Mariel Hemingway’s Crazy (But Not Insane) PR Blitz

 Mariel Hemingways Crazy (But Not Insane) PR Blitz

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Mariel Hemingway.

This past weekend, readers of the New York Times Magazine met a vibrant health nut with an outlook as sunny as her blonde hair. Similarly, viewers of highly-rated news program CBS Sunday Morning watched this same woman bouncing on a trampoline and discussing her family. Neither would be extraordinary except when speaking of Mariel Hemingway, granddaughter of legendary author Ernest Hemingway and heir to grave family misfortune.

In contrast to Mariel Hemingway’s smoothie-making, trampoline-jumping optimism is the legend of the rest of her family. Ernest’s story, ended by his own hand with a shotgun blast, is well known, but only one of many suicides in the Hemingway clan, including Mariel’s sister, supermodel Margaux.

Mariel has made conscious, if somewhat predictable, life course changes: yoga, meditation, a clear eye at the role alcoholism played in her family. She is now the subject of a documentary, aptly titled Running From Crazy. The film premiered to praise at Sundance and will open in theaters November 1.

Hence the media blitz, and a more perfect subject could not be found. At 51, Mariel Hemingway is beautiful, fit, and swiftly becoming that latest darling of buzzphrases, a “lifestyle brand.” She’s a happy surprise in the “whatever happened to” annals of celebrity. She comes from one of the most storied families in America, and she’s more than willing to discuss her family tragedies. However, she’s not airing dirty laundry. Rather, she seems to be saying that if she can survive the Hemingway curse, adversity is something that can be bounced back from. Perhaps on a trampoline.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Mariel Hemingway.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: While using the PR playbook, rewrite and improve. Some typical PR ops are celebrities making a comeback; celebrities getting healthy; celebrity memoirs; and famous family secrets. Hemingway puts a new and optimistic spin on them. This is a story that could have gone so wrong and yet has gone so right. Instead of being a joke or a bore, Hemingway is the happy ending her grandfather could not have written.

Barney’s and Jay-Z Get Bad Rap From Shoppers

Jay Z 150x150 Barneys and Jay Z Get Bad Rap From Shoppers

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Barney’s and Jay-Z.

It would take a lot to equal the PR humiliation suffered by Zurich boutique Tres Pommes when Oprah Winfrey asked to see a handbag and was refused by a clerk who said she couldn’t afford it. However, Barney’s may find itself in the running; the luxury Manhattan retail store recently suffered two embarrassing moments that could impact a big celebrity tie-in with rapper Jay-Z.

Trayon Christian, 19, said he was stopped by police after buying a $300 Ferragamo belt from Barney’s flagship store on Madison Avenue. Kayla Phillips, 21, was also questioned by police after purchasing a $2,500 bag. Both are African American.

While the incidents occurred earlier this year, they made the news recently in conjunction with Jay-Z’s November 20 launch of a line of clothing and jewelry in association with Barney’s. The negative publicity triggered a storm of protest and a petition calling for boycotts against Barney’s for racial profiling.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Barney’s and Jay-Z.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  In tandem projects, take care as to who says what when. As the negative press hit the media and Jay-Z was called out by fans and fellow musicians alike, Barney’s was the first to respond with a statement of apology and a review of practices. As for Jay-Z, he remained mostly quiet – and got flak for it. “I haven’t made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barney’s,” he said. Once Barney’s made its first move, Jay-Z might have been wise to jump in with some more supportive PR. After all, one speaker at a time makes good PR sense, but prolonged hesitation only dilutes the final message.

Oprah Incident: Swiss Boutique’s PR Goes to Hell in a Handbag

 Oprah Incident: Swiss Boutiques PR Goes to Hell in a Handbag

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Oprah Winfrey.

