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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the teams in the World Cup. Whether they won, lost, or bit opposing team members, they created drama, last-seconds goal tension, and must-see games. Gone was the bad PR facing Brazil in the weeks leading up to the games, all of it replaced by football frenzy the world over—even in the US, where it’s still called soccer.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to United States Speaker of the House John Boehner and Congress, who tied this week for new lows in partisanship. House Speaker Boehner confirmed this week that he intends to sue President Barack Obama for unlawful use of executive order. The announcement was made soon after Congress nearly came to a brawl over an IRS scandal involving missing emails with sensitive information—a perfect opportunity to point fingers and cry “J’accuse!” at the other side. At a time of historically low levels of trust in government, these elected officials should think twice about their choice of focus.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Chen Guanbiao, the Chinese millionaire who took out an ad in The New York Times to tell the world he would treat 300 homeless New Yorkers to a fancy luncheon and give each of them $300 in cash. Chen, a recycling businessman with a penchant for publicity stunts, was asked by his charity liaison for a donation of $90,000 instead, to protect the homeless from using the money for drugs. At the lunch, Chen had homeless people pose for photos of him giving them cash—that they had to return—so he could maintain his business card statement, “Most Charismatic Philanthropist of China.”

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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. After weeks of bad press for the National Basketball Association, attention was gratefully turned to Durant’s MVP speech, which alone could have won him an award. Durant gave emotional thanks to his mother, Wanda Pratt, who raised two boys on her own and sometimes went without even food so that her sons wouldn’t feel the pain of want. Durant credits his mother’s determination for his championship-winning skills on the court and called her “the real MVP.” A happy Mother’s Day for Pratt, and some relief for the beleaguered NBA.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to the Nigerian government, whose weak response to the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls has brought international condemnation on the African nation as it prepared to host the World Economic Forum on Africa. The girls were kidnapped on April 15 by the al Qaeda-linked terrorist group Boko Haram, whose leader has said he plans to sell them into slavery. Finally bowing to pressure, the Nigerian government this week offered a $300,000 reward for information leading to the girls’ whereabouts. Meanwhile, Boko Haram raged into another village and scooped up eight more girls. As the Voice of America noted, “[Nigeria] is the biggest economy in Africa, but authorities cannot even keep children safe in their schools.”

treygowdy The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO Republican Congressional officeseekers, who chose to ignore recommendations from one of their own to stop fundraising off the 2012 attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. US Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) who is heading a new (and quite partisan) House Select Committee that will review the matter yet again, urged his colleagues last week not to undermine the committee’s work with partisan appeals for funds that hype the issue. Minutes before, the National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a fundraising email doing just that.  “Help fight liberals by donating today,” it asked, and other appeals followed. So much for the Committee’s integrity.

Sports Team Owner Fumbles on PR Front

 Sports Team Owner Fumbles on PR Front

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

Take bad PR, add a heaping cup of tone-deaf obstinacy and voila, you have Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins football team.

Despite worsening public opinion, Snyder continues his fight to keep the word “redskin” in the team name even though it’s seen by many as an ethnic slur against Native Americans. This week, he announced the creation of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, whose mission is “to provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities.” He came up with the idea, he said, after visiting more than two dozen Native American reservations across the US.

The Oneida Indian Nation was scathing, saying they hope that ”in his new initiative to honor Native Americans’ struggle, Mr. Snyder makes sure people do not forget that he and his predecessor … have made our people’s lives so much more difficult by using a racial slur as Washington’s team’s name.”  The media also see a slap in the face in the foundation’s name: Slate Executive Editor Josh Levin opined, “This is perhaps the most uncharitable name ever conceived for a charitable group, something akin to calling your organization “Kikes United Against Anti-Semitism.”

