Belize Tourist Board Breaks Bad

 Belize Tourist Board Breaks Bad

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Belize Tourism Board and Olson ad agency.

Last week, millions of Americans sat enthralled by one of the final episodes of Breaking Bad, the award-winning TV series about a chemistry teacher-turned-drug kingpin. As the episode unfolded, a potential slam became a golden opportunity for the country of Belize.

In the episode, drug lord Walter White is discussing with his consigliere ways to deal with someone who knows too much about White’s line of work. The lawyer asks White if he’s considered sending the individual in question “on a trip to Belize,” referring to a similar, previous problem in which the person, who was murdered, was said to have moved to the Central American nation. White retorts, “I’ll send you to Belize!” The phrase swiftly became one of the top five memes on the Internet – and an unexpected boon for Belize.

The Belize Tourist Board was on it like sand on a tourist’s toes. Their advertising agency, Olson, quickly crafted an ad that offered a free trip to show’s cast and creator, using clever inside references that delighted the show’s many fans. As ADWEEK noted, the country “took the reference in stride and is out to prove that a visit to Belize isn’t, in fact, a one-way trip to oblivion.”

The cute gimmick generated more headlines than Belize has probably received at any one time in history. It also represented some canny thinking by a small country that competes for its tourism dollars with larger and more easily reached neighbors like Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Peru. Instead of being offended by the connotation, they turned the reference into tourism gold.

THE PR VERDICT:  “A” (PR Perfect) for the Belize Tourism Board and ad agency Olson, for taking a potentially unflattering catchphrase and turning it into a golden PR opportunity.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Seize unorthodox ways to call attention to your business, especially when raising marketing dollars is a challenge. Belize could have taken a conservative view and balked at promoting itself in this case; the phrase is, after all, a euphemism for murder. Instead, savvy marketing minds saw a unique and cost-effective opportunity to introduce their country to a demographic likely to appreciate what it has to offer. The result? They’re likely to make a killing.

The Vatican Joins the World’s Conversation

Pope tweets 150x150 The Vatican Joins the Worlds Conversation

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to the Vatican for an image overhaul now underway.

Since Pope Francis’s appointment, the Pontiff has issued more than 30 tweets. Is it  proof that the Vatican’s unofficial PR makeover is underway? Instead of taking clearly dogmatic and non-negotiable stands on established issues, the Vatican, it seems, is adopting a different tone and is joining new conversations. Some of them are raising eyebrows, with the latest being the most controversial: economic justice.

The Pontiff’s latest tweet took aim at corporations, blaming them for rampant unemployment rates throughout the world. “My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centered mindset bent on profit at any cost,” tweeted the Pope. This followed his earlier tweet criticizing the labor conditions at the Bangladesh factory building that collapsed and killed hundreds of people. As the Twitterverse built on the discussion, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, was asked about the papal tweet at a news conference. “We are . . . frustrated, yes, certainly,” he said.

Suddenly, the Vatican is in the news for different reasons – talking about what’s already in the news instead of driving its own agenda. After ten years of terrible publicity concerning child abuse and accusations of irrelevancy to the modern age, the PR conversation is changing.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to the Vatican for an image overhaul now underway.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Rather than failing to start your own conversation, join an existing one. For ten years, the PR concerning the Vatican has been focused on four hot button issues: abortion, ordination of women, gay rights, and child sex abuse at the hands of clergy. All polarizing, and all laying the church open to the oft-made claim that it is out of touch and irrelevant. A decade of bad publicity has taken its toll, but with the latest tweets, an important repositioning is taking place. The Vatican is now joining the conversation that everybody else is already in, and as it does so, its relevance increases – along with a Twitterverse of future PR opportunities and listeners.

 

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 French authorities for pursuing criminal charges against those responsible for last year’s topless photos of Kate Middleton. The photos, which not only infuriated the Royals but also privacy advocates, were taken from afar, then published in French magazine Closer, owned by Mondadori, and eventually in several other European publications. If convicted, Mondadori CEO Ernesto Mauri and the as-yet-unnamed photographer could spend up to a year in jail, be forced to cease business for five years, and/or face a fine of 45,000 euros. Yes, this may be a little over the top, but given the long term abuses of the tabloids (as seen in the hacking scandals in the UK), the charges send an unmistakable message: Invasions of privacy will not be tolerated ici.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to KPMG Chairman Michael Andrew, who told the Financial Times that a recent insider-trading scandal involving a former partner was a ”one-day wonder” that generated coverage only because it was a “slow news week.” We love keeping calm and carrying on, but in cases like this, too much sang-froid just looks downright careless. If JP Morgan regrets CEO Jamie Dimon’s comments about a “tempest in a teacup” regarding the $6 billion London Whale trading loss, then Andrew’s equally cavalier comments may end up haunting him. In the new age of corporate contrition, this was a misstep. Both clients and staff must have been wondering: What was he thinking?

