Times, Le Monde Defend Against Accusations of Sexism

 Times, Le Monde Defend Against Accusations of Sexism

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for The Times and Le Monde (pictured: Natalie Nougayrede and Jill Abramson).

Last week was not a good one for women in media. Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times, was fired, and Natalie Nougayrède, editor of Le Monde, France’s leading newspaper, resigned. Both were the first women to hold their respective posts.

While both departures were shocking, neither was particularly surprising, given weeks of leaked news of discontent on both editorial floors. Most of the stories focused on managerial styles: Abramson was characterized as polarizing and mercurial, while Nougayrède’s management was described as authoritarian and “Putin-like.”

Accusations of sexism were inevitable, as women in media wondered if the same adjectives, applied to men, would have been pejoratives (“Putin-like” aside). The specifics in Nougayrède’s case, among them that she butted heads with editors over her attempts to put more emphasis on the digital version of the paper, could be used on either side of the argument. However, Abramson’s pay being lower than that of her male predecessor supported the accusations. On Saturday, Times owner Arthur Sulzberger Jr. released a statement saying that Abramson’s management style was the sole reason for her termination, and that her total pay package was similar to that of her predecessor – which turned out not to entirely add up. As of press time, Abramson was expected to tell her side of the story Monday morning.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for The Times and Le Monde.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Be prepared to present facts. All business entities want bad PR to fade away quickly, but in the event that questions make it linger, facts dampen speculation. The difficulty in transitioning from print to digital is being emphasized as the conflict between Nougayrède and her staff; Abramson’s reaction to the salary discrepancy was hiring a lawyer, a move that ruffled her superiors’ feathers irreparably. The reason for her needing to do so, however, is something that keeps this story alive, and Times owners on the defensive.

Sterling Crashes and Burns in CNN Interview

 Sterling Crashes and Burns in CNN Interview

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Donald Sterling.

If ever you’re compared to the Hindenberg, it’s a safe bet to assume something went terribly, terribly wrong.

That was how one CNN anchor described his network’s exclusive interview with Donald Sterling, the embattled owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Last month, Sterling was banned for life from the National Basketball Association, including his own team’s games, after audio recordings surfaced of him making racist statements. After weeks of silence, Sterling agreed to be interviewed by Anderson Cooper on Monday.

As he sat with Cooper sans handlers, the 80-year-old Sterling seemed unaware he was plummeting from frying pan to fire. He tried to blame his woes on Magic Johnson, the NBA hall-of-famer he insulted in the first place and who, Sterling said, told him everything would be all right. He admitted that his original comments were made in pursuit of sex with a woman 50 years his junior. Worst, he made another seemingly racist statement about African Americans’ philanthropic efforts, or lack thereof.

“What this was to PR, the Hindenberg was to blimps,” CNN’s Bill Weir said, while The Washington Post grimly noted it was “a study in damage control gone wrong.” Variety said Sterling  “gave the impression of somebody who was not mentally clicking on all cylinders” and that “the erratic, strange performance…will be studied in crisis public-relations classes for years to come.”

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Donald Sterling, who may be long in the tooth but who still hasn’t learned to keep his mouth shut.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: “No Comment” is a PR strategy.  Sometimes a situation is so incendiary that the only recourse is to lie low until the heat dies down. There are (at least) two hard-and-fast criteria for walking into the flames: be absolutely certain that your messages will clarify or put the crisis in context, and be able to deliver them expertly. In Sterling’s case, he failed on both counts.

Damage Control Handbook: When Celebrities Attack

 Damage Control Handbook: When Celebrities Attack

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Beyoncé, Jay Z, and Solange Knowles.

Publicists have always tried to control celebrity clients’ appearances and interviews; it reduces the need to break out the damage control handbook later. These days it’s especially important, when social media can go mad with, say, footage of Solange Knowles, sister of mega-star Beyoncé, attacking her rap icon brother-in-law Jay Z.

On Monday, social media went ablaze with a video showing a woman reported to be Knowles kicking and punching a man believed to be Jay Z. The video was security camera footage from an elevator at the Standard Hotel in New York. “Reported to be,” “believed to be,” “apparently”—in other words, nothing has been confirmed.

