PR Science for Scientology

 PR Science for Scientology

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Scientology’s crisis management of this latest hit to its reputation. (Pictured: Nazanin Boniadi)

Where on earth is Nazanin Boniadi? To those unfamiliar with her name, Boniadi was allegedly put forward as a potential girlfriend to Tom Cruise, by the Church of Scientology’s top brass in 2004, as they sought to couple up their leading celebrity. The full story in the October issue of Vanity Fair continues to generate headlines since its publication, and The PRV gave Cruise and Scientology the “Loser of the Week” award for their mutual mishandling of this major reputational hit. Why?

Vanity Fair cites numerous sources and quotes them in detail, naming dates, places, and schedules throughout the article. The bad news for Cruise and his pals, is that the story is not a vague piece of celebrity journalism citing unnamed sources but Scientology didn’t seem to care and responded in the article with assertions that the article contains “lies” and “garbage.” Blanket aggressive denials were never going to turn this story around. This was poor PR handling.

The article describes the Church as having a culture of fear, secrecy, blackmail, spying, and routine informing by peers, with summary punishments involving loss of liberty. Vanity Fair tracks Boniadi’s trajectory from Church member,to potential Cruise girlfriend, to later exile at a Scientology campus. If the story is truly “garbage,” why didn’t Scientology make Boniadi available to Vanity Fair to set the record straight?

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Scientology’s crisis management of this latest hit to its reputation. Throw cold water on the allegations with another set of facts and change the direction of the story.

The PR Takeaway: Fight fire with fire. The easiest way to take the wind out of a damning story line is to go on-the-record with an alternative view of events that casts doubt on the prevailing version. A few choice words from the former girlfriend in question might have done the trick. Defensive denials are PR 101; on-the-record comments win the day over flat denials.Next time let Nazanin do the talking.

What else could the Church of Scientology done to manage this PR fiasco? Give us your PR Verdict!

Editorial note: Friday’s PRV Weekly Wrap contained an incorrect news item regarding Julian Assange and Wikileaks. The item has been removed; we apologize for the error. 

Katie Holmes’s Stealth Divorce Bombshell

 Katie Holmess Stealth Divorce Bombshell

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Katie Holmes and her stealth divorce bomb.

TomKat–Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes–are now officially over. Just like that. The surprising announcement that Holmes had started divorce proceedings seemed to catch her actor husband Cruise off guard. The filing was made on Thursday afternoon; the media went crazy on Friday. What happens now?

Speculation has already begun as to the cause of the marriage breakdown. Whispers of Holmes’s resistance to Cruise’s Scientology pals abound, as does the sneaking suspicion that the marriage was, from the start, a five-year contractual understanding. Other media speculate that Cruise’s alleged ambiguous sexuality is the genesis of the crisis, with one New York tabloid sarcastically commenting, “Holmes will keep the house while Cruise keeps the closet.”

Was the split expected? The gossip magazines had not speculated about Cruise’s third marriage in any meaningful way (despite ongoing low-level chatter). Cruise showed up alone at the recent premieres of his latest film Rock of Ages with no significant adverse comment. With the media off guard, the time for Holmes to file was now. At least on the PR front, this was minimally damaging, given the couple’s notoriety.

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for  Katie Holmes, whose divorce strategy is like a precision bomb. Taking the media by surprise means that phase one of the divorce agenda is owned by Homes, hands down.

The PR Takeaway:  Quick precision bombing has its advantages. Making a sudden filing before the weekend, while not making substantive comments keeps the scandal level relatively low. Holmes followed the template of her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s own divorce from second wife Nicole Kidman: no comment, no explanation–the PR exercise equivalent to ripping the band aid off quickly. No one ever really got to the bottom of the Kidman/Cruise divorce in part because it seemed so unexpected. The explanations this time around might be just as elusive.

Will Katie Holmes’s sudden, stealth divorce bomb shatter the media’s speculative attack? Give us your PR Verdict, below.

Hey ! Did you see that the Financial Times (Alphaville) republished our PRV on Barclays? Take a look: http://ftalphaville.ft.com/blog/2012/06/29/1065981/barclays-pr-rating-d/

Wall Street Journal’s Cowardly Response

 Wall Street Journals Cowardly Response

The PR Verdict: "D" for the Wall Street Journal.

Is that as racy as love letters get?  E-mail correspondence between Brett McGurk, President Obama’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and his then-paramour Gina Chon, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, has members of Congress very excited. For the rest of us it’s hard to see what the fuss is about.

The e-mails, dating from 2008, were posted anonymously this week on Flickr–bad timing for McGurk, a top adviser on Iraq who is currently going though congressional approval for the job of US ambassador. Congressional members are concerned that while McGurk was working on tough negotiations with Iraqis, his future wife Chon covered the talks for the WSJ. Could he have leaked to her classified information?  If so, they’ll have to try to stay awake while reviewing e-mails such as McGurk’s “I had a very good day with the Iraqis–the best yet. Can’t tell you about it of course. But you should definitely stay past Sunday.” Chon’s reply: “Stop being such a tease!”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland breezily washed her hands of the issue, telling CNN, “I’m not going to get into e-mails between Mr. McGurk and the woman who subsequently became his wife.” The WSJ had a more cowardly reply to CNN,  “We are looking into the matter.”

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for the Wall Street Journal who could have tried harder to defend its journalist. If the State Department can sound annoyed, why can’t the WSJ?

PR Takeaway: Where’s the beef? The WSJ might have tried publicly shifting the burden of proof onto the accusers: “Which article does the committee think contains leaked information? We would be happy to look into the matter.”  Then sit back and wait for the response.  And while we are there, how about privately suggesting to members of Congress that they stop calling the emails racy? In this day of Fifty Shades of Grey, they’re hardly blush-inducing.

To read the racy letters and for more background click here.