The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to President Obama for his artful handling of Congress regarding possible military involvement in Syria. Global concern about the Syrian civil war soared after more than 1500 civilians were believed killed in government-led chemical weapons attacks. Taking a political gamble, Obama announced he supports limited intervention but would require Congressional approval to move forward. The savvy move effectively forces Republicans to align themselves with the White House on an issue that’s far from popular with the American people. Within days, senior Congressional Republicans lined up behind the prez. If the measure passes in next week’s vote, the US will present a united front. If it fails, it will be due to Republican leaders’ inability to garner support. Either way, Obama wins.

John McCain plays on iPho 010 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to US Senator John McCain, caught playing poker on his iPhone during a Senate committee hearing to discuss US military intervention in Syria. The hawkish Arizona Republican is a strong proponent for use of force in response to the gassing of civilians in that country’s two-year civil war, and his advocacy is likely to be critical in upcoming Congressional votes to authorize military action. But at the hearing Tuesday, his mind was apparently elsewhere, as an alert Washington Post photographer discovered. “Scandal! Caught playing iPhone game at 3+ hour Senate hearing – worst of all I lost!” McCain posted on his Twitter feed. But the attempt at deflection only drew more criticism. “That hearing sounds so boring though. Hope it wasn’t about anything important,” tweeted one.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to JCPenny, for dumping their embattled Martha Stewart line of home goods. The colorful kitchen and home collection caused was a disaster from the start, when Stewart assured the venerable retailer that her exclusive contract with Macy’s wasn’t that exclusive. Actually, yes, it was, ruled a judge. The lawsuit cost millions, as well as JCP’s then-CEO Ron Johnson his job. This week, the whole magilla was resolved when current JCP CEO Mike Ullman cleared shelves of Stewart designs that, after all was said and nearly done, weren’t selling anyway. That, apparently, is the way the cookie plate crumbles.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) TO Democratic State Sen. Wendy Davis, for filibustering to block an anti-abortion measure in the Republican-controlled Texas Senate. Davis spoke for 10 hours without water, food, or bathroom break, and when Republicans cut her off on shaky procedural grounds, her fellow Democrats delayed a vote on the measure past a midnight deadline. By then the statehouse overflowed with her supporters, #standwithwendy was trending on Twitter, and 180,000 people watched the proceedings live. Republican Gov. Rick Perry has called another special legislative session to win passage, but the onetime teenaged single mom who went on to graduate from Harvard rallied a national audience around the plight of Texas women harmed by the bill and put an embarrassing spotlight on a dysfunctional Legislature.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) TO celebrity CEOs. It’s been a bad week for corporate figureheads in the public eye. At press time, Paula Deen’s sponsors were lining up to drop her, making her the new Lance Armstrong. Earlier in the week, George Zimmer, founder, CEO, and spokesman for fashion chain Men’s Wearhouse was dethroned by his own company. And Martha Stewart revealed on a chat show that she’s sent sexy text messages and “maybe” had a threesome – the sort of information she’d once have paid good money to keep under wraps. And then, she spanked the chat show host with a paddle. Considering Martha’s conservative homemaking audience, the PR strategy there would be . . .?

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO News International. Or News UK. Or is it News Corporation? Rupert Murdoch’s array of corporate entities receives this award for the baffling announcement that News International is becoming News UK, while News Limited will undergo a similar metamorphosis in Murdoch’s native Australia. Both will become part of “the new News Corp,” ie the parent company, whose name hasn’t changed. Got that? The rebrand, which comes in the wake of a phone-hacking scandal in Britain, seems to have fallen short of its stated goal to achieve a “more coherent and logical identity.” In any event, the “news” failed to impress. As one online wag noted, “New name – same ethics.”

Martha Stewart and Match.Com: Is It Love?

 Martha Stewart and Match.Com: Is It Love?

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Match.com.

You must have heard about it by now – after all, Saturday Night Live has already done a skit on it – but in case you haven’t, Martha Stewart, domestic diva-turned-entrepreneur, is turning to the Internet in the hopes of finding true love. Ms. Stewart has joined millions of other singles by posting a profile on dating website Match.com. She shared this tidbit last week in a candid conversation about her love life with NBC Today show host and longtime friend Matt Lauer.

What you may not have heard in the rush-to-coverage that followed, however, was much of a response from Match.com. At first blush, this seems a bit odd. After all, having one of the world’s most successful and recognizable businesswomen touting your product on national television is a dream come true. Indeed, the PR team over at Match must still be reeling from such unexpected good fortune.

