The Truth About Wrongdoing, for the Right Reason

 The Truth About Wrongdoing, for the Right Reason

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart.

Thousands of children go missing each year, and in 2002, Elizabeth Smart was one of them. Smart was 14 when she was kidnapped from her Utah bedroom by Brian David Mitchell; she was found by police nine months later, less than 20 miles from her home. Over the past decade, she has been criticized for not attempting to escape, including one time when the pair were stopped by a police officer and Smart didn’t ask for help.

Now 25, Smart hit the media circuit this week to promote her memoir, My Story, which chronicles her horrific abduction. She says that the reason she’s telling “100 percent” of what happened to her in captivity, which included being raped daily, is because she wants to show other victims of sexual abuse that they can lead normal lives afterward.

She also wants readers to understand children’s mindsets in such circumstances.  Abused children are often brainwashed by their tormentors, she says. “I was a little girl,” Smart told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I had seen this man successfully kidnap me, he successfully chained me up, he successfully raped me, he successfully did all of these things. What was to say that he wouldn’t kill me…what was to say that he wouldn’t kill my family?”

Let’s be frank: a candid accounting of Smart’s ordeal will no doubt boost sales for her book. But Smart’s interviews also reveal a thoughtful, composed, and well-adjusted young woman with more than just a lurid story to tell.

THE PR VERDICT:  “B” (Good Show) for Elizabeth Smart, whose dark cloud has a silver lining for victims of similar abuse.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Good intentions can equal good PR. Smart has spoken about her kidnapping in the past, but it’s taken her more than a decade of reflection to tell her story. That lends credibility to the notion that she’s not just interested in making a buck. Her motivations for speaking now, and in such detail, seem genuine. From a PR perspective, Elizabeth Smart is a victim no more.

Facebook Does the Right Thing, But Doesn’t Get “Liked”

FB mastect crop Facebook Does the Right Thing, But Doesnt Get Liked

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Facebook, regarding mastectomy photos on the site.

Remember Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy story? Of course you do. The attention she garnered propelled Facebook, the Internet’s favorite whipping boy, into a conversation about breast cancer survivors that it never wanted, and from which it could never gain.

A photographer posted dramatic photos of mastectomied women and was temporarily banned from the social network under Facebook’s vague guidelines regarding nudity. His cause was taken up by an activist outraged at Facebook’s seeming insensitivity. The activist, a Stage IV cancer survivor herself, started an online petition calling on Facebook to reverse itself – and got more than 20,000 signatures overnight.

Facebook, to its credit, reached out to the activist and clarified its policy on post-mastectomy photos, which is now its own paragraph on the site’s community standards page. In a statement, Facebook said it had always permitted such photos, but took some down after users complained. The reworded policy made their acceptability on the site explicit. The action should have generated “win-win” type headlines. Instead what emerged were headlines of Facebook “bowing  to consumer pressure.” For Facebook, no good deed goes unpunished.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Facebook, for suffering the PR consequences without complaining.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  A measured response is always best. When you have bigger PR headaches – like allegations that you let the Government spy on your users, for example – it could be tempting to look for a way to deflect  negative attention and polish your public image. But doing so carries risks you look callow and opportunistic. Facebook could have made more noise about its policy change to garner good publicity but recognized that the story was not in their control. Better then to take  your lumps and turn the page. In the world of PR, it’s important not to bring a fly swatter to a gun fight. And don’t bring an F-16, either.