Lance Armstrong’s Road to Redemption?

 Lance Armstrongs Road to Redemption?

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Lance Armstrong.

This Easter week, Christians around the world  celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Disgraced professional cyclist Lance Armstrong is apparently trying to resurrect his career. Armstrong popped up this week  in a rather strange place: a two-minute instructional video on OutsideOnline.com.

Dressed in a cap and bike mechanic’s apron, he introduces himself as  “Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France” before quipping “Hey, I didn’t write the script.”  Trying to be both humble and humorous, he shows viewers how to fix a flat tire: stripping the rim of a deflated inner tube, replacing it and ending with “And off you go,” saying under his breath “I broke a sweat doing that.”

Armstrong, of course, was himself stripped of his seven Tour titles and banned for life from the sport after evidence showed he had used performance-enhancing drugs. After years of denials, he eventually admitted his drug use.

Media coverage is almost universally harsh. The Bleacher Report calls the video “a drop in the bucket of some egregiously foul substance,” while Sports Illustrated sees “a blend of smugness and faux-humility” and  ”[a] subtle play for all the American hearts he broke.” But he got a much better reception on Facebook, where he posted the video. As of this writing, the simple how-to film earned him nearly 9,000 “likes” and legions of fans expressing their unwavering support.

THE PR VERDICT: ”C” (Distinctly OK) for Lance Armstrong, cycling slowly uphill toward a better image.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When all is lost, there’s nothing to lose. Lance Armstrong’s legacy will always be tarnished. But with public figures admitting transgressions almost daily, hope springs eternal for those who want an asterisk next to their names in the history books.  The  media may not be inclined to give Armstrong a pass, but his fan base seems a lot more forgiving. Whatever Armstrong’s motivations and goals, this video of him performing a prosaic task just may be a start down the road to redemption.    

Lack of ‘Frozen’ Merch Means Chilly PR for Disney

princess elsa 150x150 Lack of ‘Frozen’ Merch Means Chilly PR for Disney

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Disney. (Pictured: Princess Elsa from Frozen.)

Call it a “good news, bad news” scenario. Disney is currently enjoying the success of its movie Frozen becoming the highest-grossing animated film of all time. They can’t gloat for too long, though; the news has shifted from accolades to tears of frustration and temper tantrums, both from children and adults. The problem? A shortage of Frozen merchandise.

Social media hath no fury like mommies frustrated by not being able to buy their children what they want. Specifically, the Princess Elsa dress – a sparkly blue gown like the one worn by Frozen’s heroine. The movie was already a hit, the DVD is now out and reaching an even larger audience, and worldwide demand for the dress far exceeds supply. The costume, usually around $50 in the US, is apparently going for over $1000 on ebay. If you can find one.

When has Disney ever underestimated the popularity of one of its movies? It’s possible that this film became bigger than even the Mouse House foresaw. But with frustrations raging online and in the media from mothers who can’t get what their kids want, Disney had better grant some wishes soon.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Disney. The low grade is not for running out of merchandise, but because running out implies underestimating their own success, and being unable to rectify the situation.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Spin! Spin like a princess at the ball, and then be a fairy godmother, granting your consumers’ wishes. First thing should be a statement saying how fantastic it is that your widgets were so popular that demand for them exceeded supply. Second is getting more widgets out quickly, in this case before a sweet animated movie invokes episodes more like The Hunger Games. This is a problem every company dreams of, but action keeps it from turning into a PR nightmare.

McCarthy invites scorn with anti-vaccine disavowal

jenny mccarthy 650x487 McCarthy invites scorn with anti vaccine disavowal

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Jenny McCarthy.

Looking to remake your image? Probably best not to try rewriting history, especially in the digital age. Ask Jenny McCarthy. The “View” co-host and onetime Playboy model has long been known for opposing vaccination, claiming that vaccines are related to autism and other ills, are overprescribed and generally responsible for more bad than good – all this counter not only to prevailng wisdom but also to decades of medical and scientific evidence.

