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.

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.

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.

 

NBA’s Silver Is a PR Game Changer

 NBAs Silver Is a PR Game Changer

THE PR VERDICT: A (PR PERFECT) for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Just three months into his tenure as commissioner of the National Basketball Association, Adam Silver was confronted with a situation that could make or break his career: how to handle leaked audio recordings of Don Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, making racist statements.

Silver’s response was pure PR gold. On Tuesday, he shocked the sports world by imposing the maximum fine on Sterling ($2.5 million) and banning him for life from the NBA. Sterling cannot attend any NBA basketball game or appear at any Clippers facility, nor can he participate any business decision regarding the team.

At the press conference, Silver’s voice shook with emotion. “The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful. That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage,” he fumed at the microphone. He also said he “wiill do everything in my power” to force Sterling to sell his interest in the team.

The punishment was swift and harsh–and universally lauded. “The conversation transcended sports,” wrote USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan [no relation to the author of this blog]. ESPN’s J.A. Adande opined, “He took bold strides down his own path, showed an unwillingness to allow the sore of Sterling to fester. It’s a new era.”

The magnitude of Silver’s decision, quick action, and unvarnished disgust conspire to make this one of the most significant moments in basketball history.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR PERFECT) for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who has cemented his legacy just three months into the job.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  A good decision goes a long way. Silver’s unprecedented actions are important not just for managing the current situation, but for what they suggest about the new commissioner: this is a strong individual with a low tolerance for bad behavior, someone who will bring stability to the league. The press conference left no doubt: Adam Silver is a game changer.

Arizona Governor May Win Battle but Lose PR War

Jan Brewer 150x150 Arizona Governor May Win Battle but Lose PR War

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

America is sending decidedly mixed messages to its LGBT citizens. This past weekend’s headlines included clothing chain Banana Republic unveiling an ad campaign with interior designer Nate Berkus and his fiancé Jeremiah Brent. The Brooklyn Nets signed Jason Collins, who becomes the National Basketball League’s first openly gay player. To balance out the notion of acceptance, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer remained undecided on whether to sign a bill allowing businesses to deny service to gay and lesbian customers on the grounds of their religious beliefs.

Whichever way Gov. Brewer decides will cost her. A former small business owner known for her conservative views, she told CNN, “I think anybody that owns a business can choose who they work with or who they don’t work with. But,” she hedged, “I don’t know that it needs to be statutory.” While refusal to sign the bill may anger her religious constituency, signing it would have repercussions as the worlds of advertising and sports accept – and capitalize – upon the LGBT community. As Arizona prepares to host next year’s SuperBowl, companies were already informing the state that it would be dropped as a potential investment location, should the bill pass.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: It’s better to lose the battle and win the war. Brewer, a conservative, may personally align with the bill. But in signing it into law, her state will be identified with discrimination. Tourism will suffer. Arizona will become the target of protests. The businesses so intent on maintaining their religious beliefs by refusing service to gays and lesbians may find themselves with less business overall. SuperBowl advertisers may shrink from the potential for negative publicity via association. In the end, letting go of the bill may be a lose-win situation.