Why Mayor’s Drug Denial Won’t Crack Interest

 Why Mayors Drug Denial Wont Crack Interest

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Toronto, Canada Mayor Rob Ford.

Exciting times! This past Friday, Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto, issued a statement to the media denying that he is a crack addict. “I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine,” he said in a surprisingly terse statement to the media. Only this, after a week full of allegations and speculation concerning a video that allegedly shows Ford smoking crack and dissing his political opponents. A busy time for the Mayor’s press office, to be sure.

The Toronto Star and Gawker.com both claimed to have seen the video and confirmed that the star of the show was none other than Mayor Ford. The video, which no one else has seen, was being hawked by drug dealers for $200,000. Gawker promptly started a fundraising drive amongst readers and raised close to $180,000 (a sure sign that the recession is over). Alas, the dealers have vanished. Drug dealers not good to their word? What is this world coming to…

Meanwhile, Friday’s denial from Ford, however robust, failed to put the story to rest. The weekend media was full of more lurid, detailed allegations. His Honor repeated on a radio show – his brother’s – that this alleged video doesn’t exist, unwittingly adding that the media are a “bunch of  maggots.” That comment wasn’t likely to dim the spotlight on this story.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Mayor Rob Ford. This story is now officially out of control.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Deny, yes – and then follow up with an action plan. Why the Mayor of Toronto took over a week to respond to wildly circulating rumors remains unclear, but by the time he said something, simply denying he uses crack was not enough. The missing ingredients: an additional statement about being genuinely bewildered as to how this story has come about. Expressing astonishment that reputable news organizations are willing to pay acknowledged drug dealers for an unverified video. And confirmation that he intended to refer the matter to the police. Without these important components to a successful deflection,  Toronto’s citizens will inevitably stay tuned.

David Cameron’s Great Expectations

 David Camerons Great Expectations

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a speech promising to hold a referendum on Britain’s future in the EU by 2017. By then, he said, his government would be able to work with its European partners on reforms towards his vision of a better EU – in his words, more flexible, more adaptable, more open. At that point, he proposed, Brits should decide to stay in or get out.

The speech itself was direct, upfront, thoughtful, and inclusive.  It was passionate where appropriate, describing the UK approach as “practical rather than emotional.” There were concessions for every interest group: sufficient criticism to please at home, but nothing so deeply offensive as to justify open outrage by powerful partners abroad. No obvious blunders, no mistakes; just smart speechwriting at its best.

Although debatable that the “EU issue” was  top-of-mind for British people, they will now rightly expect their government to get it resolved. Was Cameron’s tactic to appease the conservative UK press and the euro-sceptics in his own party? If so, did it buy him time to focus on more important issues, or has he seriously jeopardized his political future? From a communications perspective, he opened up not one but many Pandora’s boxes and inspired a myriad of expectations. Was this the intention?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for David Cameron. Be wary of creating expectations that you may not want to meet.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Only promise what you can deliver. Communicating always involves creating and managing expectations, and in complex situations, different stakeholders’ expectations inevitably diverge. Even if the public pressure is almost unbearable (and it seems it wasn’t in this case) controversy is almost never resolved by creating new expectations. When you can’t control expecations and aren’t certain of the outcome, then it’s usually the most vocal who demand their stance be taken. This is one speech Cameron may come to regret.

 

 

 

Murdoch, Think Before You Tweet!

 Murdoch, Think Before You Tweet!

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Rupert Murdoch.

When it comes to controversial tweets or scandalous emails, one of the more predictable cries from the media is to ask, what was this person thinking? Every smarty-pants commentator let’s us know: Nothing is private, all is public. Don’t write it if you don’t want it on the front page.

Apparently, media mogul Rupert Murdoch hasn’t been listening; he just learned his humiliating lesson in the world of social media the hard way. His Twitter followers were presumably puzzled by his Tweet this past Sunday that accused the “Jewish owned press” of favoring Gaza over Israel in news coverage concerning the latest military action. He asked his followers, which number over 360,000, “Why is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?”

Immediately, the commentators were wondering who could Rupert have been referring to. In previous Tweets, Murdoch complained of  “CNN and AP bias to point of embarrassment.” But as neither are “Jewish owned,” the comments seemed genuinely confusing. The wider consensus is that The New York Times, his US foe in the newspaper world, was the target. But the mystery now looks like it will never be solved.  Murdoch apologized unreservedly, describing his Tweet as “awkward and inappropriate,” adding he should not have brought in “irrelevant and incorrect ethnic matters.” Case closed.