Nothing has been denied, either, and lack of denial is as good as a confirmation; were these not the people in question, flaks and lawyers would have responded with all the threatening impact of the Wildlings on Game of Thrones. So far the only comment has come from the hotel, “shocked and disappointed” about the release of the security camera tape. (They’ll need to go into damage control, too, to regain guests’ trust.) As time passes with no response from PRs, minor celebs opine, social media pundits make jokes, and the problem lingers… For now.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Beyoncé, Jay Z, and Solange Knowles.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Damage Control Rule #1: Think before you make a statement. Issues such as this require a huddle with all of the celebs’ representatives. Stick to the facts within your own confidential conversation, and then agree upon a plausible explanation that will douse the flames of interest. A misunderstanding; too many cocktails; people are making too much of this. Most important? Keep your clients quiet. The alternate route is to say nothing; it’s new page in the handbook, and one that allows the story to remain alive, but only for the few days it takes for social media to move on to the next viral trend.

Fox Network’s Low Ratings Highlighted Before Upfronts

 Fox Network’s Low Ratings Highlighted Before Upfronts

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Fox network (pictured: advert for Fox’s upcoming series Gotham).

This week, advertisers flock to New York City for upfronts—parties, meet-and-greets with celebrities, and previews from networks of new fall TV offerings. This is when advertisers decide which networks and shows will share nearly $16 billion in ad dollars. Among talk of the upfronts, one recurring theme emerges: how badly the Fox network needs a hit.

A series of hits, actually, to make up for once mighty shows that have dropped precipitously in ratings. Take American Idol, which during one season had 30 million viewers glued to Fox. Now it averages less than 7 million. Another former hit, Glee, is also viewer anemic. “Fox has the most to prove,” said David Campanelli, senior VP and director for national television at Horizon Media to the New York Times.

Toward that end, Fox started buzz with Gotham, their big gun, which tells the story of a young Bruce Wayne, pre-Batman cape, and a young(er) Jim Gordon, pre-commissioner title. The drama melds popular TV themes of cop show with teens (yes, there are young versions of Catwoman, Joker, et al), and a hit movie genre, comic book heroes. Gotham’s trailer does look like one of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Will it save Fox? A few days, a few cocktails, and a few billion dollars will tell.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Fox, if the network can turn the conversation from their need to advertisers’ want.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Ostriches can’t just take their heads out of the sand; they have to do something. Fox could say things are tough all over—they certainly aren’t the only network feeling the sting of failing shows, viewers who fast forward through commercials while watching recorded programs, and other ad-dollar losses. But Fox is suffering more than most networks, and their PR job is to generate buzz about Gotham and other shows, and get it off their ratings plunge.

Netflix Raises Prices – and No One Freaks Out

NETFLIX TV 150x150 Netflix Raises Prices   and No One Freaks Out

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR PERFECT) for Netflix.

This time they warned you – Netflix, that is. The on-demand streaming video service that scored one of the worst marketing and PR flops since the introduction of New Coke when they raised their rates in 2011. They announced a price increase for rentals last week, but this time in a way structured to keep existing customers happy – and investors, too.

You might recall Qwikster, the company’s ill-conceived DVD-only service, spun off in 2011 in the wake of a controversial and unpopular price hike that effectively doubled the cost of rentals. Subscribers rebelled and quit in droves, and Netflix reversed course, killing the service before it ever launched. It then spent much of the next year apologizing and begging customers to come back.

Clearly the company learned something from that experience. This time, Netflix moved methodically, initially raising the prospect of price increases months ago. It firmed up that news in late April with a letter to shareholders announcing a pending increase of “one or two” dollars. The final word came in an email to customers Friday – a $1 bump, but only for new customers, and no increase for existing members for two years. So far, the villagers have yet to light their torches or storm the castle.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Netflix, for taking the time to set appropriate expectations.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Timing is everything – and that doesn’t always mean just picking the right moment. Netflix, looking to avoid another mass stampede of customers for the exits, wisely started telegraphing its intentions on pricing months before actually announcing the increase. This amounted to a period of test marketing, giving both Netflix subscribers and investors time to get used to the idea. Then, by grandfathering in existing customers at the current price for two years, Netflix actually won a measure of goodwill, solely becauset it set expectations of a price increase for everyone. Investors liked the news also, sending the company’s stock up on the increase.