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO the George W. Bush Library dedication ceremony. Timing is everything, and whether this was a good week or a bad one to dedicate the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum was debatable. The event was a patriotic photo op for sure, with all five living presidents – Bush father and son, Carter, Clinton, and Obama – there to open the center. But the same event was candy for detractors, who pondered whether the Bush legacy of war and financial foundation for the recession was grounds for commemoration, and if a library was really the most apt choice for Dubya. Considering the past two weeks of North Korean missiles at the ready, ricin-laced letters to politicians, and a terrorist attack in Boston, this celebratory move seemed somewhat oddly timed.

 

 

Witherspoon’s Withering PR Moment

 Witherspoons Withering PR Moment

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Reese Witherspoon, from arrest to partial apology.

The producers of the new film Mud, starring Reese Witherspoon, were probably hoping for publicity of a different sort for this week’s premiere. Instead of hitting the talk show circuit as planned, Witherspoon made the front pages after being arrested outside Atlanta for boozily mouthing off to a Georgia state trooper.

The officer had pulled over the actress and her husband, Hollywood agent Jim Toth, after seeing Toth driving erratically. As Toth was being arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, Witherspoon became unruly, belittling the trooper, refusing to stay in the car, and pulling out the classic ill-advised celebrity line: “Do you know who I am?”  She was taken away in handcuffs, charged with disorderly conduct, and spent the night in jail.

What an embarrassment for Witherspoon, an actress of the American Sweetheart variety with now-punchline ironic credits such as Walk the Line and Legally Blonde. As a 37-year-old mother of three, she can’t claim youthful indiscretion for this performance. Witherspoon canceled several scheduled appearances to promote her latest movie and issued an apology through her publicist.

Conspicuous by its absence in Witherspoon’s mea culpa, though, was a lack of acknowledgement of the seriousness of her and her husband’s alleged actions. The truly problematic issue here isn’t the disorderly conduct charge, but the couple getting into a car allegedly – and in her case admittedly – intoxicated. “Friends” like E! Host Chelsea Handler downplaying the incident didn’t improve on the situation. Given the broader implications of the arrests, Handler and others would do well to steer clear of this mess.

THE PR VERDICT:  “F” (Full Fiasco) for Reese Witherspoon, from the arrest to the partial apology.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Note to celebrities: Sometimes it’s not all about you. Throughout this unfortunate episode, Witherspoon doesn’t appear to have thought about anyone else besides herself and her husband. Though she may be under a legal directive to say little given the pending criminal charges, one hopes her image rehab will involve admitting their lack of judgment and perhaps taking a visible stand against drunk driving. Fortunately for the tipsy couple – and everyone else on the road – the only damage done here was on the PR front.

A Sweeter Apple?

 A Sweeter Apple?

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Apple’s apology to Chinese customers.

What a difference a CEO makes. The change in Apple Inc.’s executive suite was evident this week when the company posted a fulsome apology from CEO Tim Cook on the Apple China web site. Apple, it seems, was not properly responding to complaints about its warranty and repair programs, prompting the Chinese government and state-run media to launch a fortnight of blistering criticism. In Cook’s mea culpa, which ran 12,000 Chinese characters (about 800 words), he apologized for appearing arrogant and outlined several changes the company will be making in China.

This is the second time in recent months that Cook has taken the higher road. Last September, he acknowledged the failure of Apple Maps, a cartographic catastrophe so inaccurate it stranded several iPhone users in an Australian desert wasteland with no food or water for more than 24 hours.

The softer approach is a departure from that of Apple co-founder and longtime leader Steve Jobs, who was called egotistical as often as brilliant. When customers complained in 2010 that holding the iPhone at a certain angle obliterated reception, Jobs snapped “Just avoid holding it that way” before eventually, begrudgingly, apologizing and giving away free cases.

Apple’s most recent apology seems to be smart. China is Apple’s second biggest market today and, as Cook told state-run Xinhua news agency in January, he believes it will become its first. All the more reason to keep customers extremely happy.

THE PR VERDICT:  “C” (Distinctly OK) for Apple. While the apology was the right move, it came two weeks into a negative PR blitz. It will be interesting to see if Apple sales in China have been affected.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Markets change, and so must marketing strategies. Part of Apple’s early allure was that its groundbreaking technologies and higher pricetags created an air of exclusivity; the attitude that occasionally exuded from leadership contributed to the appeal. Today, however, the competitive landscape is much more crowded, and Apple can’t afford to alienate buyers in such fertile ground as China. An apology today helps pave the way for a bigger footprint tomorrow.

