn’t last three weeks. If Page can’t speak at earnings in three weeks’ time, it’s not a bad idea to flag it beforehand–but why not suggest that he’s having a minor medical procedure/treatment that will put him out of action for a fixed period? Use calming words to minimize the fuss and reinforce that it’s not market moving and material. Something is up, and now Google has more explaining to do. It might have been easier to have been straightforward from the start.

Should Google have anticipated investor worries, or is this a case of the truth just not being good enough these days? Give us your PR Verdict, below.


Burger King’s Big Fat Risk

The New Burger King Bacon Sundae 300x205 Burger Kings Big Fat Risk

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Burger King and their new bacon sundae.

While the controversy about America’s out-of-control obesity epidemic rages unabated Burger King is cheerfully hitting the headlines with a revamped summer menu. What’s new and exciting? A bacon sundae.

The world’s second-largest hamburger chain is offering vanilla soft-serve ice cream topped with fudge, caramel, bacon crumbles, and a slice of bacon. The salty-sweet bacon sundae has 18 grams of fat, 61 grams of sugar, and approximately 510 calories.

Burger King has not yet made it clear how this new “summer only” product launch, works with an earlier campaign that had the chain targeting a broader demographic. With much fanfare, that menu was then expanded to include fruit smoothies, wraps, and salads.  Take the summer off,  Burger King now seems to be telling weight-conscious America, and relax . . . with a bacon sundae.

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Burger King. New launches like this undermine claims that the industry is dedicated to helping solve the national obesity problem. Why not mitigate by coming out with a new lo-cal smoothie at the same time?

PR Takeaway: Actions needs to mirror words. If the fast food industry wants to be taken seriously and viewed as friend, not a foe, in the health debate, then it would be better to stand behind the wraps and smoothies they rolled out earlier. The bacon sundae is bound not to win over health advocates. Any more of these launches, and Burger King could find itself fighting the unloved corner in the national conversation about obesity. Just ask Big Tobacco what that feels like.

What’s your PR Verdict on BK’s bacon sundae? Tell us by leaving a comment, below.

PR Verdict in the news: Today’s NY Times quotes the PRV re Goldman Sachs, click here to see what we had to say.

Sweetie, Darling, What is PR?

abfab1 293x300 Sweetie, Darling, What is PR?

The PR Verdict: “B” for the PRSA's working definition.

Can anyone agree what Public Relations is? The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the industry’s largest trade organisation, has just announced a working definition. It’s a thoughtful attempt to work out what most people feel they understand but have trouble articulating.

The PRSA announced the project as a competition and encouraged suggestions via its website. As might be expected the project, “Public Relations Redefined and Deconstructed” was given an exemplary  PR launch, with the NYTimes covering the process.  Entries poured in from a diverse group including PRs, academics, as well as Joe Public.  Over 900 definitions were submitted over the two-week period.

The final winning definition is:

Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. 

While it may not set the world on fire it does focus on the heart of the work; building a relationship between an organization and its various stakeholders.

The PR Verdict: “B” for the working definition of PR. It makes sense and is clear. Just a shame it doesn’t make the industry sound more exciting.

Relationships are tough to manage;  for individuals and for organizations. It is no surprise that relationships are at the heart of the definition. On a practical level though what would really help eliminate a lot of confusion would be a sub question to identify what is the difference between marketing and PR. Here there is never ending confusion and disappointment as expectations fail to be set in advance.  If the PR industry wants to improve  its image, then the difference between the two needs clear articulation.

To read more about the PRSA working definition click here.

For futher reading on this:

What is your PR Veridct on this definition?  Have your say:

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