Winklevoss Twins Rewrite Bad PR of Facebook

 Winklevoss Twins Rewrite Bad PR of Facebook

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for the Winklevoss twins.

Whatever happened to Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the alleged co-founders – or inventors, depending on whom you ask – of Facebook? The twins gained unwanted fame during their very public fight against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Claiming Zuckerberg stole their idea for a social network while they were all at Harvard, their protracted battle over who came up with, and thereby owned, Facebook was highlighted in the movie The Social Network. Their legal persistence won them $65 million compensation, but their reputations were seemingly irredeemable.

In the film they were portrayed as handsome, privileged jocks with a fancy pedigree, good connections, and a tendency to whine. They cemented their image as sore losers when they tried to sue Zuckerberg a second time (and failed). They became vaguely comical, and there was more than a hint of Schadenfreude when the media spoke about the Winklevii, as they came to be named.

But now their PR rehabilitation seems to be underway. The twins were featured in The New York Times Sunday Style Section. Key points? They are working hard and out to win, per usual – they competed in Olympic rowing – incubating major investments, including the shopping website Hukkster and a financial data company called Sum Zero through their firm, Winklevoss Capital. Photographed in suits in their Manhattan offices, not in spandex rowing outfits (as with previous PR mishaps), they are presenting a new face to the world.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for the Winklevoss twins. They may have lost the Facebook war, but they could still win the PR Battle.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: For effective PR rehab, close out the past and look to the future.  The NYT Style Section may seem an unlikely forum to turn around a PR image, but given that there is no hard news to announce, this was a clear and sensible choice. Sunday’s feature gave the Winklevii space to clarify lingering issues while pointing forward with plans that have nothing to do with Facebook. What comes next may prove to be of interest as the twins rewrite their PR code.

Martha Stewart Cooks Up a New Image

 Martha Stewart Cooks Up a New Image

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Martha Stewart.

Martha Stewart was very busy over the Thanksgiving – and not just cooking up a feast. The guru of home entertaining was featured in both The New York Times and The Financial Times. Both  articles were presumably designed to calm investor nerves about her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which recently announced layoffs and financial losses.

The NYT glowingly described Martha as the new “patron saint” of the hipster entrepreneurial class while the FT gave Ms. Stewart multiple opportunities to talk about planned and current business initiatives (good for the stock price). And neither failed to mention her time in the clink.

Martha gave the FT passing acknowledgment of her prison sentence for lying to prosecutors about a stock sale, while the NYT asked her fan base for its opinion. Luckily, the responses were consistently positive. One fan, who referred to Martha as “The Jesus of the craft world,” said, “I heard that she just took some bad advice. Anybody can make mistakes.” Martha, from what she told the FT, takes a similar view.

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) to Martha Stewart for putting a tough period behind her. It’s even given her street cred!

The PR Takeaway: Set the tone, and others will follow. While prison time might have theoretically ruined the image of the perfect homemaker, Martha Stewart has been able to successfully move on. Parting with the traditional PR strategy of public atonement, Martha instead describes her prison time as “a hole I fell into; luckily it wasn’t a very deep hole,” while adding that the experience didn’t teach her much. From the outset she has been unrepentant, and now her new followers are taking the same line of indifference. In the age of labored public apologies, this is one strategy that  is breaking the mold. And Martha’s expanded fan base seems to like it.

Click here for Martha’s FT interview and New York TImes feature.

What’s your opinion of Martha Stewart’s strategy? Give us your PR Verdict!

Judy Smith: PR’s Ms. Fix-It

JUDY SMITH  150x150 Judy Smith: PRs Ms. Fix It

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Judy Smith.

Judy Smith, a well-known Washington PR has been credited with being able to salvage the messiest of PR messes. Smith has helped Larry Craig, the senator who inappropriately attempted to find love in a public restroom; actor Wesley Snipes, who had rather a time of it with the IRS; and Monica Lewinsky, who – well, you know. And now its emerged that Smith has just been appointed by Tampa socialite Jill Kelley to help with her ongoing Petraeus mess.

Smith previously worked in Washington under George W. Bush. Since setting up her private consultancy, Smith has artfully packaged crisis PR management in a book called Good Self, Bad Self. In it, she lists the seven character straits that can propel us to giddy heights or be the genesis of our undoing: ego, denial, fear, ambition, accommodation, patience, and indulgence.