Another Bad Week for “Today” Show

 Another Bad Week for Today Show

is THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Today Show publicists.

There hasn’t been a truly good morning for NBC’s Today Show in months. Ratings have been slipping steadily, advertising millions have been lost, and the media seems not to tire of reporting both. Then, this past week, a behind-the-scenes feature in New York Magazine threw a harsh glare on the morning show’s troubles.

For PRs reading the article, the dilemma becomes apparent quickly: grant access to a reporter who is starting from a negative place, or refuse access, knowing the story will be written anyway? In this case, access was granted and control of some sort established via the presence of two PRs in the interview with Today heavy hitters.

One can only imagine the amount of prepping the PRs did with hosts Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker, Natalie Morales, and, in particular, Matt Lauer. He has been in the media’s sights, portrayed as the architect of former co-anchor Ann Curry’s ouster, and everything from the cornerstone of the program to a controlling tyrant. Also last week, a former Today Show intern tweeted that Lauer was “not so nice,” and a story circulated that co-host Guthrie gave Lauer the finger after he teased her on set. Access or not, Today‘s negative press is turning into a bad dream the show’s PRs can’t wake up from.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Today Show publicists. Damage control is being handled, but with the issue of falling ratings and whispers of host changes, PR options are limited.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Choose battles carefully, and know when to fight. Negative press was inevitable due to the ratings slide, the revelation of Lauer’s negotiations with rival network ABC, and Curry’s awkward departure. In this case what was needed was new news to change the conversation. This article might have begun the turnaround that Today needs, but in the absence of a big bright idea, sometimes a PR just has to hope things look better tomorrow.

To read the New York Magazine article, click here.

Taylor Not a Swift Seller for Magazines

 Taylor Not a Swift Seller for Magazines

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift is one of the biggest pop sensations ever, so that should translate to huge sales for the magazines that put her on their covers, right? The swift answer: no. Or, in the parlance of Swift’s teenaged fans: Like, totally nuh-uh.

Swift released a new album, Red, last fall and magazine bookers were working overtime. Swift, who is 23, has a fan base in their teens, but that didn’t mean she’d only rate the cover of Teen Vogue. No, her bookings included Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, and Elle, all in the space of one year, while her cover for Vanity Fair – whose demographic generally skews older than the parents of Swift’s fans – is out this month.

Swift Glamour1 150x150 Taylor Not a Swift Seller for MagazinesSo how did this multi-platinum selling artist perform for magazine sales? She sold reasonably well for Glamour (at left), okay for Vogue (above) and Bazaar, and, perhaps most surprisingly, made a terrible showing for Cosmo: the worst-selling cover for 2012 (below). Possible explanation? Swift is mightily overexposed in all media. It’s a knee-jerk reaction for PRs to book as many covers as possible.

 

 Taylor Not a Swift Seller for Magazines

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Taylor Swift’s PR machine. Mainstream covers are good for both star and publication…except when the mag numbers turn out to be poor.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: The all-you-can-eat buffet does have its price. It’s great to have a star that every magazine wants on its cover, but should PRs say yes to every offer? While Swift’s PRs presumably enjoyed credit for booking “mainstream” covers, they now have to contend with the negative press that comes with the revelations that she was a worst-seller. Plum bookings in the future may be harder to come by. Next time, all parties should consider a celebrity’s fan base, and act accordingly – or face Swift retribution.

Vatican Can’t Stop PR Woes

 Vatican Cant Stop PR Woes

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Vatican.

What could be in the Vatican dossier? That is the question on the media’s collective mind as rumors continue about the contents of the 300-page dossier complied by Vatican officials into the Vati-leaks scandal. What is already well known is that the report details an underground network of gay clergy, allegedly blackmailed by a rival faction within (or possibly outside) the Vatican. Throw alleged nefarious dealings with the Vatican Bank into the mix, and no wonder the recently resigned Pope has a PR headache larger than his ceremonial headdress.

The upshot? Rumors abound that the Pope resigned not due to failing health, but because the repercussions of the recently complied dossier are so damaging he thought it better to return to a life of isolated prayer. Not true, says a Vatican spokesperson, who has vehemently denied media reports, claiming they are “unverified, unverifiable, or completely false.”

Meanwhile, the Vatican is hurriedly making changes to its top management. It announced a new head of the Vatican Bank and moved one of the bank’s former heads to a new unrelated role. Vatican PR says these changes are unconnected with the dossier and is accusing the media of trying to discredit the church and its government. No one can say for sure, but if the Vatican was a publicly traded company, its stock would now be at all time low.

