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

vargas The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Elizabeth Vargas, co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20 TV news magazine, for a graceful disclosure of human frailty: her decision to enter rehab for alcohol abuse and dependency. Vargas, out of sight for several weeks, might have preferred to quietly undergo treatment and slip back into her life without been missed. Whatever the motivation, she hit all the right notes in going public, calling out the prevalence of addiction in society, expressing gratitude for support of loved ones and her employer, and expressing a desire, as a public figure, to impart courage to others facing similar challenges. And of course, she got the news out herself – always a sober move.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Chip Wilson, founder of Lululemon, for striking a rather awkward pose in a press conference about the popular yoga pants. After suffering a costly setback with a product recall resulting in the dethroning of Lululemon CEO Christine Day, one wouldn’t think matters could get much worse until Lululemon’s founder blamed product quality issues on…customers being too fat. “Frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t actually work [for the pants],” Wilson told Bloomberg. “It’s more really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure there is over time.” Clearly, one yoga pose Wilson has mastered is putting his foot in his mouth.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Blockbuster, which said it will shut its remaining 300 stores and close its mail-order DVD business. The news probably comes as a surprise to many folks who thought the company went out of business a long time ago. If nothing else, Blockbuster will be fondly remembered by millions of families as an integral part of a 1990s weekly ritual: wandering the aisles in search of the latest new releases, only to find that every copy of the movie you wanted to see was already gone.

Netflix: From Doghouse to Darling

netflix Netflix: From Doghouse to Darling

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Netflix, for making its own luck.

Sometimes, the famously fickle PR gods send you a gift, and if you’re lucky, smart, or both, you’ll get a chance to use it. This week’s beneficiary: Netflix. Two years ago, the video streaming and DVD rental company was a case study – literally – on how to fail a thriving enterprise, with questionable pricing and business decisions that sent subscribers stampeding for the exits. Netflix became the poster child for PR ignorance and customer neglect, losing nearly one million subscribers over a matter of months.

Then, a chastened Netflix started to turn it around. It reversed unpopular business decisions and issued a sincere (and persistent) mea culpa. It aligned its communications strategy with its business plan, breaking new ground for a streaming service by providing original content. Today, its subscriber base surpasses HBO’s and its stock price is six times what it was only a year ago. Quarterly earnings are next week.

And the gift? Just a humorous online chat between a funny, friendly, and helpful Netflix customer service representative and a user with a video playback problem. A screenshot of the Star Trek-themed dialogue was posted online on Imgur and Reddit and is getting wider attention. Netflix is getting free publicity from it – earned the hard way, and through hard work.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Netflix, for a turnaround in tone, culture, and attitude that turned around its business.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Good communication is contagious. Netflix’s earnest soul-searching two years ago, translated into words and actions, now appears to touch even the most routine business activities. Granted, maybe not all of Netflix’s help calls end as happily – customer service is a weak spot for many firms. But this exchange garnered publicity precisely because it speaks to a prevailing positive mindset that has formed about the company, one that seems to attract great employees as well as loyal, happy customers. Netflix provides an object lesson in how good conmunications helps throughout an organization. Its little PR gift also confirms that luck doesn’t just happen; you make your own.