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for one of the world’s leading media tycoons. However, it’s touching to realize that even a media mogul can get social media wrong.

The PR Takeaway: Press “pause” before “send.” The Murdoch incident is a flash in the PR pan, but it does show that even the most experienced media practitioners can get it very wrong. What’s obvious with the benefit of hindsight is sometimes not obvious at the time. Murdoch might want someone in his entourage to check Tweets before sending them; this is not a one-on-one conversation, after all. Take note, Wendi.

To read more, click here.

Putin Admits He’s a PR Poser

putinshirltess3 Putin Admits Hes a PR PoserYes, its true: Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, is guilty of staging absurd PR stunts. The world has always had its suspicions that Russia’s de-facto dictator was guilty of cynical media manipulation. Now none other than Putin himself has confirmed same… Which may be the most bizarre stunt he’s pulled yet.

The BBC recently reported that the nice version of Vladimir (not Vlad the Imprisoner of Pussy Riot) came clean to a journalist who previously suspected some of the presidential trips were nothing more than PR stunts and refused to cover them. Putin conceded that some of the stunts were staged, telling Bolshoi Gorod magazine, “Of course, there are excesses. And I’m annoyed about it,” he confided.

He was referring to news stories of him tagging whales, flying with Siberian cranes, and, most dramatically, saving a TV crew from a tiger. “The leopards were also my idea,” Putin added, referring to a photo op that had him fooling around with a rare snow leopard. Vlad kindly lets us know this was not a cynical PR exercise; on the contrary, he was doing this to draw attention to animals under threat. Apparently the President of Russia, commenting on the topic without an extravagantly staged photo, might have gone unnoticed.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Vladimir Putin and his PR confession. His reason doesn’t sound credible, nor do any of the other unmentioned PR shots of Russia’s President.

The PR Takeaway: PR is not a smorgasbord; you can’t  pick and choose what you want people to believe. By coming clean, Putin hoped that he would clear up a number of derisory rumors about his program of photo opps. His confession leaves unmentioned photo opps, including Vlad fly-fishing shirtless and Vlad recovering historic relics from the seas, as deeply unbelievable. To admit to staging some photos but implicitly expecting the public to believe others is wishful thinking.  Vladimir’s reputation as being an untrustworthy manipulator just got reconfirmed. Hardly smart Putin PR.

What’s your PR Verdict?  Read here for more.

 

 

Joan Juliet Passes the Buck on Vogue

 Joan Juliet Passes the Buck on Vogue

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Joan Juliet Buck.

Pity poor Joan Juliet Buck, Vogue stalwart and roving editor, who has come under intense scrutiny following her now infamous Vogue article on Asma Assad, wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad. Written and published shortly before civil war broke out, Buck’s glowing profile, entitled “A Rose in the Desert,”  now looks impossibly ill judged. History will remember Asma as the consort of a ruthless dictator, and Vogue as being on the wrong side of the story.

But now Buck is fighting back. Sick and tired of having her name ridiculed as the author of the ultimate PR puff piece, she has broken her silence and given her version of how the article came about. It seems her editors at Vogue  misinterpreted the Arab spring as a storm in a teacup, as did the rest of the world. Buck’s explanation makes compelling reading. Published on The DailyBeast with an accompanying broadcast interview, Buck portrays herself as a writer uneasy with what she has been tasked to do but who went on regardless.

The blame, it seems, lies in equal parts. Buck is very clear that politics and foreign relations were not her area of expertise. She writes that she visited Syria “and understood nothing.” Though not entirely seduced by her hosts and wary of phone taps and hacks into her laptop, she was more concerned with filing her story than exploring simmering discontent. Buck paid the price, with Vogue severing relations with her after more than twenty years.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) to Joan Juliet Buck for an insightful and fascinating read. She lets the facts speak for themselves. No one is covered in glory.

The PR Takeaway: In matters of setting the record straight, focus less on blame and more on letting facts speak for themselves. Buck has endured substantial personal and professional ridicule since her article was published. Her version of events is a thrilling read. She portions little blame but makes the point that it’s easy to be wise after the event. The Assads were visited by Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Sting, Angelina and Brad, and Francis Ford Coppola during their PR push. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; Buck’s reputation may not be so damaged after all.

 

Team Romney’s Big Kiss-Off

 Team Romneys Big Kiss Off

The PR Verdict: C (Distinctly OK) for Romney spokesperson Rick Gorka.