With the recent resurgence of childhood diseases like measles , mumps and the like, perhaps McCarthy thought it was time to massage her record, which she did in a weekend op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times. “I am not ‘anti-vaccine,’” she stated unequivocally in her opener – followed by about 500 equivocating, obfuscating words and some selective omission.

McCarthy was immediately called out. A Time science writer she name-checked in her article penned a piece to fact-check her record, including previous statements. “You are either floridly, loudly, uninformedly antivaccine or you are the most grievously misunderstood celebrity of the modern era,” he wrote. “Your quote trail is far too long—and you have been far too wrong—for the truth not to be obvious.” In seeking to correct the record, McCarthy only confirmed it.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Jenny McCarthy, whose attempt at reinvention needs a shot in the arm.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Don’t run from your record. Whether for calculating PR reasons or with true sincerity, McCarthy might have had a change of heart about vaccination. But with her record of outspoken advocacy, she cannot possibly remake herself out of whole cloth. A better approach, if her motives are genuine, would be to show how her views have evolved. And blaming the media? Please. Like anyone else in the public eye, McCarthy cannot control how her public positions are defined. In PR, as often in life, before you can change, you must accept where you are.

US Health & Human Services Secretary Resigns

 US Health & Human Services Secretary Resigns

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Affordable Care Act. (Pictured: President Obama, former US Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius)

After a mortifying rollout, the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, is finally in place. Over 7 million Americans have signed up, a number higher than the original goal, and President Obama’s legacy – healthcare for all – seems underway. The act narrowly survived constant attack by Republicans, not to mention its own faulty website. However, one casualty that no amount of healthcare could fix was the reputation of US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and its effect on the ACA.

Obamacare was under Sebelius’s watch, and she largely took the fall, rightly or not, willingly or not, for the severely flawed rollout. It was Sebelius, facing an angry mob of senators, who had to admit that Healthcare.gov, the ACA website where most Americans were to sign up, had barely been tested before going live. Damage control appearances caused even more damage, especially an uncomfortable appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. All of it was fuel for Republicans determined to repeal the ACA.

Sebelius, a former governor of Kansas who was once a contender for vice president in 2008, was a likely candidate for termination after the ACA rollout fiasco. The question is now whether the falling ax will do further harm to an already tarnished initiative.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Affordable Care Act.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know when to let sleeping dogs lie, especially when they’re vicious. Letting Sebelius go during the worst of the ACA’s rollout would have caused even more turmoil for Obamacare. Her resignation comes on a high note of above-goal enrollment; the best timing for a bad situation. Now Sylvia Mathews Burwell, formerly director of the Office of Management and Budget, suits up against Republicans bent on finding chinks in the armor of the ACA. It’s a tough job; just ask Kathleen Sebelius.

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 security firm Codenomicon and Google researcher Neel Mehta, both of whom discovered the web security bug known as Heartbleed. The bug, a flaw that allows access to user information on what was thought to be safely encrypted websites and search engines, has been around for a while, but was found simultaneously by vigilant researchers Mehta and Codenomicon. All sounded the alarm, which may have circumvented breaches in the millions.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Katherine Heigl, who perpetuated her image as a cranky prima donna with a lawsuit against drugstore chain Duane Reade. The store’s transgression? Tweeting a photo of her walking with two of their shopping bags. Heigl is a “highly recognized celebrity… When plaintiff chooses to endorse a product or service, she is highly selective and well compensated,” the lawsuit sniffed. In other words, as one gossip web site snarked, “Basically: Katherine Heigl don’t do no free advertising. She can’t just have her grumpy, exhausted face freely associated with some drugstore FOR FREE..” Perhaps Heigl should invest in a good mirror. Duane Reade carries them, we hear…

kimjongun The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO the North Korean Parliament, who this week re-elected, to no one’s surprise, dictator Kim Jong-un as head the country’s top governing agency, the National Defense Commission. Kim’s election (if that really is the right word) means he is still in control despite political turmoil in the regime and can work to consolidate power by filling leadership posts left vacant by – you guessed it – his purges. The government-run news agency called his re-election a sign of  “the unchanged will of the military and the people” to support him.

