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.

Judy Smith: PR’s Ms. Fix-It

JUDY SMITH  150x150 Judy Smith: PRs Ms. Fix It

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Judy Smith.

Judy Smith, a well-known Washington PR has been credited with being able to salvage the messiest of PR messes. Smith has helped Larry Craig, the senator who inappropriately attempted to find love in a public restroom; actor Wesley Snipes, who had rather a time of it with the IRS; and Monica Lewinsky, who – well, you know. And now its emerged that Smith has just been appointed by Tampa socialite Jill Kelley to help with her ongoing Petraeus mess.

Smith previously worked in Washington under George W. Bush. Since setting up her private consultancy, Smith has artfully packaged crisis PR management in a book called Good Self, Bad Self. In it, she lists the seven character straits that can propel us to giddy heights or be the genesis of our undoing: ego, denial, fear, ambition, accommodation, patience, and indulgence.

Smith argues that the character traits that can bring one success can also lead to a downfall. Problems ensue when they fall out of balance. Her PR answer? Recalibrating one or more of those seven vital characteristics and being personally responsible for the repair work. This PR approach is not just about polishing a tainted reputation; as The New York Times mentioned in a recent article about Smith, this is about creating and selling a narrative “for redemption.”

The PR Verdict: ”A” (PR Perfect) for Judy Smith. Not only has she packaged herself as the PR Ms. Fix-It, she has also wrapped a methodology around the cure.

The PR Takeaway: One-offs are fine, but methodology is better. It’s not often that a client’s personal gestalt is used in crisis communications. For a believable turnaround, each client needs to be able to communicate with authenticity in the media glare. Smith, through her methodology, might be able to give her distressed clients the key. Not easy to come by, but when accessed, this might lead to ultimate public redemption faster than any other track.

To read more about Judy Smith, click here.

Total Arnold

 Total Arnold

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

This week, Arnold Schwarzenegger began promoting his book, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. Schwarzenegger’s life is nearly unbelievable – he was a champion body builder who became the highest paid actor in Hollywood despite a heavyweight German accent and a nearly unpronounceable name. He then married a member of the Kennedy family and become governor of California. And the focal point of all his latest interviews? His affair with the housekeeper.

Surely Schwarzenegger didn’t want to include the chapter detailing his affair with housekeeper Mildred Baena, yet on some level he must have known this was the double-edged sword of PR: talk about the thing you don’t want to talk about, or no one will buy your book. In interviews, Schwarzenegger shows contrition, albeit insensitively, referring to the affair with Baena as “my screw-up” and “a disaster.” Arnie, it seems, is untroubled by how this might affect the result of this affair: his youngest son, Joseph. And it’s hard to tell whether he’s sorry for what he did to wife Maria Shriver, or sorry he got caught.

Schwarzenegger follows Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, John Edwards, and many others whose works and lives became defined by a single act: that of schtupping the maid, or the prostitute, or sexting the intern. Only Bill Clinton moved beyond Monica, though his career remains tarnished by the scarlet letter.  Yet what do we really expect from The Governator? Nothing other than what he’s giving, and gives well: He doesn’t care what you think about him, only that you think about him.

The PR Verdict: B (Good Show) for Arnold Schwarzenegger. The grade is based not on character but for his handling of the media and for canny self-promotion via contrition.

The PR Takeaway: Scandal always outlasts notable works. Whatever leads those in positions of power towards the scandalous is for the Psychiatrist’s Verdict. But for our purposes, as Arnie clearly shows, the public relations prescription is to own up; apologize with sincerity; pour barbecue sauce on yourself in preparation of being grilled by the media; and get back to the business of doing whatever good works were interrupted by your poor judgment. Finally, get on with counting the royalties, while remaining contrite at all times.

What do you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s media profile? Give us your PR Verdict!