Rick Gorka, mind your manners. Gorka, Mitt Romney’s press spokesperson, is in the news for losing his temper on Romney’s already rather problematic foreign tour. Having generated negative headlines in the UK and in the Middle East, the Romney campaign now finds itself in the media spotlight again because Gorka, its spokesperson, told journalists to “kiss [his] a**” and “shove it.” Now, is that any way to behave–especially for a spokesperson?

On the other hand, who can blame him? This tour has not been the most wildly successful of trips. Gorka’s not-so-friendly advice to the press corps came after journalists fired questions from behind a rope. Reporters from the New York Times, CNN, and Politico.com yelled questions about Romney’s European gaffes, wanting Mitt to respond. Gorka, on his last nerve, told them exactly how he felt.

The media went wild, Mitt looked embarrassed, and Gorka made personal apologies to the journalists concerned the next day. Any harm done? Hard to say. Everyone has an off day, and if Gorka has media relationships worth anything, one might hope this will be forgiven. What seems the bigger issue is the media’s complaint about access to Mitt himself, and that might be worth a rethink.

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Rick Gorka. At least he said “sorry” quickly and turned the page, but is there a wider issue at play?

The PR Takeaway: Apologizing is the easy part. The persistent complaint from the media is that Romney has simply been unavailable for much of his grand tour. In this latest blowup, the journalist yelled at Gorka, “We haven’t had another chance to ask a question!” Since Romney’s tax issues put his PR team on alert, the media have been complaining about restricted access. Romney did not address members of the press flying with him on any of the three charter flights–two that lasted more than four hours. One sure way to annoy the media? Ignore them. And for that, Gorka may be apologizing for some time to come.

Stella McCartney’s Icy Olympic Tweet

 Stella McCartneys Icy Olympic Tweet

The PR Verdict: ”D” (PR Problematic) for Stella McCartney and her PR.

What was the PR advice given to designer Stella McCartney, creator of Team Great Britain’s podium outfits, as the opening of the Olympics got underway? As the Olympians went down the fashion runway, everyone watching had a point of view about each country’s sartorial expression. The Brits wore white and gold uniforms provided by clothing retailer Next, and not everyone was a fan.

The New York Times pronounced the uniforms “over the top.” Other commenters described the outfits as “somewhere between celestial beings and extras in a Jay-Z and Kanye West video.” Despite the unqualified success of the outstanding opening ceremony, some of the fashion press could’t resist a swipe. Presumably Stella McCartney didn’t want her clothing to be confused with those from Next; she designed the uniforms for the podium, not the opening. What to do?

Team McCartney dove into the world of social media and Tweeted, as the Brits’ uniform was unveiled, that Stella “designed the Team Great Britain performance kit, podium suit & village wear, not the Olympic ceremony suits.” Got that? Nothing to do with us, effectively read the message on Twitter. Her Tweet got more attention than it ever intended.

The PR Verdict: ”D” (PR Problematic) for Stella McCartney and her PR. Why not err on the side of generosity by congratulating Next and setting the record straight at the same time? Clarifying an issue with the word “not” is always open to misinterpretation.

The PR Takeaway: Be nice! Gushy good manners can make the same point as clarifications that may come off as harsh. From a PR point of view, it’s understandable that Stella McCartney wants to set the record straight about what was and wasn’t hers. Congratulating Next, instead of sending them out in the cold, would have been nicer and could have made the same point. How about this PR Appropriate Tweet: “A big fat congratulations to Next. My turn follows with our podium suits when we win our medals. Happy Games!” Exactly the same point, but nothing defensive, and it includes praise for  your Olympic partner. Sometimes good PR really is just about good manners.

To read more bitchy commentary about the Olympic uniforms, click here.

What’s your opinion of Stella McCartney’s clarification? Give us your PR Verdict!

Bieber Quote: Abort! Abort!

tumblr lgryigv3ab1qd9cy2o1 500 300x271 Bieber Quote: Abort! Abort!

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Justin Bieber and his publicist.

Does anyone care what teenage heart-throb Justin Bieber thinks about abortion? Who knew he even had an opinion? An incendiary quote provides a cautionary tale as to why a PR flak should sit in on most interviews.

Last week, Rolling Stone published an excerpt of its cover story with the teenage singer. As excerpts go, it was certainly the raciest part of an otherwise dull interview. Bieber was asked how he feels about abortion. He said he was against it. The interviewer then asked if Bieber believed in terminating pregnancies in cases of rape. Bieber was quoted as saying, “Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason.” Cue cyber outrage.