Or are they? Matchmaking is a tricky business – even more so when your new unofficial spokeswoman is a global celebrity whose happiness depends on your company coming up with the goods. Sam Yagan, the CEO at Match.com, agreeably appeared on an episode of Today to help Ms. Stewart write and post her profile, but other that the Match.com response has been very low-key: no press releases, interviews, or big social media blitz. This is the right approach: Save the champagne for the engagement party.

THE PR VERDICT:  “A” (PR Perfect) for Match.com. By staying out of the media limelight now, Match leaves itself room to take credit if Martha does find Mr. Right, as well as to graciously split with her if she doesn’t, without taking an unnecessary PR hit.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When it comes to PR, it’s the marriage that should be celebrated, not the courtship. Dating is an uncertain phase;  success is far from certain, whether in love or in business. The big PR push should come when quantifiable results are produced and stand the test of time. Until then, it’s just another concept that, like new love, could go south in a heartbeat.

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.

More Trouble for Martha Stewart: Not a “Good Thing”

 More Trouble for Martha Stewart: Not a Good Thing

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Martha Stewart and J.C. Penney.

Martha Stewart has had more than her share of embarrassing public moments lately. Two of her offshoot magazines had to be co-opted into her regular publication, Martha Stewart Living, due to poor newsstand sales. And yesterday, the head of Macy’s department stores, Terry Lundgren said that Martha made him “sick.”

The cause of Macy’s CEO upset wasn’t Martha’s recipe for dinner, but rather her recipe for success. Stewart allegedly phoned Lungdren in December 2011 to tell the CEO that she’d inked a merchandising deal with rival retailer J.C. Penney. This took Macy’s by surprise. Lundgren thought their deal, struck in 2007, to sell Martha Stewart cookware, bedding, and other products was exclusive. “I was completely shocked and blown away,” Lundgren testified at a court hearing this week,  “I was literally sick to my stomach.” He further testified that Stewart claimed in their phone call that the deal with JC Penney would be good for Macy’s. At that point Lundgren hung up on Stewart.

JC Penney claims the deal was vital to their rebranding and vital to Martha, who also sold them 17 percent of her company. But the legal question and PR problem is how did Martha think she might get away with the deal to sell her home products through a department store, when she already had a deal to do just that.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Martha Stewart, and for J.C. Penney; Macy’s has now won a court injunction to temporarily block Penney’s from selling Martha Stewart products.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Business is cutthroat, but reputations can be preserved by being above board. Sure, everyone loves a dramatic under-the-table deal – in the movies. But in real life the dealmaker comes off as untrustworthy and from the PR standpoint, desperate. Stewart already had publicly-known problems with her corporation; JC Penney’s flagging sales have led to a massive and risky revamp of their stores. Each party needed the other, and each had to know that Macy’s wouldn’t take this lying down, not even on 400 thread-count percale sheets in Blossom Yellow. The repercussions will illustrate yet again that there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Martha Stewart Cooks Up a New Image

 Martha Stewart Cooks Up a New Image

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Martha Stewart.

Martha Stewart was very busy over the Thanksgiving – and not just cooking up a feast. The guru of home entertaining was featured in both The New York Times and The Financial Times. Both  articles were presumably designed to calm investor nerves about her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which recently announced layoffs and financial losses.

The NYT glowingly described Martha as the new “patron saint” of the hipster entrepreneurial class while the FT gave Ms. Stewart multiple opportunities to talk about planned and current business initiatives (good for the stock price). And neither failed to mention her time in the clink.

Martha gave the FT passing acknowledgment of her prison sentence for lying to prosecutors about a stock sale, while the NYT asked her fan base for its opinion. Luckily, the responses were consistently positive. One fan, who referred to Martha as “The Jesus of the craft world,” said, “I heard that she just took some bad advice. Anybody can make mistakes.” Martha, from what she told the FT, takes a similar view.

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) to Martha Stewart for putting a tough period behind her. It’s even given her street cred!

The PR Takeaway: Set the tone, and others will follow. While prison time might have theoretically ruined the image of the perfect homemaker, Martha Stewart has been able to successfully move on. Parting with the traditional PR strategy of public atonement, Martha instead describes her prison time as “a hole I fell into; luckily it wasn’t a very deep hole,” while adding that the experience didn’t teach her much. From the outset she has been unrepentant, and now her new followers are taking the same line of indifference. In the age of labored public apologies, this is one strategy that  is breaking the mold. And Martha’s expanded fan base seems to like it.

Click here for Martha’s FT interview and New York TImes feature.

What’s your opinion of Martha Stewart’s strategy? Give us your PR Verdict!