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!

Google and Larry’s Laryngitis

 Google and Larrys Laryngitis

The PR Verdict: The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Google. (Pictured: Google CEO Larry Page.)

Larry Page, Google’s CEO, regrets he is unable to lunch today. And not just today, it seems, but all the way into mid July. The reason? Larry has “lost his voice” and “can’t do any public speaking engagements for the time being,” says Google. That includes the second quarter earnings conference in three weeks’ time. His voice is gone, and it isn’t coming back anytime soon.

The announcement has spooked investors. In an industry that endlessly speculated about the on again, off again health of Steve Jobs at Apple, this sort of news gets the rumor mill activated. Google says it is business as usual and that Page is “OK”  and continuing to run the company. “He’s running all the strategy business decisions and all that,” reassures Google.

Not all investors buy it. JP Morgan described the announcement as ”odd,” and others are wondering. One told the Wall Street Journal that the decision to miss an earning call was “highly unusual.” He said, “It’s hard to imagine a CEO missing that much stuff and not having a serious problem,” echoing what could become a rumbling chorus.

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Google. Who knows what the real situation is, but this explanation doesn’t reassure the market. Already suspicion is growing that Google is being less than frank.

PR Takeaway: Don’t over-complicate. Let’s face it, losing your voice doesn’t last three weeks. If Page can’t speak at earnings in three weeks’ time, it’s not a bad idea to flag it beforehand–but why not suggest that he’s having a minor medical procedure/treatment that will put him out of action for a fixed period? Use calming words to minimize the fuss and reinforce that it’s not market moving and material. Something is up, and now Google has more explaining to do. It might have been easier to have been straightforward from the start.

Should Google have anticipated investor worries, or is this a case of the truth just not being good enough these days? Give us your PR Verdict, below.


Who Says “Fit and Proper”?

rupertmurdoch1may Who Says Fit and Proper?

The PR Verdict: “D” for the Tories and their decision re being "fit and proper".

Isn’t it marvelous what a difference a public enquiry makes?  Rupert Murdoch is now not a “fit and proper” person to run a public company according to the  Culture Committee of the UK Parliament, which issued its headline making report yesterday.  Although Murdoch was “fit and proper” enough to be amongst the first to meet with David Cameron when he officially became Prime Minister.  This is one friendship that will create ongoing PR issues for the British PM, despite his already numerous attempts to create some distance from the media mogul.

Tory party committee members chose not to fully endorse yesterday’s report because of the insistence by the Labour and Liberal Democrat majority on describing Murdoch as “not a fit person” to run a major international company.  One Tory committee member told the press conference yesterday that the committee had seen “absolutely no evidence” to endorse such a “completely ludicrous” conclusion.

Such highhanded dismissive language seems out of sync with the report and recent headlines.  With over 30 arrests since the scandal erupted, multiple apologies from Murdoch, millions paid in compensation, and under the table payments having been made to police, there seems ample air cover to endorse a “not fit” label.   The PR onus rested on the report’s dissenters to explain more fully their abstention.  Yesterday’s comments inadvertently place Cameron and his party into being unofficial Murdoch champions. Was that the intention?

The PR Verdict:  “D” for the Tories.  The decision to hold out on agreeing with the committee’s crucial finding, for whatever reason, has placed David Cameron in a tight place.  This was a tactical PR blunder.

PR takeaway: Taking a principled stand is one thing. Taking a stand without explanation is another.   Having signed off on the report’s wording that said it is “simply not credible” that the Murdochs had “no inkling of what was going on”, a high handed dismissive approach from a Tory party committee member misses the PR mark.  The ripple effect for the British PM is that he is now in the uncomfortable PR dilemma of defending Murdoch and his party’s decision,  despite the highly critical findings of the report.  Some nuanced and finer wording from the dissenters might have easily avoided the trouble Cameron seems now destined to walk into.

To read about the report click here.

What’s your PR Verdict?

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Delta Airlines: Why Own a Refinery? Why Now?

delta Delta Airlines: Why Own a Refinery? Why Now?

PR Verdict: “A” for Delta’s positioning

When was the last time an airline expanded into the oil business?  Any company that strays from its core business always runs a huge PR risk. But that is precisely what Delta did yesterday with the acquisition of an oil refinery that will ultimately provide 80 percent of its jet fuel for its US business. The market responded with interest and didn’t panic.

“Acquiring the Trainer refinery is an innovative approach to managing our largest expense,” Delta CEO Richard Anderson said.  “This modest investment, the equivalent of the list price of a new wide body aircraft, will allow Delta to reduce its fuel expense by $300 million annually and ensure jet fuel availability in the Northeast.”

Still not convinced?  Need more comparisons?  “To achieve similar fuel savings, Delta would have to buy 60 new-generation narrow-body planes like the Boeing 737, a capital investment that would total $2.5 billion”.   Despite some skepticism from oil specialists, investors pushed the company’s shares more than 10 percent since the beginning of April as word of Delta’s interest in the refinery spread.  This was a well-handled announcement.

The PR Verdict: “A” to Delta’s PR Team who positioned the transaction.  What might have been seized upon as a serious departure from corporate strategy was transformed into a relatively logical and natural move.

PR Takeaway:  Nothing like a couple of simple metrics to let the numbers do the talking.  By characterizing the purchase, as modest and then comparing costs to other more prohibitive outlays, this purchase became an easy sell.  With fuel making up over 40% of the airline’s expenses, innovative moves are what the market wants. We assume that those who worked on the announcement are now eligible for a free upgrade?

To read about the announcement click here.

What’s your PR verdict on this announcement?

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Anyone Mind About The Swimsuit Issue?


sports illustrated swimsuit issue 211x300 Anyone Mind About The Swimsuit Issue?

The PR Verdict: “B” for the Conservancy’s strategy and responsiveness.

Nature Conservancy the nation’s leading environmental advocacy group has just found itself in a PR storm.  Only in this case it was definitely in a teacup.

The organization which protects fragile and important wilderness areas partnered with Sports Illustrated magazine and luxury retailer Gilt in a fundraising campaign.  Using the iconic “swimsuit issue” of the magazine as its focus, the initiative was designed to widen Conservancy’s traditional support base.

Conservancy went into crisis PR mode when it became concerned that partnering with the best selling swimsuit issue could be seen as demeaning to women.  Too late to pull out of the deal, it went into damage control instead.   This included apologies to board members and staff, reforming procedures and downscaling planned promotions of the fundraiser.

Well done.  This was well handled from a procedural point of view and the issue never really caught fire.  Conservancy’s spokesman recently confirmed sheepishly to the trade press “we haven’t heard much from our donors.”

The PR Verdict: “B” for the Conservancy’s strategy and responsiveness but next time keep authorised public comment to a minimum.

Sports Illustrated’s PR told a philanthropy publication “this is the first time I am hearing about this” and therein lies a clue. A scan of the coverage shows the media heat came largely from Conservancy board members who by giving quotes to the media, needlessly magnified the issue. Interestingly no women’s advocacy, protest group or Conservancy supporter was ever quoted. Next time, delegate the issue entirely to the PR team and only authorize board members to speak if the issue escalates.  And besides, always take into account the news cycle.  With Rush Limbaugh hogging the headlines and promotional coverage of the swimsuit issue failing to provoke questions of the tie-up, there was a distinct possibility that the issue would pass completely unnoticed.

Click here to read more about this issue.

Is there a news item that you think needs a grade? Send us your suggestion for the next PR Verdict: