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 Joni Ernst, the conservative Republican senator from Iowa whose victory in her state’s senate primary this week may be due largely to a shockingly candid political ad. While her bona fides (growing up on a farm, serving in the military) made her a good contender in her home state, her 30-second spot put her in the national spotlight. “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm,” Ernst begins, “so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork… Washington’s full of big spenders. Let’s make ‘em squeal.” What more need be said?

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to the National Football League, which faces a lawsuit now joined by football Hall of Famer Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins. The legendary quarterback, along with over 40 others from the Pro Football Hall of Fame and thousands of other players, charge that the NFL concealed information about the effects of concussions on the brain. The league continues to deny wrongdoing while seemingly unable to back up their claims.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to detractors, and supporters, of President Obama’s prisoner exchange for POW Bowe Bergdahl. Republicans have been focusing on the possibility that the exchange of one American soldier for the release of five members of the Taliban may cause grievous harm in the long run. Democrats are leaning on the patriotic credo of leaving no man behind. Both sides seem to be going through expected motions, though, because as pundits point out, there may be far more to these negotiations than the general public will ever know.

Yes, There Is Such a Thing As Bad PR

burkman 150x150 Yes, There Is Such a Thing As Bad PR

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Jack Burkman.

If you don’t know who Jack Burkman is, he didn’t get as much attention as he wanted. For the uninitiated, Jack Burkman is a Republican lobbyist who was so bothered by college athlete Michael Sam coming out that he’s drafting legislation banning gay athletes from the National Football League. A sample line from his statement: ”We are losing our decency as a nation. Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man. That’s a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country.”

Burkman’s “bill” becoming law is about as likely as Elton John announcing he’s straight. Only members of Congress can introduce legislation, and Burkman’s premise would seem to violate federal law. He claims to have supporters in Congress but none have rushed forward with hands raised.

But getting a law on the books isn’t really Burkman’s goal. Indeed, he’s basically admitted he just wants headlines, telling The Daily Beast that, “Of all the discussions that we’ve had, the legal (route) has been the last.” Rather, he said, he’s focusing on “substance” and “PR” to call attention to himself and his position. Can publicity stunts make their subjects look worse than they did pre-stunt? Observing Jack Burkman, the answer would appear to be yes.

THE PR VERDICT: F (Full Fiasco) for Jack Burkman, who got what he wanted on one level: now, more people know he is a bigoted crackpot.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: All news is not good news. Publicity stunts have always been an unpredictable animal; clever ones are lauded as canny marketing, such as the lead-up to The Blair Witch Project, which had moviegoers thinking they were seeing a real documentary. The ones that fail are also memorable, and not in a good way: Remember Richard Heene, the attention-seeker who claimed his son had floated away in a homemade balloon when the 5-year-old was hiding in a garage? He got jail time and fines. It seems safe to say Burkman’s bid falls in the latter category.


Apple, Major Corporations Take Stand Against AZ Bill

 Apple, Major Corporations Take Stand Against AZ Bill

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Apple, American Airlines, Marriott, and the NFL.

Taking sides on religious issues was previously considered a bad idea for corporations. Better to remain neutral, lest someone – meaning, potential customers with buying dollars – be offended. Those days are over as of this week, when Apple, American Airlines, the Marriott hotel corporation, and the National Football League sent a message to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer: Veto Senate Bill 1062 or suffer economic consequences.

The now-infamous bill legalizes the right of business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians on religious grounds. Gov. Brewer, a conservative, has said she is “undecided” on whether to sign the bill into law.

Her decision may be assisted by threat of corporate boycott. Phoenix, AZ, is host to next year’s SuperBowl, and major corporations are making their non-neutral stance clear. Brewer may want to listen to Apple in particular: the tech giant planned to bring sapphire production to the state, which would have major economic impact – as would its loss. While no official statement came from Apple, Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, summed up the new corporate stance when he wrote to Brewer, “Our economy thrives best when the doors of commerce are open to all.”

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Apple, American Airlines, Marriott, the NFL, and corporations that take a stand against discrimination.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: It’s not always about the bottom line, even when it’s about the bottom line. Discrimination is wrong, period; about that, no one can argue. Even three of the senators who voted for SB 1062 are now urging Gov. Brewer to veto it. Companies never want to alienate customers, but at certain points, the only thing to do is take a strong stance. Sure, the lynchpin here is money. But in past times companies might have been content to say they were “gathering information,” or say nothing at all. Some may still be doing that, but the ones that speak up are the ones that stand out.