It won’t be the first time a company has tried to create PR goodwill by saying it will serve the people it has wronged. Snyder’s ill-advised effort, however, has fumbled badly.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Daniel Snyder, who, despite his crusade for the Washington Redskins football team name, oddly never uses the word “redskin” as a synonym for “Native American” in his communications.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Perception rules. Snyder may think he is on a righteous path because some Native Americans have assured him they don’t find the term offensive. But he chooses to ignore the ones who do — and they are the ones making the headlines. By naming the foundation so, Snyder has only created even more controversy and further divided the very community he is hoping to assuage.

National Football League Loses More Points

 National Football League Loses More Points

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the National Football League.

Even if you know nothing about American football, you may have heard of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Their names will soon fade from the headlines, but a burgeoning image problem for the National Football League may not.

Martin recently walked away from the Miami Dolphins after he said he could no longer endure harassment by his teammates, led by Incognito. The imbroglio includes charges of racism and purported threats by Incognito to sexually assault Martin’s sister, and by Martin to annihilate Incognito’s entire family.

It sounds over the top, but not for the NFL. In the past two years, the league has seen one player charged with an execution-style homicide (Aaron Hernandez) and another murder his girlfriend then kill himself in front of his coach (Jovan Belcher). So far in 2013, more than 40 players have been arrested for various crimes. A book out last month, League of Denial, accuses the league of ignoring and even covering up evidence that players have suffered devastating brain damage as a result of their years on the field.

These issues arise as the NFL enjoys unprecedented popularity and financial success. Perhaps because of that, the brand – a collective of  32 teams – has been somewhat slow to tarnish. As the incidents mount, however, the league’s top brass needs to consider their next PR move.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the National Football League. Is the best defense, indeed, a good offense?

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Accentuate the positive. Like many organizations, the NFL doesn’t have complete control over its members but what the league does have is positive stories to tell: it has changed the rules of the game to try to reduce concussions, funds programs to examine head trauma and has “player engagement” programs that focus on mentorship and personal responsibility. These talking points should be in every team owner’s back pocket when speaking to the media. When an organization is the sum of its parts, PR is everyone’s job – not just the commissioner’s.

Braun “Apology” a Foul Ball

 Braun Apology a Foul Ball

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Milwaukee Brewers player Ryan Braun.

It’s no easy feat to outdo Lance Armstrong, but Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun is giving it his best shot. After more than a year of denials, Braun acknowledged this week that he is indeed guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs. His statement was issued by Major League Baseball, which said it would suspend him without pay for the rest of the 2013  season.

Even in this era of Armstrong-level deception, Braun’s turnabout was still a shock to the fans, players, and supporters. They could not have been mollified, either, by his narcissistic and insincere “apology”: “As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. […] Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed — all of the baseball fans, especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates.” Too much mea, too little culpa.

Braun neither apologized nor admitted wrongdoing of any kind, and the statement was rife with of language suggesting he still thinks this isn’t fair – he “may have made some mistakes,” though he’s “willing” to accept the consequences. Most strikingly, he reminds us again that he’s “not perfect,” just in case anyone still thought he was.

The media, who a la Lance also feel bamboozled, were unrestrained, calling Braun everything from a “liar nonpareil” to a snake and a cockroach. We’ll have to wait the cold Milwaukee winter to see if Brewers’ fans are the forgiving types.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Ryan Braun, for issuing an apology as meaningless as his stats.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When you say you’re sorry, say it. There will always be those who deride your words as hollow, but if you don’t actually apologize for your actions it’s likely that camp will grow. In the old days, it used to be game over for public figures who got caught with their literal or figurative pants down. Today’s fans and constituents are more forgiving, but there is still a limit to their compassion. Saying “I’m sorry” for mistakes made will always be the best course of action.

BBC’s Inverdale Loses Game, Set, and Match

 BBCs Inverdale Loses Game, Set, and Match

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for John Inverdale for the comment, and to the BBC for its anemic response.

Not much could tarnish the pride in the United Kingdom after Scottish national Andy Murray took home the coveted trophy of the All England Club at Wimbledon. BBC commentator John Inverdale sure gave it his best shot, though.