Until recently, perhaps only those in a certain income tax bracket knew the name Trois Pommes in Zurich. That changed last week, when the high-end boutique became more well known – and not just for its pricey merchandise. Trois Pommes is the shop where Oprah Winfrey, the African-American entertainment magnate and billionaire, said a sales clerk refused to show her a handbag because, the clerk said, she couldn’t afford it. Winfrey, who was in town to attend the wedding of singer Tina Turner, said she politely requested to see the $38,000 bag three times but was rebuffed each time. She finally left, without making a scene. Winfrey recounted the incident during an interview to promote her new civil rights-era film, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, in response to a question about ways in which racism has affected her life. The revelation, which has generated international media coverage, is a black eye for Swiss hospitality. Both the Swiss Tourism Office and Zurich Tourism have apologized to Winfrey, which only slightly makes up for the feeble explanation by the owner of Trois Pommes, Trudie Goetz, who claims the encounter was a “classic misunderstanding.” The clerk, Goetz said, is a native Italian speaker who thought Winfrey had asked to see the bag in less expensive materials. This isn’t the first time the 59-year-old media mogul, Oscar-nominated actress and philanthropist has been snubbed while trying to buy a tony handbag. In 2005, Winfrey was locked out of Hermes store in Paris when she tried to enter just at closing time. THE PR VERDICT:  “B” (Good Show) for Oprah, who handled both the incident and the disclosure of it with characteristic grace. THE PR TAKEAWAY: Emotion is often the enemy of productive discussion. Of course, Winfrey would have been within her rights to kick up a fuss, either at the time or in the press, but such behavior can sometimes backfire (“You were discriminated against while shopping for a $38,000 purse? Poor you!”).  She took the higher road, however, and that has made her story more compelling. By recounting the incident calmly and with perspective, Winfrey has prompted a serious discussion on racism and how it transcends bank accounts and borders.

“Sorry” Seems To Be the Hardest Word for Armstrong

OprahLance2 150x150 Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word for Armstrong

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong.

How was Lance Armstrong’s weekend? Presumably he was disappointed reading the reviews and press commentary following his vaguely dull two-hour confessional with media pope Oprah Winfrey. Did his interview hit the PR targets he was aiming for – sympathy from the public, and the green shoots of a PR turn-around? The critics say a definitive no, and the public seems to agree.

There are many reasons why this confessional moment didn’t quite work. He didn’t seem sincere. He didn’t seem sorry. Why come clean now – why not take any of the myriad opportunities he had before? The list goes on. Above all, what rankles most is that Lance over the years was a bully, no doubt. And for the bullying, he has yet to make a sincere apology.

Renowned for suing and using his considerable financial muscle to silence his critics (ie, anyone telling the truth about his doping), he has made life for some journalists and former team members a “living hell” via the court room. One woman who is not going away is Betsy Andreu, wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu, who says their lives were ruined by Armstrong’s legal maneuvers. Appearing on CNN, she made it clear that all is not forgiven. Lance has more to do than just make a general apology.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong. Confessions to Oprah are not enough; personal clean-ups are needed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: One blanket apology won’t absolve. This PR train wreck needs multiple apologies, in particular to the numerous aggrieved parties who have been on the receiving end of Armstrong’s heavy-handed tactics over the years. With some of the most aggrieved still coming forward, Armstrong’s efforts will at best have a half life until he has cleared up the personal messes. Making peace with your critics before going public is the wiser move; afterwards is always too late. And do try for a bit more sincerity while you’re at it.

To see Betsy Andreu’s interview, click here.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) TO Oprah Winfrey. First, she beats out the US Anti-Doping Administration, to whom Lance Armstrong should technically be confessing. Second, she gave tantalizingly vague quotes (to BFF Gayle King on The Early Show) about the interview, never quite saying he confessed, never quite saying he didn’t. We all know now that he did; as one pundit put it, “Oprah Winfrey doesn’t get on a plane and fly across the country for nothing.” But she knows better than to give away the candy store. Millions will tune in to watch Lance squirm, thereby giving Oprah’s embattled network OWN a whole new audience, and parent company Discovery breathing space about previously low ratings.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “D” (PR PROBLEMATIC) TO the National Rifle Association. The group suggested in a video that President Barack Obama thinks his own children are “more important” than others because they are protected by the Secret Service. The charge is just plain silly, and reinforces the NRA’s PR image as extremist and out-of-touch. Every modern president has mandatory armed protection and the Obama children are obviously a greater target for ne’er-do-wells than pretty much any other children in the world. With the extreme right already locked up, the NRA should be courting moderate gun-rights supporters – the very demographic likely to be rolling their eyes at the video.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE PR AWARD TO Mark Sanford. Nothing beats a comeback – even a longshot. In 2009, when he was Governor of South Carolina, Sanford told aides he was going hiking for a week and then mysteriously disappeared. Later, it was revealed that Sanford had taken an unauthorized break from his official duties to visit a TV reporter in Buenos Aires with whom he later claimed to be madly in love. The episode guaranteed a messy reputation, a divorce (from one of the few political wives who refused to stand by her man with a benign smile), and an entry in political folklore. Earlier this week, Sanford announced his decision to run for Congress. Really? No, really? We may be underestimating the American voting public when we say there’s nothing to discuss here. Then again, his new campaign will prove entertaining and underline the obvious truth: Scandal is always more interesting than policy. Let the games begin!

Lie Strong

 Lie Strong

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong.