As the Internet burned with the quote, and the indictment pictured above, Rolling Stone then amended the comment–presumably following pressure from Bieber’s PR–adding a previously omitted sentence. The boy wonder from Ontario apparently said, “Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don’t know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.” (Italics ours to show addition.) Not much better, still problematic. Next time, how about avoiding the topic altogether?

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Justin Bieber and his publicist. No need to answer a difficult, controversial question. Either take a pass or let the PR flak take the heat.

The PR Takeaway: Count on being ambushed in interviews, especially by potentially unfriendly media outlets. Unless Bieber genuinely wants to campaign on the incendiary issue of abortion, coach him on how to politely decline to answer the question. If the interviewer presses, it’s up to the PR Flak to bring the conversation back on track and on brand. While undoubtedly annoying to the journalist, it’s certainly easier than clearing up the later inevitable cyber mess.

Did Rolling Stone have a right to edit Bieber’s comment to make it more controversial, or should Bieber’s publicity team have coached him to avoid topics like these? Give us your PR Verdict, below.

New Vatican PR’s First Announcement: I’m the New Vatican PR

 New Vatican PRs First Announcement: Im the New Vatican PR

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for the Vatican not publicly backing their new press rep, Greg Burke.

Are the Vatican’s PR troubles coming to an end? The Vatican has been looking around for someone to help its beleaguered image, following a series of ongoing PR disasters. The center of Catholicism announced earlier this week the appointment of a new Communications Director–Greg Burke, a 52-year-old American who has covered the Vatican for Fox News. Presumably he will be taking the organization into a new world of “fair and balanced” PR.

When organizations look externally for a PR adviser, it’s usually due to the unhappy realization that no one likes its messaging. In this case, when dealing with a 2,000 year old institution, it remains to be seen how much flexibility Burke has to fashion messages. Announcing his appointment, he explained to the media what a Communication Director does, describing the position as a “strategy job.” He said, “It’s very simple to explain, not so easy to execute: to formulate the message and try to make sure everyone remains on message.”

Strangely, the key person commenting to the media on his appointment seemed to be Burke himself. Where were the Vatican’s leaders welcoming him to the fold and confirming that its PR is about to turn the page?

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for the Vatican for its handling of the announcement and hiring of its new head honcho.

PR Takeaway: Start as you mean to go on. If a new hire is being brought in to change things up, then a strong public signal of this intention needs to be sent. Having Burke speak to the media about his own appointment without ringing endorsement from the people who hired him already makes him look lame and isolated. Next time, bosses, give your new hire firepower by welcoming and backing him publicly so that the organization and its stakeholders understand change is coming. And new hire, leave your announcement to the bosses and start talking only once your feet are under the table.

Can announcements about new public relations staff ever be made by the PR staff themselves, or does this send the wrong message? Give us your PR Verdict!

Better Damage Control for Bryson?

 Better Damage Control for Bryson?By anyone’s standards, U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson has had a difficult past few days. News reports have been filled with tales of the senior government official rear-ending a car, driving away, and then crashing into a second car before police found him alone and unconscious in the Los Angeles suburbs.  What happened? Is there a scandal to be uncovered?

Having apparently suffered a seizure in his car while driving alone, he hit the headlines after being cited for felony hit-and-run. Instead of being booked in jail, he was taken to an area hospital for medical attention. That’s when the media went from excited to very excited.

The first thing his PR pointed out was that “Secretary Bryson was involved in a traffic accident” and that he suffered a “seizure.” While the official police comment was “The investigation is in its preliminary stages,” Bryson’s spokesperson quickly said that drugs and alcohol did not appear to have been a factor in the two alleged hit-and-run crashes.” So far, so good PR–but how else could the volume and excitement be turned down on this story?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the PR handling of Bryson’s car accident. A clear and straightforward approach efficiently done. We’re withholding a top grade as one crucial element was missing…

PR Takeaway: Adding non-official voices to any incident softens the story. The problem with the PR response so far is that it remains in the realm of a police investigation. Take the story in another direction: Have a statement issued by his four daughters. The family is rallying around their father whose recovery is now the number one priority. Reiterate collective relief that no one was hurt and use a term other than “ investigation.” Far better to confirm Bryson is assisting with inquires and focusing on rest and a quick recuperation. Thanks for your kindness and understanding, case closed.

To read more click here.