Baker vs Mouse: Baker Wins

 Baker vs Mouse: Baker Wins

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to bakery owner and cronut creator Dominque Ansel.

The “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” PR strategy is a tough one to pull off, but it sometimes works. To wit: Dominique Ansel, whose bakery was shut down last week by the New York City Department of Health. The home of the original “cronut” (a croissant-donut hybrid), Ansel’s eponymously named establishment was closed after a patron took video of a mouse skittering across the floor.

Video footage of rodents running amok in a kitchen is usually a devastating blow to an eatery. Conventional PR wisdom would have Ansel issue multiple mea culpas, pledge to clean up his bakery’s act, and keep a low profile.

Instead, the Frenchman fumed. He took to Facebook to rail against small-business saboteurs: “[H]onest, hard-working businesses should not have to face cruel and sensationalized attacks that are not framed in the proper context…We urge our customers to seek deeper details and answers before jumping to conclusions.” He issued hard facts, stressing that no mouse was found and no droppings were in the kitchen. He stood outside his shop and vowed to come back like fictional prizefighter Rocky Balboa. “You take a hit, you go down, but you come back up stronger,” he proclaimed.

And… the gamble worked. Less then a week after Vermingate, lines for cronuts and other  delectables are just as long at Ansel’s bakery as they were before the mouse made his (or her) film debut.

THE PR VERDICT: ”B” (Good Show) to bakery owner Dominque Ansel.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When everything is on the line, nothing is out of bounds. Perception is important for all businesses, but critical for those in industries like food service; just a whiff of odiousness can be enough to send fickle customers across the street. It’s a difficult strategy to employ: the facts must be in your favor, and there’s a very fine line between being seen as rightfully indignant and a whiner who won’t accept responsibility. In this case, Ansel succeeded, and the cronut lives on.

Pistorius Takes the Stand

oscar pistorius court day seven his murder trial heard lawyer barry roux question testimony 150x150 Pistorius Takes the Stand

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Oscar Pistorius.

There’s rarely any discussion of good or bad PR associated with murder trials; the defendant is declared innocent or guilty, and the case is closed. Things may be different in the case of South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, currently on trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius says he awoke during the night of February 14, 2013, hearing sounds. He told police he shot towards where he thought an intruder was hiding, only to find Steenkamp his victim. The prosecution has so far done a persuasive job of presenting an ex-girlfriend who told of Pistorius randomly shooting guns, a text message from Steenkamp saying she was afraid of him, and neighbors who heard angry shouts and terrified screams.

While listening to testimony, Pistorius has hardly been stoic. He has wept, held his head in his hands, been violently ill. But would he take the stand? His lawyers apparently thought it best. Yesterday, Pistorius – not shown on camera, but audible – gave a shaken testimony that halted proceedings when he eventually broke down.

Will it spare him from a 25 year prison term? It’s possible. The gun-carrying, temperamental boyfriend image was replaced by the trembling voice of a shattered man. Should Pistorius be declared innocent, his emotional testimony may also exonerate him in the court of public opinion.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Oscar Pistorius.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When all seems lost, that’s the time to take a risk. Most lawyers are wary of putting clients on the stand; not only can they be torn apart by the prosecution, but they may not show enough emotion, of the appropriate kind, for the jury’s liking. Pistorius, however, has been doing nothing but demonstrating remorse. His lawyers, facing the prosecution’s construction of a monster, put on the stand a man weeping and overcome with grief. The monster image has taken a hit.

Tech VC Plays Nice with Anarchist Group

kevinroseprotest Tech VC Plays Nice with Anarchist Group

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Google venture capitalist Kevin Rose.

The class warfare clashes between San Francisco’s tech-nauts and tech-nots continued this weekend with a protest outside the home of Google Ventures general partner Kevin Rose. But rather than escalate tensions, Rose, who also founded Digg, the news aggregator site, defused matters by establishing common ground with his detractors.

