As Facebook Turns 10, Zuckerberg Comes of Age

 

 As Facebook Turns 10, Zuckerberg Comes of Age

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook turned 10 years old this week, and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO of the world’s most successful social networking platform, used that milestone to come of age.

Zuckerberg, the 29-year-old entrepreneur who started Facebook in 2004, has never been much of a media fan. For Facebook’s birthday, however, he participated in several interviews, including NBC’s Today Show and Bloomberg Businessweek. Though he briefly alluded to the early days, he spent the bulk of the interviews speaking about the network’s massive cultural impact and detailing current and future business plans (three-, five-, and ten-year plans, to be exact). The result? He came off as a successful and confident executive at the helm, adroitly steering Facebook into its next decade.

This evolution of his persona is significant both for Zuckerberg, and for Facebook. In the past, he’s been depicted as a brilliant but arrogant smart aleck whose tech prowess eclipsed his business acumen. In recent months, too, media coverage has focused on how Facebook may be losing traction with teenagers, the base on which it was built. These interviews gave Zuckerberg a broad platform to speak directly to multiple stakeholders at what may be a turning point in the company’s young history.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Maturity looks good on him.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: The media can offer redemption as well as criticism. Several things conspired to make this a PR success. Zuckerberg’s reluctance to do media has worked in his favor. When he does have something to say, the media listens. He pinned his interviews to Facebook’s 10th birthday, a built-in news hook. And he was clever about the venues he chose: the Today Show speaks to millions of (older) users and potential users, while Bloomberg Businessweek took care of the business side of the Facebook story. It’s a winning combination that artfully conveyed his message: Mark Zuckerberg is a big boy now.

Cuisine Queen Burns to a Crisp

 Cuisine Queen Burns to a Crisp

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Paula Deen and her PR team.

In the annals of PR freefall, celebrity chef Paula Deen is now a case study. Last week, the queen of Southern cuisine faced a deposition by a former employee who charged that Deen used racial slurs in the workplace. Problematic, to be sure – yet that was only the beginning.

During the deposition, Deen was asked if she had ever used the “n” word. Her answer? “Of course” – one can only imagine a member of her PR team having heart palpitations – “probably when a black man burst into the bank I was working at and put a gun to my head.” This came across rather like justification. The deposition stated that Deen used the slur more recently, in reference to servers for a Deen-planned wedding reception with a Plantation theme.

But wait, it gets better, or rather, worse. Deen scheduled a damage control appearance on the Today Show, but come Friday morning, she was a no-show. An irked Matt Lauer reported, “Her publicist says she’s exhausted.” Probably from the news that the Food Network, on which Deen has several shows, was not renewing her contract.

Then came the apology videos. The first, slickly produced by Deen’s team, lasted a single derided hour before being replaced by an unedited video that came across the same as the first: Deen was sorry – mostly, it seemed, because she got caught.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Paula Deen and her PR team.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Damage control shouldn’t cause more damage. Only last year, Deen’s credibility took a hit when she revealed her previously hidden diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, often caused by the kind of cooking Deen’s multi-million dollar empire is built on. With her credibility already stretched, this was the time to let cooler heads prevail. How about proper coaching prior to the deposition that would have stressed bewilderment about why this issue has surfaced? While in legal matters, the truth must be told, in this case it might have sweetened with contrition, best served simply and without qualification.

To watch the Paula Deen apology videos, click here and here.

Another Bad Week for “Today” Show

 Another Bad Week for Today Show

is THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Today Show publicists.

There hasn’t been a truly good morning for NBC’s Today Show in months. Ratings have been slipping steadily, advertising millions have been lost, and the media seems not to tire of reporting both. Then, this past week, a behind-the-scenes feature in New York Magazine threw a harsh glare on the morning show’s troubles.

For PRs reading the article, the dilemma becomes apparent quickly: grant access to a reporter who is starting from a negative place, or refuse access, knowing the story will be written anyway? In this case, access was granted and control of some sort established via the presence of two PRs in the interview with Today heavy hitters.

One can only imagine the amount of prepping the PRs did with hosts Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker, Natalie Morales, and, in particular, Matt Lauer. He has been in the media’s sights, portrayed as the architect of former co-anchor Ann Curry’s ouster, and everything from the cornerstone of the program to a controlling tyrant. Also last week, a former Today Show intern tweeted that Lauer was “not so nice,” and a story circulated that co-host Guthrie gave Lauer the finger after he teased her on set. Access or not, Today‘s negative press is turning into a bad dream the show’s PRs can’t wake up from.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Today Show publicists. Damage control is being handled, but with the issue of falling ratings and whispers of host changes, PR options are limited.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Choose battles carefully, and know when to fight. Negative press was inevitable due to the ratings slide, the revelation of Lauer’s negotiations with rival network ABC, and Curry’s awkward departure. In this case what was needed was new news to change the conversation. This article might have begun the turnaround that Today needs, but in the absence of a big bright idea, sometimes a PR just has to hope things look better tomorrow.

To read the New York Magazine article, click here.