Venture Capitalist Enters PR Forbidden Zone

tom perkins 2.png Venture Capitalist Enters PR Forbidden Zone

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Tom Perkins.

Tom Perkins is on a roll – straight downhill. The venture capital icon who founded Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has cemented his reputation among the Obscenely Wealthy Behaving Badly for comments he made last week likening rich techies and other members of the vilified “1 percent” class to victims of the Holocaust.

Perkins, in a weekend letter published in the Wall Street Journal, compared recent protests by affordable housing advocates in San Francisco against Google buses to Nazi targeting of Jews. “I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent,” he wrote. Forget the unspoken rule of debate that whoever first invokes Nazis in an argument loses automatically. Perkins later apologized – sort of – for his gaffe, but really, one should expect nothing less from him. He has always been over the top, shockingly, even willfully flouting the concept of noblesse oblige at every turn. Hard to believe that the man Perkins partnered with to start his VC firm in 1972 had himself fled the Nazis.

Perkins cited that relationship in a next-day TV interview, in which he sported a $380,000 watch and lamented how his eponymous firm chose to “throw me under the bus” for his comments. All that privilege and still a victim.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Perkins, who is far too rich, and perhaps a bit too daft, to choose his words more carefully.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: To end a losing conversation, stop talking. Of course, this is not Tom Perkins’s way. In his post-comment comments, he sought to explain his choice of words and clarify his point, to little avail. A direct, unqualified apology would have been better, but big egos are rigid and only become more sclerotic with time, incapable of adapting and absorbing new lessons. One of those lessons: Before committing words to paper, and thence to print, have someone else run a soundcheck.

Bad News, Good PR: Law Firm Airs Its Own Dirty Laundry

 Bad News, Good PR: Law Firm Airs Its Own Dirty Laundry

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Weil Gotshal & Manges.

When it comes to managing bad news, the smartest folks are usually the attorneys. A lesson in managing bad news came last week from Barry Wolf, executive partner and chairman at legal firm Weil Gotschal & Manges. The firm released an internal memo announcing 60 junior-level and 110 staff layoffs, as well as ”meaningful compensation adjustments for certain partners ” – PR code for pay cuts.

Weil freely shared the memo with reporters, and the news received extensive coverage, including page one of the Wall Street Journal and the lead BusinessDay story in the New York Times. No one was surprised that Weil was  committed to sustaining its $2.2 million annual profit-per-partner metric and while some lawyers lamented that the elite firms, known as “Big Law,” have succumbed to the realities of big business, the firm positioned itself as being ahead of the business curve, actively managing a business undergoing macro changes.

That’s a message its corporate clients understand all too well. Weil effectively neutralized most of the potential bottom-line impact that might have initiated a loss of confidence. Internally, the firm may have more work to do. Morale will continue to suffer as departures leave behind empty desks and lawyers reassess their careers, but for the outside world, the firm looks ahead of its peers.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Weil Gotshal & Manges for candor, transparency and proactive management of bad news.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Address a difficult issue head on – before others do it for you. While this wasn’t a case of crisis management, it could have been a serious reputational blow if facts emerged slowly, forcing the firm to go on the defensive. Instead, Weil comes out a leader for addressing a difficult issue, laying out the rationale and taking careful action. Ironically, given that other firms are likely to follow suit, a management decision to shrink the firm enhances Weil’s leadership for both the long and the short term.


Wall Street Journal’s Cowardly Response

 Wall Street Journals Cowardly Response

The PR Verdict: "D" for the Wall Street Journal.

Is that as racy as love letters get?  E-mail correspondence between Brett McGurk, President Obama’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and his then-paramour Gina Chon, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, has members of Congress very excited. For the rest of us it’s hard to see what the fuss is about.

The e-mails, dating from 2008, were posted anonymously this week on Flickr–bad timing for McGurk, a top adviser on Iraq who is currently going though congressional approval for the job of US ambassador. Congressional members are concerned that while McGurk was working on tough negotiations with Iraqis, his future wife Chon covered the talks for the WSJ. Could he have leaked to her classified information?  If so, they’ll have to try to stay awake while reviewing e-mails such as McGurk’s “I had a very good day with the Iraqis–the best yet. Can’t tell you about it of course. But you should definitely stay past Sunday.” Chon’s reply: “Stop being such a tease!”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland breezily washed her hands of the issue, telling CNN, “I’m not going to get into e-mails between Mr. McGurk and the woman who subsequently became his wife.” The WSJ had a more cowardly reply to CNN,  “We are looking into the matter.”

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for the Wall Street Journal who could have tried harder to defend its journalist. If the State Department can sound annoyed, why can’t the WSJ?

PR Takeaway: Where’s the beef? The WSJ might have tried publicly shifting the burden of proof onto the accusers: “Which article does the committee think contains leaked information? We would be happy to look into the matter.”  Then sit back and wait for the response.  And while we are there, how about privately suggesting to members of Congress that they stop calling the emails racy? In this day of Fifty Shades of Grey, they’re hardly blush-inducing.

To read the racy letters and for more background click here.

People! Why Not Speak Clearly?

sounbite1 People! Why Not Speak Clearly?

The PR Verdict: “C” for the use of metaphors and analogies in PR.

Is no one else annoyed by the sound bite that means close to nothing? Yesterday the Wall Street Journal canvassed the usual cabal of M&A bankers for their market outlook on mergers and acquisitions activity.  Of note was their endless use of metaphors and analogies to illustrate simple concepts and trends.  Weirdly overdone.

One of the vogues in PR and media training is to encourage clients to drive home key points by way of illustrative metaphors.  Color your sound bites with analogy and metaphor!  You can’t help but be quoted!

It seems bankers have taken this to heart.  By way of explanation one advised “we need a couple of people to jump into the bath and say the water isn’t cold in here.”   Others added, the European economy continues “in emergency care on life support”, the “seeds of recovery have taken root” but it will be a while before the market is “going pedal to the metal.”  Enough!

The PR Verdict: “C” for the use of metaphors and analogies in PR.  Yes it has its place but what about stating something clearly and unequivocally?

Ideas have their own power.  Metaphors and analogies don’t always need to be used to support an idea.  Besides, the word on the street is that when the balloon goes up there will be blood on the floor, as the use of the metaphor withers on the vine.  See?…We hope we made our point clearly.

For a copy of the WSJ article click here.  (available only to WSJ subscribers)