Descending on Rose’s Potrero Hill neighborhood Sunday, the anti-techies brought banners and flyers denouncing Rose as a “parasite” who “directs the flow of capital from Google into the tech startup bubble that is destroying San Francisco.” Identifying themselves as fed-up service workers and members of anarchist group “The Counterforce,” they outlined an agenda far bigger than spoiling a venture capitalists’s Sunday afternoon. In what amounts to a ransom note, they demanded that Google donate $3 billion “to an anarchist organization of our choosing. This money will then be used to create autonomous, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist communities throughout the Bay Area and Northern California.”

Rose, to his credit, responded with restraint, taking to Twitter to say he agreed  “that we need to solve rising rents, keep the SF culture, and crack down on landlords booting folks out” and that all San Franciscans “definitely need to figure out a way to keep the diversity.” Now, about that $3 billion…

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Google’s Kevin Rose, who kept his cool and didn’t play into a possible PR trap.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Called out in public? Don’t lash back. Not only might your antagonist be trying to goad you into doing or saying something foolish, you also don’t stand to win sympathy and support with a churlish response. Consider the messenger as well as the message. The Counterforce’s anti-tech manifesto reads a little unripe and more provocative than proactive. Rose, who has made a horrendous public gaffe before, might have learned from it. He comes off here as eminently reasonable and eager to seek common ground with a fringe group he doesn’t need to antagonize.

Bottom Line? It’s Not Always About the Bottom Line

 Bottom Line? Its Not Always About the Bottom Line

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Mozilla.

When Brendan Eich stepped down from his position as chief executive of software company Mozilla last week, the general assumption was that his personal stance against same-sex marriage was to blame. But was morality the reason for Eich’s resignation from Mozilla after being appointed a mere two weeks ago? No, opines Farhad Manjoo in the international edition of Sunday’s New York Times. Manjoo instead points out a key factor about Mozilla that companies need to heed. For Mozilla, the bottom line isn’t the only bottom line.

Mozilla is a company with a mission, to promote “the development of the Internet as a public resource.” In other words, it’s not all about the money for Mozilla. In a highly competitive industry, Manjoo writes, corporate culture becomes as important as salary. Apple and Microsoft may be able to offer buckets of money to talented coders and software designers, but those people might go for the company offering something they believe in.

Mozillians spoke online of how Eich divided their community. One said, “He is actively harming Mozilla by not making a proper statement on these issues and making things right.” Eich’s probable forced resignation is yet another example of the importance of keeping one’s personal opinions out of business.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Mozilla, for distancing themselves from a debate that causes damage to their corporate culture and their brand.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Remember the refrain from The Godfather: It’s business, not personal. Whether you’re in business purely for profit or you have a mission, personal opinions can cost a company more than money. PR people exist for this purpose; had a few been consulted on this matter, Eich might not have a two-week position on his resume, and Mozilla wouldn’t have a new reputation of axing those it deems wrong.

PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

obamacare logo  PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, whose supporters, including its namesake, had reason to celebrate Monday when enrollments pushed slightly past the original sign-up target of 7 million. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that target for initial sign-up period through March 31. Despite a horribly marred start and with withering opposition at every turn, the mandated healthcare program saw sign-ups somehow make their numbers. And while public opinion is still hardly enthusiastic, one poll did find for the first time that public support for the healthcare law surpassed opposition. Perhaps the rally will prompt lukewarm supporters to stop apologizing and start cheering.

  PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to General Motors’ chief executive Mary Barra, for a defense statement best summed up by “I don’t know.” As the head of GM faced a House subcommittee investigating what the car company knew and when regarding flaws that led to numerous deaths and injuries, Barra’s responses infuriated senators and the families of the deceased alike. PR is in freefall, and GM is still recalling millions of cars and facing possible criminal charges. In leaving Barra to claim ignorance or hang herself and her company, GM’s legal and PR teams register a complete fail.

  PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Britain’s Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, whose editorial boards told a parliamentary science committee they believe humans are negatively impacting global climate conditions. Really? That’s rather confusing considering, as the committee chairman put it, “some papers regularly give a platform to lobby groups or indeed conspiracy theorists – many not even qualified scientists – who pooh-pooh the evidence and attack UK climate scientists.” We are shocked, shocked, to find out that publications, looking to increase readership, might take one view in their papers while believing the exact opposite. Yawn.