THE PR VERDICT: “F”(Full Fiasco) for a woeful week for the Vatican.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Start from the beginning. From the moment Pope Benedict said I quit, Vatican PR has been fighting an uphill battle. Conceding that his sudden resignation was a surprise, Vatican PR immediately created fertile ground for rumor and speculation. When a company changes management and chooses a new CEO, there is usually a plan in place to help the transition look seamless and unremarkable to the outside world, no matter what went on behind closed boardroom doors. What happened here, at one of the world’s oldest organizations? That’s as mysterious as the contents of the dossier, but for the Vatican, the problems look set to multiply like loaves and fishes.

Poisonous PR Sound Bites of 2012

Who gave the most disastrous sound bite of 2012? While  the snappy, clever phrase is the dream of every publicist and journalist, life doesn’t always go along with the plan. As we look back at the year in PR and media, we present four of the deadliest quotes of 2012. In each case, silence would have been golden.

2013 romney 150x150 Poisonous PR Sound Bites of 2012Mitt Romney and the now notorious “47 percent. Filmed secretly at a fundraiser, the Presidential candidate gave the nuclear sound bite that boomeranged back. Whatever the context, the media wouldn’t let anyone forget that Romney was referring to a very substantial part of the electorate. From then on, it was an uphill PR climb for Romney, his campaign permanently on the defensive until its conclusion. What a difference a percentage can make!

 

 Poisonous PR Sound Bites of 2012Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, for his reference to a trading loss he airily dismissed as a “tempest in a teacup.” As the losses continued and wiped $14 billion off the market value of JPMorgan, his bravado seemed increasingly misplaced.

 

 

2013 bobdiamond 150x150 Poisonous PR Sound Bites of 2012Then again, it’s a tough call between Jamie Dimon and Bob Diamond, CEO Of UK banking giant Barclays. Speaking at a Parliamentary enquiry into Liborgate, Bob Diamond proclaimed, “The time for apologies is over.” But as the LIBOR scandal continues to claim more scalps, including his own, and fresh allegations of money laundering and sanction-breaking by some of the worlds biggest banks emerges, Diamond’s words now seem laughably misjudged. In the public mind, the time for apologies has just begun.

 

2013toddakin 150x150 Poisonous PR Sound Bites of 2012Todd Aikin and “Legitimate rape.” A sound bite that will survive way beyond the 2012 election, this phrase was regrettably coined by Akin, a Republican member of Congress and long time anti-abortion advocate. In an interview, he claimed that victims of what he described as “legitimate rape” rarely become pregnant as the “female body has ways to try to shut down that whole thing down.” Bipartisan jaws dropped in unison, and an entirely predictable firestorm ensued. Akin backpedalled, apologized, and sought to explain. “Out of context” was his initial defense, “a poor choice of words” came later, but the damage was done. He ultimately lost his seat and remains partly blamed for helping move electoral sentiment in the opposing direction.

 

 

 

The Tory Burch Story

tory burch3 150x150 The Tory Burch Story

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Tory Burch Story.

Tory Burch is one of  NY fashion’s undisputed darlings. The immaculately presented blonde, previously on the New York social scene, now presides over a $2 billion fashion business with over 2000 employees. The former PR copywriter from Ralph Lauren has carved out an exceptional fashion niche. The media asks on a regular basis; How has Tory done it?

WSJ magazine, the monthly supplement from the Wall Street Journal just gave its readers an insight. Featured in this month’s “Tracked” column readers were whisked through a day in the life of the fashion entrepreneur. Described as the “designer that turned a tiny line started in her kitchen,”she now presides over a “sprawling empire with an unfaltering smile”.

The article traces Tory’s busy 18-hour day while faithfully returning to previously publicised PR messaging. The main points? Tory started this enterprise on a kitchen table. She is not a trained designer. This is a family business, first and foremost. (Why even the needlepoint pillows are stitched by Tory and her parents.)  The PR narrative never changes and even the WSJ describes the designer’s day as “a maddening lesson in maintaining perfect deportment.” Nothing interrupts the flow. The PR message  is always ON even if some of the details might warrant closer scrutiny.

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Tory Burch Story.  The PR narrative never changes.

The PR Takeaway: Create your branded narrative and stick to it.  The Tory Burch PR story can’t help but impress and make for great magazine coverage.  But some cynics might claim that some noteworthy details are often overlooked. Yes the business may have been started on a kitchen table but  the kitchen table was equally owned by her husband at the time, a leading venture capital investor with experience in the fashion industry. Small details maybe, but while fashions change, Tory’s PR narrative stays the same and her brand inevitably strengthens.

To read the article click here.