Smith argues that the character traits that can bring one success can also lead to a downfall. Problems ensue when they fall out of balance. Her PR answer? Recalibrating one or more of those seven vital characteristics and being personally responsible for the repair work. This PR approach is not just about polishing a tainted reputation; as The New York Times mentioned in a recent article about Smith, this is about creating and selling a narrative “for redemption.”

The PR Verdict: ”A” (PR Perfect) for Judy Smith. Not only has she packaged herself as the PR Ms. Fix-It, she has also wrapped a methodology around the cure.

The PR Takeaway: One-offs are fine, but methodology is better. It’s not often that a client’s personal gestalt is used in crisis communications. For a believable turnaround, each client needs to be able to communicate with authenticity in the media glare. Smith, through her methodology, might be able to give her distressed clients the key. Not easy to come by, but when accessed, this might lead to ultimate public redemption faster than any other track.

To read more about Judy Smith, click here.

When “No Comment” Says Too Much

 When No Comment Says Too Much

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Ina Drew and her PR.

What happens to your PR profile when you are held publicly responsible for a headline trading loss of over $6 billion? That must have been the question Ina Drew asked herself as she read her cover story profile in this weekend’s edition of The New York Times Magazine. The former Chief Investment Officer of JP Morgan Chase, who lost the eye-popping number on a sour trade called the “London Whale,” was amusingly headlined “Swallowed by the London Whale.”

The lengthy profile was what one might have expected. The first half was dedicated to tracing Ina’s stellar rise: She was tough, driven, analytical, and well-versed not only in the markets but also internal politics and turf warfare. The second half of the story details how it all unraveled as the losses mounted.

While Drew didn’t comment, plenty of others did. Those more closely connected to the disastrous trade stayed in the background, identifying themselves only as “sources close to the bank.” But Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, went public after the dust started to settle, acknowledging Drew’s “incredible contributions “ to the firm. At this point, couldn’t Drew have said a word or two?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Ina Drew and her PR strategy. Just one on-the-record quote might have changed the article’s tone.

The PR Takeaway: Silence is not always golden. This profile has it all: money, success, and a colossal fall from grace by the tough trader who, moments prior to resigning, was walking the halls of JP Morgan, pale, gaunt, and with smudged mascara. Despite ongoing and innumerable legal complications, Ina Drew might have served her own PR well by reiterating that while regulators continue to review the matter, she is prohibited from commenting and that she resigned because it was the appropriate thing to do. If  your CEO is publicly positive about your contribution, far better to put yourself in the driver’s seat and acknowledge that you are assisting with inquires and exited with grace, rather than give the impression you have slunk off into the sunset with your tail between your legs.

Was Ina Drew’s silence golden or damning? Give us your PR Verdict!

To read the article click here.


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!

The New York Times and When Not To Publish

 The New York Times and When Not To Publish

The PR Verdict: C (Distinctly OK) for The New York Times. (Pictured: Times editor Jill Abramson.)

When does The New York Times decide it won’t publish something on the grounds that it might impinge on national security? It’s a question the paper of record has had to address recently. An angry Congress wants clarification, as do some readers. What to say?

The controversy stems from recent articles published in the NY TImes about President Obama’s “kill list,” as well as the U.S. government’s computer virus warfare against Iran.  Obama’s critics claim the information came directly from the White House in order to bolster the President’s tough image on national security. Obama’s PR says this is dead wrong and that the President is intent on cracking down on staff leaking classified information.

The Times‘s defense? It always consults with government officials prior to publication. The paper confirms that government officials had not asked the paper to spike the two stories in question, and it rejects any suggestion that national security was endangered. “No story about details of government secrets has come near to demonstrably hurting the national security in decades and decades,” is the official quote. Case closed for The New York Times (for the moment).

The PR Verdict: C (Distinctly OK) for The New York Times, whose response still keeps the decision to publish or not in the realm of a high level of discretion. Something more objective might help the debate.

PR Takeaway: Freedom of speech and public interest rest on a continuum of interest and competing concerns. The Times has chosen to portray the issues as relatively straightforward – dangerous to release, or not? Why not talk about the issue as a long continuum with transparency at one end and secrecy on the other. List and weigh factors that might have a bearing on publication. Think of it as a point system; it will undoubtedly be imperfect, but it would change the debate from a discretion-based decision to something more independent and apolitical.

To read more, click here.

Is The New York Times releasing information that could compromise national security, or exercising the freedom of press? Give us your PR Verdict, below.