For AOL’s Armstrong, It’s “Ready, Fire, Aim”

tim armstrong For AOLs Armstrong, Its Ready, Fire, Aim

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full FIasco) for AOL’s Tim Armstrong.

The pressure is on AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong to turn things around at Patch, the micro-local news site that has been a money loser for the giant media company. Unfortunately for Armstrong, he let the pressure show in an embarrassing way last week, prompting observers to question his management.

On Friday, a day after telling Wall Street that Patch would close down one-third of its 900 sites to cut costs, Armstrong held a conference call with 1,000 Patch employees to lay out the reorganization plan and rally the faithful to the task at hand. To his credit, he took full responsibility for the current wobbly state of affairs. But he also handed out a tough-talking, slightly derisive admonishment to employees: work harder, or work elsewhere. If you are “not invested in Patch, you owe it to everybody else at Patch to leave,” he said, as can be heard in the widely-circulated tape of the call.

The harangue got worse. Two minutes in, Armstrong called out Patch’s creative director who, as is his custom, was taking pictures in the meeting room where the call originated. “Put that camera down. You’re fired. Out,” Armstrong said, scarcely pausing before continuing his “motivational” talk. Given the audience size, it was only a matter of time before the story at the local news site went national. Ironically, Armstrong later said he fired the creative head because he was tired of media leaks.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for AOL’s Tim Armstrong, for a tyrannical tirade that sullied not only his personal brand but spoke poorly of how the business is run.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Mind your message, your medium, and your manners. Chief executives, whether by temperament or for effect, will occasionally turn to the tantrum to motivate the troops. But Armstrong’s erratic histrionics missed the mark, even if he hadn’t made things worse with an “Off with his head!” fit of pique. And in front of 1,000 people, no less. Remember: Unless you’re talking to yourself, what you say privately can always go public. Airing dirty laundry can result in losing your shirt.

An Affair to Remember – Or Sue Over

Queen Sofia 120x150 An Affair to Remember   Or Sue Over

The PR Verdict: “B”(Good Show) for Queen Sofia.

Life is short; have an affair! So says the tagline for dating website Ashley Madison. The site that links members seeking extramarital affairs now finds itself in the headlines. While Ashley Madison thinks infidelity provides endless fun, the Queen of Spain does not agree – she is suing the website for “damage to her honor and dignity.”

The site is known for its provocative advertisements. The latest featured a doctored photo of the Spanish monarch with her royal arms draped around a semi-naked man, with the promise “Now you no longer have to spend the night alone.” The ad, widely believed to be cashing in on rumors of King Juan Carlos’s philandering, led Queen Sofia to promptly file suit.

The news comes in the same week that a Spanish waiter and a Belgian housewife lost legal bids to prove they are the illegitimate children of the 74-year-old king. Ashley Madison previously ran a similar ad using a Photoshopped picture of the King flanked by two models with the tagline, “The best place to ‘hunt’ for an adventure.” At the time, King Juan turned the other cheek and took no legal action. The ball is now in Sofia’s court, and she’s throwing it back hard.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Queen Sofia. As a warning shot, this sends the signal she intended.

The PR Takeway: It’s okay not to go “all the way”; sometimes starting a legal action is enough in itself, even if you don’t intend to finish what you started. The Queen has some measure of public sympathy on her side with no whiff of scandal, unlike her husband. As unlikely as this case is to go to court, she has fired a warning shot that she will defend her reputation. In so doing, she has also taken the attention away from her husband’s recent travails in court. Her actions might be the game and conversation changer both King and Queen were seeking.

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