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 Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. After weeks of bad press for the National Basketball Association, attention was gratefully turned to Durant’s MVP speech, which alone could have won him an award. Durant gave emotional thanks to his mother, Wanda Pratt, who raised two boys on her own and sometimes went without even food so that her sons wouldn’t feel the pain of want. Durant credits his mother’s determination for his championship-winning skills on the court and called her “the real MVP.” A happy Mother’s Day for Pratt, and some relief for the beleaguered NBA.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to the Nigerian government, whose weak response to the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls has brought international condemnation on the African nation as it prepared to host the World Economic Forum on Africa. The girls were kidnapped on April 15 by the al Qaeda-linked terrorist group Boko Haram, whose leader has said he plans to sell them into slavery. Finally bowing to pressure, the Nigerian government this week offered a $300,000 reward for information leading to the girls’ whereabouts. Meanwhile, Boko Haram raged into another village and scooped up eight more girls. As the Voice of America noted, “[Nigeria] is the biggest economy in Africa, but authorities cannot even keep children safe in their schools.”

treygowdy The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO Republican Congressional officeseekers, who chose to ignore recommendations from one of their own to stop fundraising off the 2012 attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. US Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) who is heading a new (and quite partisan) House Select Committee that will review the matter yet again, urged his colleagues last week not to undermine the committee’s work with partisan appeals for funds that hype the issue. Minutes before, the National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a fundraising email doing just that.  “Help fight liberals by donating today,” it asked, and other appeals followed. So much for the Committee’s integrity.

Lewinsky Tries to Turn Media In Her Favor This Time

 Lewinsky Tries to Turn Media In Her Favor This Time

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Monica Lewinsky.

Sixteen years ago, a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky became a household name. This week, a now 40-year-old Lewinsky will tell all about her affair with President Bill Clinton in a Vanity Fair essay entitled “Shame and Survival.” The piece is available to digital subscribers today and on newsstands this weekend.

According to promotional tidbits, Lewinsky says it’s time “to bury the blue dress,” a rather wince-inducing reference to one of the more salacious details of the saga: that Lewinsky had a frock bearing carnal proof of presidential coupling. In the piece, she reportedly says she deeply regrets the affair, which was consensual, and that she feels her entire life has been charted by those few years of youthful indiscretion. In writing the essay, she says,  “I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past. (What this will cost me, I will soon find out.)”

Lewinsky says she was inspired to break her silence by Tyler Clementi, a college student who, apparently distraught after being filmed in a romantic interlude with another man,  committed suicide in 2010 by jumping off New York’s George Washington Bridge. Lewinsky says she could identify with Clementi’s anguish and the possibility that someone could be “humiliated to death.”

The buzz about the impending essay is formidable. The question now is: Will Lewinsky’s tale live up to the hype?

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Monica Lewinsky, who for better or worse will always be Monica Lewinsky.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Media can bring both condemnation as well as redemption. Over a decade ago, a young Lewsinky had no control over with the media said about her. As she astutely notes, she was “possibly the first person whose global humiliation was driven by the Internet.” Today, with the benefit of maturity and an auspicious media platform, she just might have a chance at rewriting her own footnote in the history books.

Hotel Group Suffers Via Association with Sharia Law

 Hotel Group Suffers Via Association with Sharia Law

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for The Dorchester Collection hotel chain.

What’s the connection between Hollywood’s celebrity elite and an ancient law that punishes homosexuality with death by stoning? The Dorchester Collection, a string of luxury hotels including the famed Beverly Hills Hotel and other five-star lodging used by A-listers who have launched an aggressive boycott.

The problem is not the hotels themselves but their ownership by the Brunei Investment Agency. Recently, Brunei adopted the Sharia Law, which punishes theft with the severing of limbs, and adultery and homosexuality with death by stoning.