As Marion Bartoli of France accepted her first-ever Grand Slam tennis trophy, Inverdale shocked listeners of his BBC Radio 5 program by saying “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’?”  The comment was met with fury in the Twittersphere, while the older school logged more than 700 telephone complaints to the BBC’s headquarters in London.

This isn’t the first gaffe for Inverdale, who has served as a BBC sports presenter on Wimbledon for several years. For many in the UK, this boorish remark was the last straw. Each year, listeners “are gifted his open distaste for the women’s game, which apparently lacks anything to hold his well-remunerated attention,” fumed a columnist in The Guardian.

After first trying to brush off the criticism, Inverdale finally apologized at the start of the men’s finals on Sunday. Even then, he downplayed his comment as “clumsy” and “ham-fisted.” The BBC was little better, saying, limply, “We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologize.” The only winner here was Bartoli, who said she never aspired to be a model and invited Inverdale to check her out at the champion’s gala a few nights later where, she mused, “He could change his mind.”

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for John Inverdale for the comment, and to the BBC for its anemic response.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: If you find yourself about to remark on someone’s appearance to the media: STOP. Unless you’re referring to a beauty pageant, no good can come of the words you’re about to utter, whether complimentary or critical. Regardless of how attractive someone is, commentary should focus solely on that person’s skill or accomplishments. In today’s world, any reference to physical attributes is too easily construed as sexist – and rightfully so.

Football Team Avoids a Foul

 Football Team Avoids a Foul

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for the New England Patriots. (Pictured: Former Patriots team member Aaron Hernandez.)

When an employee is arrested for a crime, should the company stand by the person? That was the question facing US football team The New England Patriots recently when police began investigating one of their star players, Aaron Hernandez, in the death of an acquaintance.

At first, team management was quiet on the matter. As details began to emerge, however, they moved into damage-control mode. Shortly after Hernandez’s arrest, the Patriots announced they would release him. A few hours later, Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder.

From a PR perspective, the Patriots did three things right: They fired Hernandez (at significant financial expense) before he’d been charged; their statement expressed both condolences to the victim’s family and their horror that a Patriots player might be involved; and they offered to exchange, for free, team jerseys inscribed with Hernandez’s name, many of which are owned by the team’s younger fans.

Arrests of professional football players are on the rise so the Patriot’s decision was an important one. In 2013, at least 39 players have been charged with serious crimes. The Patriots are one of the most well-managed and competitive teams in the league. By cutting ties to Hernandez, they sent a powerful message: criminal activity won’t be tolerated, even by lucrative star players.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Patriots, whose swift decision saved face.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  “Innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t apply when it comes to the brand. The decision to walk away from beleaguered employees sounds heartless, but an employee’s misconduct – real, perceived, or as yet confirmed – can cast dark shadows on an organization. These unusual situations must be decided on a case-by-base basis; there may be times when evidence is less than compelling, or a suspension makes better PR and legal sense.  As a general rule, though, the sooner a company parts ways with the accused, the better.

Jason Collins Makes a PR Slam Dunk

 Jason Collins Makes a PR Slam Dunk

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to NBA star Jason Collins.

In the world of PR, it’s not just what you say, but what media outlet you say it to. A perfect example? Basketball star Jason Collins coming out in a cover story in Sports Illustrated. By all accounts, this was a major announcement: Collins is the first male major league athlete to reveal he’s gay. By PR accounts, the way he made the announcement was even more interesting.

That there are gay athletes is a given. Women’s sports seem to be more tolerant; women’s basketball pro Brittany Griner came out recently, and the hullaballoo rating was low.  But in men’s basketball, baseball, football, and hockey, the policy is don’t ask, don’t tell. While opponents, and even teammates, may be openly homophobic, there is also the question of fan reaction. Will the people who spend billions on sporting event tickets and merchandise tolerate openly gay players, and the teams who draft them?

