Putting the Church Into Scientology

scientologists celebrities 15 300x205 Putting the Church Into Scientology

The PR Verdict: F (Full Fiasco) for Scientology’s PR. Something isn’t working.

The Church of Scientology is girding its loins. After a week of disastrous press scrutiny following the TomKat divorce announcement, the organization looks set for further unsympathetic coverage. What role did Scientology play in the breakdown of the celebrity marriage? Who knows? But what is clear is that for non believers there is almost universal mis-trust when it comes to the Church founded by Ron Hubbard.

Rupert Murdoch caused a fuss last week when he Tweeted that the religion is a “very weird cult,” adding that there is “Something creepy, maybe even evil, about these people.” An Internet backlash was immediate, but the problem was that those hitting back were almost exclusively Scientologists. What about friends and sympathetic supporters?

On Friday, news outlets detailed a memo allegedly distributed by the Church of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs that urges members to monitor the Internet for hostile statements about the Church and report them; hardly a strategy to win the hearts and minds of non-believers. With all their celebrity and influential contacts, wouldn’t the wiser, more sustainable PR strategy be to get non-believers defending the cause?

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Scientology’s PR. Something isn’t working, despite their high number of celebrity followers.

The PR Takeaway: Act and sound like you are at one with your name. The PR problem of the Church of Scientology is that it so rarely, from a PR perspective, behaves like a church. Where are the selfless acts of charity and good will that characterize the work of many other churches and religious orders? In tone and profile, the Church of Scientology sounds more like an aggressive corporation protecting brand and market share rather than a church. Why not be a little….well, church-ier?  It could be the strategy shift needed as the TomKat divorce places the organization back in the headlines.

Bob Diamond: Was It Something I Said?

BobDiamondresignation 300x194 Bob Diamond: Was It Something I Said?

The PR Verdict:”F” (Full Fiasco) for Bob Diamond, resigning CEO of Barclays.

One down and another just gone. Monday morning saw the resignation of Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius, following news of the Libor rate scandal. “The buck stops here” Agius said.  Exit stage right.  Oddly enough, his number two, CEO Bob Diamond, remained standing. By Tuesday, Diamond’s resignation had been accepted.

Up until then, Diamond apparently felt the buck didn’t really stop with him. While suitably contrite, with public apologies and regrets that made it clear that rate fixing failed to meet Barclays’ standards, there was no hint of a resignation. Hell no! Dismissing any suggestion that he was about to lose his position, Diamond told the media he wasn’t going anywhere. Two days later, he was out of a job.

Diamond’s headstrong comments over the weekend pushed forward the likelihood of a resignation. After all, if the Chairman had resigned, why didn’t the CEO, who is in charge of day-to-day business? Given that Diamond has previously fought PR clouds over his compensation and autocratic style, this unlucky third strike was bound to have him preparing the cardboard box for his belongings.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Bob Diamond. Telling the media and staff he had no intention of leaving his post wasn’t his call. An oddly cavalier declaration when his Chairman had decided to take his public lumps.

PR Takeaway: Is it the role of a CEO to decide if he should keep his job or not?  Remember, each person is only a guest in his or her position, and the invitation can be pulled at any time. Better to have deferred the issue to the Board and say that the matter of continued service was a decision for them. Diamond unwittingly gave everyone from the UK Prime Minister on down the opportunity to cry foul. With little incentive for powerful stakeholders to come out in support of Diamond’s tenure, his remaining days were nothing more than a countdown to the inevitable.

Should Agius and Diamond have resigned simultaneously? Would that have been the better PR tactic? Give us your PR Verdict below.

We will be back July 5 with a new PRV. Happy July 4 to all our readers


JP Morgan: We Told You So

told you so JP Morgan: We Told You So

The PR Verdict: “A” for CtW - "We told you so."

“We told you so “ seems to be the key message from the CtW Investment Group to JP Morgan.  CtW, a shareholder representing union funds, claims it was concerned over 12 months ago at what it saw as “lax and out dated” risk management controls at JP Morgan.  Those concerns were laid out to senior management. But then, oops, a year later, the storied financial institution announced a trading loss of over $2 billion and a market value drop of more than $25 billion.

CtW wins the PR prize. The Executive Director of the group told the NY Times that it had expressed its concerns to a JPM board member and the former Chief Risk Officer.  The main complaint?  That the three-person board responsible for monitoring overall risk lacked the necessary expertise to oversee the function.

