“A New Russia” – Same As the Old Russia

 A New Russia   Same As the Old Russia

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Barely a week ago, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, came to a triumphant close. The games were free from terrorism, the ceremonies were lavish, the competition fierce and exciting. Russian President Vladimir Putin had made good, and the world could agree with Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee, when he closed the games by proclaiming, “This is the new face of Russia.” Days later, the old Russia would rear its head.

Over the weekend, Russian soldiers seized airports in Ukraine in what seems the start of an invasion. Crimea is now involved in a tug of what many fear will be war. “This is the red alert,” said Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk to reporters. “This is not a threat, this is actually a declaration of war to my country.”

Yatsenyuk was appealing to the West for help, and while the West has condemned Russia’s actions, President Putin shows no sign of being concerned or deterred. The “new face of Russia” looks very familiar.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Time out doesn’t mean an about face. In one sense, Russian President Putin did exactly what he was supposed to do: put political disagreements aside so the world could come together in the spirit of the Olympic Games. He was a gracious host to his guests, though he displaced his own people and killed stray dogs to build the Olympic Park. Nonetheless, Russia’s PR received an incredible boost during the Games. Within days, all of that good will has been undone. Having put on a grand party, it’s back to business as usual, and Putin cares less how Russia looks to the world now.

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

acton The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp, the cross-platform mobile messaging service that claims more than 400 million active users. After 11 years at Yahoo!, Acton left the company in 2009 and was looking for work. First Twitter turned him down, then Facebook. “It was a great opportunity to connect with some fantastic people,” he tweeted after the Facebook rejection. “Looking forward to life’s next adventure.” And what an adventure! Acton teamed up with former Yahoo! colleague Jan Koum to start WhatsApp. Last week, Facebook bought Acton’s messaging service for $19 billion in the largest ever venture-backed deal — creating a perfect PR story that requires no embellishment.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Under Armour, official outfitter of the US Olympic Speed Skating Team – until very recently. Under Armour’s “Mach 39,” which the company called the fastest-ever speed skating suit, has been blamed for the US team’s rather disappointing showing in Sochi. The suits were worn in practice runs and seemed fine, but after failing to even place in Olympic games, the team switched back to their old gear for final runs. While they still failed to medal regardless of outfits, the damage is done: Under Armour’s stock fell 2.4 percent on Friday.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Graydon Carter, editor in chief of Vanity Fair. After months of speaking to the press about the “epic takedown” feature the magazine planned to run on Gwyneth Paltrow, and talking of Paltrow’s alleged attempts to get all of Hollywood to boycott the magazine, here at last is…much ado about nothing. No epic takedown article appears in the March issue, but a 1500-word explanation does. “Not to bore you with the details,” Carter begins in his editor’s letter. We’ll stop right there, thanks.

NBC’s Cooper Medals in Insensitivity

 NBCs Cooper Medals in Insensitivity

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) to NBC for making Bode Miller cry.

It’s always a safe bet that American Olympic skier Bode Miller will make headlines. But an interview that went off the journalistic rails at this week’s Olympic Games in Sochi grabbed more attention than usual.

The drama unfolded following the men’s Super-G alpine skiing event, for which Miller had just won the bronze medal. NBC’s Christin Cooper asked Miller how the recent death of his younger brother was affecting the skier’s performance. And asked. And asked. And asked. To a point where Miller hung his head, dissolved into tears and walked away. The camera stayed on him well after he broke down.

Viewer backlash against Cooper was fierce. Criticism mounted after NBC made clear it didn’t mind capitalizing on the uncomfortable exchange. The taped segment could easily have been edited, but the network chose to show it in full.

As bad as the interview made NBC look, it may have been a PR plus for Miller. Skiing’s bad boy has been undergoing an image rehab since the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, when he blamed his mediocre performance on being “wasted” and said he used the games “to party and socialize at an Olympic level.” A custody battle for a child he sired during a fling also inspired ire. This interview humanized him more effectively than any PR campaign could.

THE PR VERDICT:  “D” (PR Problematic) for Christin Cooper’s Olympic-sized ambush.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Reporters shouldn’t become the story. Know basic tenets of PR, one of which is “There’s a time and place for everything.” Cooper obviously didn’t delve into NBC’s archives to watch Jim Gray’s 1999 interview of Pete Rose after he made the Baseball All-Century Team, which devolved as Gray relentlessly harped on Rose’s gambling past. Asking celebrities or athletes about personal issues isn’t off limits, but doing so at a celebration is bad form. Save the probing questions for the talk show couch.