Football Star Comes Out of the Closet

 Football Star Comes Out of the Closet

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for football player Michael Sam.

It may be easier for public figures to reveal their sexual orientation these days, but much depends on the environment. The world of professional sports is now closely watching what happens with University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, who recently revealed he is gay.

Sam, 24, is up for the National Football League draft. If chosen by a major team, he will be the NFL’s first, and so far only, openly gay player. Sam came out ahead of the draft because, he said, rumors had been circulating. “I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” he told the New York Times and ESPN. “I just want to own my truth.”

His teammates were reported as being entirely supportive, as was the university. The NFL’s statement said, “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage… We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.” Others associated with football, including players, have been less complementary, saying homosexuality has no place in the locker room. In a time when coming out is easier but not always accepted, one can only make a personal choice to, as Sam said, own one’s truth, and then choose how to tell it.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Michael Sam. A football player at the top of his game has played his hand well.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Turn a challenge into an opportunity. While Michael Sam may have been forced to reveal his sexual orientation due to rumors, he took charge of the situation by turning his media revelation into a platform. “I don’t think I should be defined as Michael Sam, the gay athlete, or the gay football player,” he said in the New York Times video. “I want to be a football player.” If he keeps playing as well as he has, his actions may speak louder than any words about whether sexual orientation matters.

National Football League Loses More Points

 National Football League Loses More Points

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the National Football League.

Even if you know nothing about American football, you may have heard of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Their names will soon fade from the headlines, but a burgeoning image problem for the National Football League may not.

Martin recently walked away from the Miami Dolphins after he said he could no longer endure harassment by his teammates, led by Incognito. The imbroglio includes charges of racism and purported threats by Incognito to sexually assault Martin’s sister, and by Martin to annihilate Incognito’s entire family.

It sounds over the top, but not for the NFL. In the past two years, the league has seen one player charged with an execution-style homicide (Aaron Hernandez) and another murder his girlfriend then kill himself in front of his coach (Jovan Belcher). So far in 2013, more than 40 players have been arrested for various crimes. A book out last month, League of Denial, accuses the league of ignoring and even covering up evidence that players have suffered devastating brain damage as a result of their years on the field.

These issues arise as the NFL enjoys unprecedented popularity and financial success. Perhaps because of that, the brand – a collective of  32 teams – has been somewhat slow to tarnish. As the incidents mount, however, the league’s top brass needs to consider their next PR move.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the National Football League. Is the best defense, indeed, a good offense?

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Accentuate the positive. Like many organizations, the NFL doesn’t have complete control over its members but what the league does have is positive stories to tell: it has changed the rules of the game to try to reduce concussions, funds programs to examine head trauma and has “player engagement” programs that focus on mentorship and personal responsibility. These talking points should be in every team owner’s back pocket when speaking to the media. When an organization is the sum of its parts, PR is everyone’s job – not just the commissioner’s.

What the Hell, NFL?

 What the Hell, NFL?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for the NFL. (Pictured: Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher.)

This has been a particularly bad week for the PR image of the National Football League: a murder-suicide, a death due to drunk driving – even a reduction in suspension of popular players came with a reminder of the nasty reasons they’d been reprimanded in the first place. The recent news items have left both sports fans and casual observers asking what the hell is going on in the NFL?

The news has been nothing short of shocking. Last week, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and the mother of his child, at their home. Belcher then drove to the Chiefs’ training facility and committed suicide. The announcement of the deaths was made on a game day, and the team played on. This week, Josh Brent, defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, was charged with intoxication manslaughter in the death of his friend and teammate Jerry Brown. The next day, the Cowboys were on the field.

Also this week, an announcement was made regarding the reduction of suspensions for New Orleans Saints players involved in “bountygate” – a scheme in which players were rewarded for injuring opposing team members. Overall, it’s been a bad week for the NFL’s image – but not for its ratings or ticket sales. Is this clever PR at work?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for the NFL. The tragedies shine a light on the difficult life of pro athletes, but why is there no impact on ticket sales?

The PR Takeaway: The show must go on, and sometimes instead of the company setting the tone, it’s better to take the PR cue from customers. The NFL hasn’t gone overboard in their reaction to the week’s events precisely because the customers haven’t. Like the fans, they express sympathy for the families of the deceased and acknowledge that players sometimes go overboard, but in this case, the NFL knows exactly what the hell it’s doing. Though it has been rather a bad week for the NFL, it’s business as usual – until, and unless, fans give a signal to the contrary.