CtW says that ultimately the problem reflected an overall unhealthy deference to CEO Jamie Dimon and his Chief Risk Officer.  With this sentiment resonating with pundits, it seems the party is well and truly over for banking’s favorite CEO.

The PR Verdict:  “A” (Gold Star!) for CtW, punching above its weight. By saying “we told you so” they look like the smartest ones in the room.

PR Takeaway:  Capitalize on every PR opportunity.  By coming out with these revelations now, CtW claims the upper hand and grabs the PR advantage.  Describing JP Morgan as having an “old fashioned model of governance”,  CtW legitimately puts itself at the forefront of the reforms JP Morgan will be announcing.  While it’s an uncomfortable place for JP Morgan, it’s a great place for CtW and its public profile.

To read more, click here.



What To Say When Sued?

ELLENPAO What To Say When Sued?

PR Verdict: “C” for venture capital firm Kleiner and its handling of Ellen Pao's lawsuit.

What’s the wisest thing to say when being sued? That must have been the question Silicon Valley’s favourite venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers asked itself when recently probed about its sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit.  “We will defend ourselves vigorously” was its unimaginative statement to the media.  Ho hum at best.

The NY Times has taken up the pending case of Ellen Pao a junior partner at the firm, hired several years ago to work as Chief of Staff to one of the firm’s higher ups.  Trouble started brewing when another junior partner made sexual advances to her.  She consented a couple of times and then, as they say in the movies, she called the whole thing off.  The claim alleges that as a result of ending the relationship, her thwarted paramour started a five-year campaign of retaliation.

The filing alleges systemic discrimination against Pao and other women, including poorer pay than her male counterparts and the distribution of less lucrative investment opportunities to women in the firm, while juicy assignments go to male colleagues.  In brief the main complaint is that the firm fails to give women the full range of opportunities to be successful.  Presumably this is not the sort of publicity that Silicon Valley’s leading venture capital firm wants or needs?

The PR Verdict: “C” for Kleiner and its handling of this story.  Wasn’t there an opportunity to go further than the standard PR response?

The PR Takeaway:  The power of the archive is strong.  The firm, even if it settles on undisclosed terms, now has a major article in the internet archive that raises many questions. True the article did draw attention to it having more female partners than peers  but being more vocal in defense of the firm might have been a better tactic.  A female partner defended the firm saying  “I was drawn to the firm because of its diversity and have excelled here as have other women. …Everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed”.   Why not say the same thing from a corporate point of view and come out in the media as strongly as the defense planned for the courtroom?  What would have been the harm done?

To read more click here.

What Did Donatella Say At The Oxford Union?

donatella What Did Donatella Say At The Oxford Union?

The PR Verdict: “A” for Donatella.

How do you make someone into an icon? How about asking Donatella Versace?  Despite her sometimes derisory press she seems to know a thing or two about PR and out-lasting most.  The 57-year-old designer and sister of deceased designer Gianni, addressed 330 students at Oxford University this week.  Billed as a ‘conversation’ about style, she was joined by acting chum Rupert Everett and others at the Oxford Union.

Addressing the students, she referred to her old Alma mater the University of Florence  and her surprise at now, many years later, speaking at Oxford University.  “My class mates from back then would be very amused to see me at Oxford today.  And I’m sure there will be others who will be astonished to find me addressing the Union.  But maybe I can surprise a few people?”

Turning up at the Union with her characteristic ice blond hair, copper tan and bumble bee lips, she was dressed in a black, leather studded dress, giving the crowd what they came to see.  She didn’t disappoint.  Mentioning that she would like to dress the Queen one day (in black) she unintentionally highlighted the irony that both women share more than they realize.  Neither of their public personas have changed in twenty years.

The PR Verdict: “A” for Donatella.  She knows how not  to disappoint.  Consistency is what creates a brand and a following.

PR Takeaway: Consistency means you don’t surprise and disappoint your followers.  Donatella’s branding and PR is so successful because it so rarely surprises.  Saying little of any substance but giving the public what it wants is the reason she continues to be invited and feted.   Pass the spray tan.

To read more click here.


Is it Embarrassing to be a Friend of Donald Trump?

romney trump 460x307 300x200 Is it Embarrassing to be a Friend of Donald Trump?

The PR verdict: “C” for Team Romney doing its best to keep Trump at a polite distance.

Is it embarrassing to be a friend of Donald Trump? That must be the question the Romney campaign is currently pondering.  Instead of dominating the airwaves with his victory in the Texan primary, Mitt Romney found himself in the uncomfortable position yesterday of responding to questions about his pal Donald Trump while both were on stage at a Las Vegas fundraiser.