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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers PR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to CVS Caremark, the national drugstore chain, for its decision to stop selling tobacco products. Cigarettes in particular have been linked to diseases from cancer to high blood pressure and stroke – something that the country’s largest retail pharmacy just couldn’t reconcile with its broader mission of making its customers healthier. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose,” said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark. The announcement was immediately hailed by everyone from President Obama to the American Cancer Society. CVS is the first such retailer to take the plunge and it will cost the company an estimated $2 billion in revenue, a small fraction of overall sales but no chump change.

SOCHI DOG 570 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers PR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Sochi Winter Olympics organizers and host city, where countless stray dogs are being killed ahead of today’s opening of the games. The strays were pets or offspring of pets left by families whose homes were razed to make way for Olympic venues. A Russian billionaire is financing belated rescue attempts but the culling continues – a grisly counterpoint to the festive atmosphere organizers would rather we see. The government claims the strays came for the food construction workers gave them, and stayed. The International Olympic Committee says no “healthy” dogs are being destroyed. Maybe, but this is certain: the round-up is just another PR fail for the most expensive (and worst planned) games ever.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers THE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Bill Nye, more popularly known as “The Science Guy,” who bothered debating science vs creationism with Ken Ham, President of the Creation Museum. The argument had rather predictable results –  no one was swayed from their original side. But apparently geeks and religious types still enjoy a good argument: the 800 audience tickets sold out in minutes, and 3 million people tuned in to watch on television.

Is Sochi Safe for the Olympics?

 Is Sochi Safe for the Olympics?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Sochi and the winter Olympics.

The winter Olympics aren’t set to begin for another two weeks, but they’re already off to an uneasy start. Yesterday, video was released to the media by alleged terrorists who threatened to target the games and the Russian host city of Sochi.

These winter games and their setting already had a controversial relationship. As Russia passed laws hostile to homosexuals and lesbians, athletes both straight and gay protested. When tensions between US President Obama and Russian President Putin mounted over NSA file leaker Edward Snowden, Obama said early on that he’d be a no-show at the games. Then, in January, two deadly suicide bombings in Volgograd cast a bleak shadow over the impending competition and provoked questions about safety.

Yesterday, video of two men allegedly with Anars Al Sunna, an Islamist group, was released to the media. The men claim responsibility for the attacks in Volgograd, calling them “only a little example, a little step,” of what may come. President Putin promised to “do whatever it takes” to protect all attending the games. But US Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI) said American officials working with Russia “found a departure of cooperation that is very concerning.”

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Sochi, host city of the winter Olympics and target of terrorists.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Truces can be temporary and lead to victory. Russia and the United States have always had uneasy relations and will likely continue to do so. But in times of crisis, such as when terrorists are openly threatening, there is an opportunity for both sides to come together and win. Shake hands, forge forces and work as a team. When the games are done, everyone can go back to the way things were. But the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics could go down in history for an entirely different, and positive, reason.

Sochi Media Won’t Include Social Media

soc olympics1 Sochi Media Wont Include Social Media

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for sponsors of 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

If it weren’t offensive, it might be almost quaint: an Olympic sponsoring committee seeking to impose arbitrary limits on social media. That’s what organizers of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are trying to do. Journalists covering the games will lose their credentials and be booted out if they take and post unauthorized photos or video with a smartphone. It’s possible that specators will face restrictions on photography as well.

The motivation here is more profit than censorship. The Games are big business and event organizers understandably want to wring every conceivable rouble from their sponsorship. To do that, they want absolute control of images, and there’s precedent for such an effort: Organizers of the 2012 London Summer Games sought similar clampdowns on use of social media.

As for censorship and eavesdropping, fear not, comrades: the Russian government has the games hard-wired and will be monitoring all communications, filtering as needed.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the Sochi Games sponsors and their control issues.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Accept forces beyond your control or risk coming to grief. Social media is like a fire hose you can’t turn off – your best bet is to keep it pointed in the right direction. Competition in this case is among the athletes, so there is reduced reputational and competitive downside for  the organizers. Instead Sochi’s sponsors could channel their repressive impulses in a different direction to promote goodwill without affecting profit – a photography contest, for instance? Better to channel the wisdom of crowds than to risk their wrath.