This past Monday, Collins revealed that he was gay directly to a media outlet that speaks to the sports fan: Sports Illustrated. The magazine is known for its sports reporting but is most famous for its annual Swimsuit Issue, the cover of which – a barely clad female beauty – tells much about its audience. If fan reaction was in question, Collins addressed it directly.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Jason Collins. It’s not just what he said and how he said it, but to whom he said it.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When making an unexpected announcement, consider making it via an unexpected source. How typical – and not terribly brave – it might have been for Collins to weep on Oprah’s shoulder, or Ellen’s, or Anderson Cooper’s as the latter two compared coming out stories. The hosts would have been all too sympathetic, and Collins would have lost face with sports fans. However revealing his truth via Sports Illustrated almost said, “This isn’t a big deal.” It is, of course, and it may go into PR history books as a slam dunk.

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 Margaret Thatcher whose shadow continues to loom large. The Iron Lady was cited recently as a role model by the leaders of Japan and South Korea. While Thatcher might give both leaders a low grade for their economic policies, her renowned determination is giving her PR image a second renaissance. Japan’s leader Shinzo Abe told local media he was moved to tears twice in the biopic The Iron Lady, and in South Korea, Prime Minister Jung Hong-won has said that “Thatcherism” will “revive the nation from crisis.” While Thatcher may have been unloved by many at the time of her reign, anyone wanting PR associated with strong leadership need look no further than Maggie from some thirty years ago.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Rutgers University for the delay in firing Mike Rice, its head basketball coach. Rice was sacked this week after videos surfaced showing him shoving, kicking, and screaming anti-gay slurs at players during practice last winter. Unfortunately,  top brass at the New Jersey university knew about the behavior in November but elected to “rehabilitate” him with a fine and three-game suspension. A poor decision on every level, particularly so given that Rutgers became a poster child for bullying-related tragedy in 2010, when a student committed suicide after his roommate filmed him with another man and mocked him on Twitter. What was university leadership thinking?

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO North Korea’s threats. At least, that’s the message coming from the US Defense Department, even as Kim Jong Un et al have announced that North Korea’s nuclear missiles are now aimed at US targets. The threats have been called rhetoric, though US officials have deployed stealth aircraft and assured the public that the threats are being taken seriously. Perhaps they’re not serious enough to warrant the “My fellow Americans” speech from the president just yet, but many must be wondering just how far these threats will go.

Guest Column: Foul Ball for Toronto Blue Jays

YUNEL ESCOBAR2 150x150 Guest Column: Foul Ball for Toronto Blue Jays

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Yunel Escobar.

Could Yunel Escobar be any dumber?  The 29-year-old starting shortstop for the Toronto Blue Jays drew what is generally interpreted as an anti-gay slur into the eye black he wore during a major league baseball game last week. Predictably, his face was subsequently splashed across the media and Escobar and his team’s owners, Rogers Communications, one of Canada’s largest telecommunications providers, seemed to be taken aback by the resulting criticism.

The phrase in question, “Tu ere maricon” is Spanish slang for “You are a f—-t,” but in some contexts, Escobar explained,  it is interpreted as an emasculating insult only. “Amongst Latinos it’s not something that’s meant to be offensive,” Escobar said during a fumbling news conference in which he apologized while insisting he was misinterpreted. “For us it doesn’t have the significance to the way it’s being interpreted right now.”

The Blue Jays PR machine did what PR machines do: Investigations were held, news conferences were called. Escobar offered apologies, all of which appeared disingenuous. Platitudes were shared about cultural differences, sensitivity training, more education for Blue Jays personnel. Escobar was suspended for three games and his salary (approx $90,000 USD) donated to charities. Ouch! Unfortunately, there was never an explanation to the fundamental question: What could he, or his team managers, have been thinking?

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Escobar and the Toronto Blue Jays for this tepid response. In what world is an anti-gay – or even emasculating – slur acceptable?

The PR Takeaway: Crisis Communications templates are nice, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. The Blue Jays (and Major League baseball, for that matter) need to say they are concerned, and ACT like they are concerned. Stiffer penalties and proactive policies that leave little wiggle room for interpretation about what players can wear on the field might be a step in the right direction… First Amendment rights notwithstanding.