“The Donald” resurrected yesterday the now widely discredited red herring that the President was not born in the United States.  Before appearing with Romney at the fundraiser, The Donald took to the airwaves and told CNN “a lot of people don’t think it was an authentic (birth) certificate.”  Sounding like a conspiracy theorist claiming the lunar landing never happened, he added, “CNN won’t report it but many people do not believe it was authentic.”

Trump just raised over $600,00 for Romney and is now working on another $300,000.  His fund raising efforts clearly matter but Trump’s ongoing nuttiness about Obama’s birth certificate could potentially blow Romney’s campaign off course. Conservative columnist George Will described Trump as a “bloviating ignoramus” on weekend television while Romney supporters are wondering what the Trump association serves, with one commenting in yesterday’s NY times, “once you get past Trump’s hair there is no substance.”

The PR verdict: “C” for Team Romney doing its best to keep Trump at a polite distance.  Romney via his team has said he has no issue with the President’s birthplace.  Further cold shouldering might bring the Donald into line.

PR Takeaway:  “Cold and Dignified” is sometimes the best PR approach.  Avoiding photo ops with The Donald and giving only strictly timed sound bites with the self styled mogul is a good idea.  To dilute appearances of a close friendship, insist next time that any appearance with Romney and the Donald includes other celebrity supporters being interviewed at the same time.  While The Donald’s fundraising helps, a close PR association doesn’t.  This is one case where some polite distance is called for.

To read more click here

Irving Picard’s Pricey Pickle Post Madoff

Irvingpicard1 300x159 Irving Picards Pricey Pickle Post Madoff

The PR Verdict: “C” for Irving Picard.

Irving Picard is in a pickle.  The trustee seeking to recover funds for victims of Bernard Madoff is caught in his own headlines.  How much has been repaid to bilked investors so far?  Around $330 million.  And how much has been charged in legal fees by the trustee (ie Picard) to return that sum? Why  since you asked, around $544 million.  What a pricey pickle!

Eyebrows are being raised that Picard has been more successful at collecting fees for himself and chummy colleagues than returning money to investors.  The NY Times yesterday claimed that though settlement deals totaling $9 billion have been reached, only $330 million has been paid out.  The vast bulk remains tied up in endless court challenges.

Picard declined to be interviewed. His spokeswoman pointed out that so far he has recovered over $7 million a day for cheated investors.  Nice one but let’s face it, rather theoretical until the monies are paid out.  In any case, went the response, the legal fees are drawn from a fund provided by the securities industry to pay for precisely this sort of thing.  Bottom line? The money doesn’t come from recovered Madoff funds.  The securities industry is paying trustee Picard’s fees.

The PR Verdict: “C” for Irving Picard.  Is there a cheaper way to do this? With over $500 million in fees no explanation sounds particularly convincing but adding mitigating factors and some context helped.

PR Takeaway:  When things look bad, add context.  Yes the fees are large but they are paid out of  a fund provided by the securities industry to cover precisely this sort of issue.  Claiming $7 million a day has been recouped for Madoff investors is a nice headline – even if most of it is still held up in the courts and unpaid. Next time why not talk about the other side? Mention was made by Picard’s PR of the relentless attacks by “opposing law firms and their clients with deep pockets.”   A few more metrics to describe the squadrons of lawyers assigned to oppose settlements might have bolstered the only credible defense; firepower is needed to beat firepower.

To read more click here

The Pet Whisperer of Park Avenue

berman The Pet Whisperer of Park Avenue

The PR Verdict: “B” for Dr Berman and his PR Profile.

The latest edition of Town and Country magazine includes a profile of the apparently famous Park Avenue veterinarian, Lewis Berman, DVM.  Described as the preferred confidant of Manhattan’s “elite dogs and cats for more than fifty years” the magazine enthuses that “pets and their owners both seem to look forward to visits with Dr Berman”.

For more than fifty years, Dr Berman has looked after the pets of the boldest of bold-faced names.  Andy Warhol had a dachshund called Amos, Lauren Bacall a King Charles Spaniel while the Shah of Iran had a Great Dane.  Writer Lillian Hellman was more devoted to her French poodle than other people.  “She didn’t like people that much”, he offers.

The lengthy interview talks of his early days in the business as well as his family and charitable causes.  Described puzzlingly in the article as “having a pleasing attractive face with unremarkable unexaggerated features” the article reads like a prelude to something bigger.  Is a book, TV program or franchise in the offing?