Celebrities and bold-faced names protested with a boycott of the Brunei-owned hotel chain. Understandable, though questionable; will oil-rich Brunei be affected by Richard Branson’s vow that no one from the Virgin family will stay at Dorchester hotels? No, but hotel employees will suffer, as Christopher Cowdray, CEO of the Dorchester Collection, pointed out. “During this challenging time, we have been deeply touched by the tremendous support received from our loyal guests and longstanding business partners who recognize that Dorchester Collection hotels are part of the fabric of their social communities.” In other words, guilt by association should not be punishable by economic death.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for The Dorchester Collection hotel chain.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Just deliver the facts. There are times when companies may be adversely affected by their owners’ actions. In this case, there’s almost nothing the Dorchester Collection can do but what they did, which is to point out that they didn’t adopt the Sharia Law in Brunei, and there’s no reason their own employees should suffer for it. That said, financial boycott and the pressure of negative PR sometimes wins out. Will it here? It’s unlikely. If only to keep from losing face, Brunei will probably maintain their position. Dorchester walks a dangerous line between siding with an unpopular owner and maintaining business; best to keep quiet and hope for a sale to a less controversial owner.

PayPal’s Quick Payback to Ranting Exec

paypal PayPals Quick Payback to Ranting Exec

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

Another weekend, another tech sector exec behaving badly and embarrassing his employer. This time it’s PayPal, whose now-former global strategist Rakesh Agrawal unleashed a series of Twitter rants that were either his parting shot or cost him his job, depending on what you choose to believe.

Tweeting late night Friday from New Orleans, where he was attending Jazz Fest, Agrawal offered up choice expletives for co-workers he thought should be fired or were “useless,” including PayPal’s communications chief. In the remorseful light of morning, he tweeted that he had been using a new phone to “test experiences” and had intended those messages for a colleague. “Note to self,” he added, “don’t test a new phone when sleep deprived after working your ass off for 20 hours a day while on vacation.”

Within hours, PayPal tweeted that Agrawal, just two months into the job, was on vacation permanently, adding: “Treat everyone with respect. No excuses. PayPal has zero tolerance.” Not one to leave it there, Agrawal answered that he had actually quit Friday to start his own company. He followed that Sunday night with a series of since-deleted F-bomb tweets directed at – well, everyone – and then a promise of a “logical explanation” for the last two days. Please, don’t bother.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for PayPal, for a quick public display of disaffection with a self-destructing employee.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Move fast in matters of reputation. Lasting damage can occur literally at the speed of light. PayPal’s fast, direct response established Agrawal’s separation from the company, then pivoted to stress the firm’s zero tolerance for behavior or opinions like his. Companies have different policies on employee tweeting, but to a tech firm like PayPal, pre-screening tweets would run counter to Silicon Valley’s libertarian ethos and would never fly. The individual empowerment of social networks gives those with an axe to grind an instant platform to air their grievances. Companies need not hold back in responding.

NBA Fallout Continues As NAACP Head Resigns

 NBA Fallout Continues As NAACP Head Resigns

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the NAACP. (Pictured: former NAACP LA President Leon Jenkins.)

Even when public relations scandals are properly handled, they can continue to thrive when an event triggers a national conversation. Last week, the National Basketball Association banned Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, from the NBA for life after racist statements he allegedly made went public. Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar pointed out that Sterling’s racism had been known about for years; action was taken after bad press went viral. Spurred by the larger issue of racism in America, the media continued to look for a story – and found one, in Sterling’s association with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Los Angeles NAACP President Leon Jenkins resigned last Friday after reports that Sterling was to receive a lifetime achievement award from the NAACP. This would make two NAACP awards for Sterling. The first, for promoting civil rights, was given in 2009, the year Sterling agreed to pay a $2.7 million settlement after the US Justice Department sued him for allegedly refusing to rent apartments he owned to African Americans and Hispanics.

“In order to separate the Los Angeles NAACP and the NAACP from the negative exposure I have caused,” Jenkins said, “I respectfully resign my position.” Appropriate action, but again, it may not stop more negative fallout.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the NAACP.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Internal review of public decisions is a must. Lifetime achievement and other awards, especially those given to public figures, will be featured in the media. As such, they should be carefully reviewed by the organization that will be represented by these figures. Jenkins is at fault for giving Sterling, a known racist, these awards, but did he act independently? Surely higher-ups must have known. They’re now likely shaking in their corner offices.