The interview that Oprah Winfrey calls “the biggest” of her career – with Lance Armstrong – hasn’t even aired yet, but the reaction to Armstrong’s apparent admission to doping is already in. However, it may not be what he was hoping for.

Over seven Tour de France wins, Armstrong was repeatedly accused of using performance-enhancing drugs; he denied all. After the US Anti-Doping Agency amassed an incredible amount of evidence against him, much of it from Armstrong’s former teammates, Armstrong relinquished his medals and watched sponsorships and contributions to his LIVESTRONG cancer charity burn. But he never admitted anything.

With his career and foundation in freefall, there seemed to be two courses to take: lay low and wait for the storm to pass, or have a “come to Jesus” moment with the only person who can influence public forgiveness: Oprah Winfrey. That moment came this week on Oprah’s OWN network. (At last, a ratings boost!

However, even Oprah may not be able to save Armstrong. The New York Post‘s front page, above, summed up public reaction at being duped and their sympathies played upon. Morning show pundits brought up a damning point: Armstrong began doping before he contracted testicular cancer, the disease that served as the launching pad for LIVESTRONG. Oprah apparently did not ask Armstrong if he thought the drugs led to the cancer, but if that theory is even hinted at, LIVESTRONG won’t survive the month.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong. He may come to regret coming clean.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Better to admit to something or everything? Were Armstrong on his own, sure, tell all. But there is the foundation to consider, and should Armstrong not seem repentant enough, the public will turn on him and anything he touches. An admission also lays Armstrong open to lawsuits that will mean repayment of millions of dollars, as well as a suit by the US government for lying. The inevitable tell-all memoir offer may be waiting, but is there anything more the public will want to hear? Confession may be good for the soul, but in this case, it may harm everything Armstrong holds dear.

Which Stars Need PR Rehab?

As the PR Verdict looks back over the best (and worst) of public relations and media in 2012, we can’t help but notice that some rather high-profile stars have fizzled this year. Former juggernauts who were on a first-name-only basis are now in need of some serious re-examination of PR strategy if they are to keep shining in 2013 and beyond. Here’s a look at some of those in most dire need.

 Which Stars Need PR Rehab? Lance Armstrong undoubtedly experienced the most precipitous fall from PR grace. Years of fighting the allegedly good fight against the United States Anti-Doping Association came to an end in 2012 when Armstrong relinquished all his Tour de France wins – as good as an admission of guilt. The timing could not have been worse; the public humiliation of watching his multi-million dollar sponsorships cutting him off one by one came within hours of the annual fundraiser for LIVESTRONG, his cancer charity. There, too, donations went down, right alongside Armstrong’s credibility. Can LIVESTRONG survive on its own? Only, alas, if its founder lays low.

 Which Stars Need PR Rehab? Lindsay Lohan‘s public image continued unerringly along its course; shame that trajectory is solidly downhill. Her Q Score looks like the stock market crash that preceded the Great Depression. Even a reasonable turn at portraying Elizabeth Taylor was met with much eye-rolling about how well suited she was to play an addicted Liz. Ah, but let it not be said that La Lohan does this all on her own – her family helps in every way possible, from taped phone accusations to police calls. Can this career be saved? Considering the amount of attention Lindsay gets, we’re no longer sure she even wants it to be.

 Which Stars Need PR Rehab? What a difference a year can make. In 2011, Tom Cruise was once again Hollywood’s golden boy, with a terrific Mission: Impossible movie, Ghost Protocol, and a seemingly happy marriage to ever-smiling Katie Holmes. Cut to this year, during which Katie left Tom and the public turned on him; fans of the wildly popular Jack Reacher novels gave the casting of Cruise a universal thumbs-down. It’s not the first time; Cruise was publicly sneered at by Anne Rice, who later recanted her disapproval when Cruise gave a great performance in Interview With the Vampire. Jack Reacher opens Friday; it remains to be seen whether Cruise still has enough pow for a holiday box office. Our advice? Make another M:I as good as Ghost Protocol, and don’t remarry.

 Which Stars Need PR Rehab? All things being relative, to say that Oprah Winfrey‘s star has faded is a bit like saying the sun cooled a degree or two; does it make any discernible difference? It does to the many who benefit from “the Oprah effect,” meaning whatever the media mogul touches turns to gold. Now that her daytime show is off the air, her magazine sales have taken a dip, and her Book Club selections don’t have the exposure they once did. Worse, her network, OWN, has lost an estimated at $330 million. The Discovery Network, partner of OWN, which has invested approximately $600 million in Oprah’s network, knows firsthand about the potentially devastating effects of a sun gradually cooling. PR strategy? Recreate what worked: Get madame back on a daytime TV show, stat.