The PR Verdict: “B” for Dr Berman and his PR Profile.  We may be cynical but was the ground being laid for stage two of a publicity drive? All the ingredients were there but in the end no clue was given.

PR Takeaway: Credibility is key to building a professional profile.  Dr Berman seems to have mastered the art, even if unintentionally.  Positioning himself as the dog and cat whisperer to Manhattan’s elite, he struck the right note of experience, wisdom and geniality.  Even if Dr Berman doesn’t intend to start his own franchise, create a shampoo line or launch a DVD/book on pet care, the article might flush out interested buyers of the business, if he is tempted that is.

The article is not available online. Print edition only. For a link to Town and Country click here.



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The PR Verdict: “A” for the Vatican's Chief Exorcist.

Father Amorth, Head Exorcist at the Vatican (yes really), has hit the headlines.  He has shed scandalous light on a long running mystery concerning the unsolved disappearance of a fifteen-year-old in Rome, Italy during the 1980s.  Speaking to the Italian media he alleged yesterday that schoolgirl Emanuela Orlandi, a name well known in Italy, was kidnapped three decades ago, murdered and her body disposed of by officials who worked for embassies to the Vatican.

But wait, Father Gabriele Amorth, who is also the the honorary president of the International Association of Exorcists  (yes REALLY!) says the disappearance of the  young girl was a “crime with a sexual motive”.  He claims she was most probably kidnapped and forced to take part in sex parties.  Based on recent findings from a mysterious Vatican archivist he says, “…parties were organized, with a Vatican gendarme acting as the ‘recruiter’ of the girls.  The network involved diplomatic personnel from a foreign embassy to the Holy See.  I believe Emanuela ended up a victim of this circle,” he told Italian media.

Father Amorth, aged 85 is no stranger to controversy.  Previously he has described yoga as satanic, because it leads to the worship of Hinduism.  Ever vigilant he has also warned against the dangers of Harry Potter novels, urging caution as the texts encourage children to experiment with black magic and wizardry. The reasons he has turned his attention to solving murder mysteries is unclear but oh boy, he always gets his headlines.

The PR Verdict: “A” for Father Amorth and a well managed media hit almost entirely devoid of content. Is the mystery any closer to be solved or could the Vatican’s chief exorcist be a fame junkie?

PR TAKEAWAY:  For the perfect media storm: throw together key words and let the content look after itself.   Is there anything sexier than words that include; sex scandal, sex parties, murder, foreign officials and yes, the Vatican?  When these words come from the Vatican’s “Chief Exorcist” headlines are guaranteed. Content is a little trickier though and despite the rather sensational claims it is not obvious that this mystery will be solved anytime soon. This is one case where a little content has gone a long way. Could higher powers be at work?

To read more click here and here.

The PR Verdict returns on Tuesday, after the Memorial Day Weekend.



Justin Bieber and Dinner with Mommie

justin bieber 02 300x207 Justin Bieber and Dinner with Mommie

The PR Verdict: “F” for Justin Bieber.

Does anyone, apart from pubescent teenage girls, find Justin Bieber even vaguely interesting?  Not really, might be the inevitable response.  While the 18-year-old singer continues to enjoy extraordinary popularity in his target demographic, his PR minders have obviously been wondering if they should explore further afield.  Cue an interview in the latest edition of GQ Magazine.

On paper the interview made complete sense.  How can we make Justin seem more interesting to another demographic? Why not young(ish), fashion conscious men who might want to hear more about him?  “How about a sit down interview with GQ?” must have been the excitement at the morning meeting.  Let’s see what we can arrange!

Bieber did the interview.  Nice enough. But the bad news is that it did nothing more than reinforce his image as a young kid, taken by surprise by his own success.  GQ describes him as ‘ a very small human being’ who resembles the Star Wars super hero Luke Skywalker,   “if he had his own perfume line”.  The interview was finally completed, after having been rearranged multiple times to squeeze in dinner with his mommie.

The PR Verdict:  “F” for a failed strategy.  It will take more than an interview with GQ to make him into the bad boy of music.  And next time don’t mention dinner with mommie.

PR TAKEAWAY:  Give a journalist something new to write about, otherwise the default content will be what has been written already.   This was an interview searching for a subject matter.  Bieber (all of 18) was unable to identify a cause, issue or romantic interest that would takes his profile to the Mickey Rourke or Sean Penn level.  GQ concluded the interview by opining that for Bieber “manhood can wait”.   Sadly , this interview was at best five years too early.

To read the interview click here.