Monthly Archives: November 2010

Kanye West: Empathy or Empty Apology?

Every year on Thanksgiving Day, millions of viewers tune into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with thousands of performing entertainers to celebrate the festivities. This year, Kanye West made an appearance on the Big Apple float with an unhappy audience booing and chanting “Taylor” as West passed the crowd. Although the MTV Video Music Awards incident occurred more than a year ago, people haven’t forgotten West’s interruption during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech, voicing his opinion that Beyoncé had the best video of the year. In fact, people haven’t forgotten a lot of things West did in the past, and his reputation continues to suffer.

West has made many PR mistakes over the years. Besides his rash actions during the MTV Video Music Awards, one of his more unpopular public incidents was calling President George Bush a racist not too long after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Not only was it brash and uncalled for, but also it took him five years to make an apology on The Today Show with Matt Lauer.

West was invited on The Today Show to redeem himself and publicly apologize for his accusations against Bush. This “redemption” interview with Lauer, however, didn’t improve his reputation. West was rude and seemed aggravated with the way the interview was set up.

According to The New York Times, West went on a Twitter rant geared directly toward Lauer and The Today Show. West complained the video clips aired during the interview were a disruption and claimed they manipulated his responses. West later stated on Twitter that he would not be returning to The Today Show.

“I’m not performing on The Today Show for obvious reasons,” West tweeted on Nov. 12. “I’m so happy the world got to see just a small piece of ‘the set up.’”

It’s unclear what “the set up” really was, but to West, The Today Show was out to get him. Where is his PR representative? Do they not care or can they simply not control his actions? Does West even care that the majority of the public disagrees with his actions? Likely not. His career hasn’t suffered; he continues to produce award-winning music with plenty of loyal followers. Why change anything? Most celebrities fight hard to uphold their reputations, especially after they have made poor decisions upsetting the public. West sees himself differently, however.

“I am a creative person . . .,” West tweeted on Nov. 9. “I’m not a good celebrity but I’m a great artist . . . I’m tired of using my celebrity to sell my art.”

Some celebrities want to bounce back from their mistakes to make amends with the public. Michael Vick served his time and openly participated in an interview on “60 Minutes” answering any and all questions that were asked about his dog fighting past. After spending time in jail for drug-related charges, Robert Downey Jr. restored his career and became clean after checking himself into a rehabilitation center. Bill Clinton publicly admitted to, and apologized for, committing adultery while in presidential office.

Everybody has an opinion and everybody makes mistakes, but being a celebrity comes with strings attached. Sometimes that includes stepping up to the plate, accepting full responsibility, answering the pressing questions and meaning every word of it. If the public doesn’t seem satisfied, try again. West may never give in to this norm of responsibility until he sees a career shift. Until then, people will continue to disapprove of him.

By Hillary Stroud

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Effective PR tactics lead to Vick-tory

As an Atlanta native, I never saw Michael Vick, the former Falcons quarterback, making a comeback. In 2007, Vick was convicted of running a dog fighting ring and training pit bulls for fighting purposes. Avid football fans all over the U.S. were disgusted with his behavior. How could a man so powerful and wealthy practice such cruelty?

Lately, however, Vick seems to be one of the NFL’s most exciting talents. After his release in 2009, he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a third-string quarterback. Now he is leading the Eagles, possibly to its first Super Bowl title. How has Vick’s image changed from convicted felon to star athlete within a year? The answer is simple: great PR tactics.

In a 2009 article on NPR’s website, PR professionals suggested Vick implement a three-step process in order to rehabilitate his image. Vick needed to show genuine regret for his actions, avoid constant media attention and prove he changed his ways. To his credit, Vick and his PR team followed this process in perfect form.

Vick returned to the spotlight on Aug. 19, 2009, with his first interview on “60 Minutes”. In this interview, Vick admitted his faults and seemed open and honest with the public.

“When I was in prison, I was disgusted, you know, because of what I let happen to those animals,” Vick said.

He also addressed his faulty reputation as a player.

“I was lazy,” Vick said. “Last guy in the building, first guy out. I know that, I hear everything people say. And that hurt me when I heard that, but I knew it was true.”

After the “60 Minutes” interview, Vick began the daunting task of rehabilitating his off- and on-field reputations. Off the field, Vick volunteered with the Humane Society of the United States and spoke at schools. Vick said he participated in these activities because he believed many destructive behaviors can be prevented. Although giving back to the community was important, Vick realized repairing his on-field image would be more difficult.

“This league is about going out and showing improvement, and, you know, basically being a man of your word, and not just talking but doing,” Vick said in a recent interview. “That’s what I try to do since I’ve been here, you know, just try to improve each and every time I’ve got an opportunity.”

Vick’s new work ethic saved him from failure. Over the past 15 months, Vick developed the reputation as a hard worker, with coaches reporting he is continually the last player to leave the field after practice. With his new outlook, everything fell into place for the star quarterback. Last spring, Vick was promoted to second-string when the Eagles unexpectedly traded Donovan McNabb to the Redskins. His role as back-up quarterback quickly changed when Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion during the first game of the season. Now, the convicted felon is giving the Eagles a season no one expected.

On the Nov. 15 game against the Redskins, Vick completed 20 of 28 passes for 333 yards and scored four touchdowns. The Eagles crushed the Redskins with a 59-28 victory. The Pro Football Hall of Fame requested the jersey Vick wore during the seemingly flawless game.

Maybe players with suffering reputations should follow in Vick’s footsteps. It is important to be honest and open, but it is also imperative to focus on the path ahead. Players shouldn’t continuously focus on their faults or appear in the media constantly. If anything, they should show their fans they are working toward the goal of victory.

By Libby Page

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90% of You Won’t Read This Blog Post

We’ve all seen status updates on Facebook stating the corresponding user is associated with a certain cause/religious faith/political ideal and dares others to post the same status, claiming that anywhere from 93 percent to 97 percent “won’t re-post this.” Where do those statistics come from? Nowhere. They are assumed and fabricated.

There is something very comforting about a statistic. Numbers are clear and simple and seem to hold no bias. However, just as in the Facebook status example, stats can be just as easily manipulated as any other fact.

Oxford mathematician, Peter Donnelly, gave another, more serious example of wrong and careless use of statistics in a TEDOpen Translation Project speech back in 2005. He told the story of a British woman, Sally Clark, who gave birth to twins, both of whom died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The mother was tried and convicted of murder because a then-distinguished pediatrician said the chance of both babies, who were born to a professional, non-smoking family, dying fromSIDS was one in 73 million. Donnelly later went on to explain how this claim was not only bad math but also a blanket use of statistics. Thankfully, Sally Clark was later acquitted of the crime, and the doctor was faced with a disrepute charge before the Britain’s General Medical Council.

Statistics are dangerous things. They can be presented as truth with little to no support to back them up. They are used and abused and misinterpreted. Misrepresentation happens easily in everyday life, but, surprisingly, it also occurs in the professional realm as well.

How can we, as future or current PR professionals, use statistics responsibly and ethically?

Psychologist John Grohol’s blog “Bad Statistics: USA Today” on Psych Central outlined the important use of context in relation to statistics. Grohol cited a USA Today article that used the statistic, “Since 1970, the percentage of people ages 18 to 34 who live at home with their family increased 48%, from 12.5 million to 18.6 million.” He said the statistic sounds great . . . except for the fact that population growth within that 36-year period was not taken into account. Also, in 1970 many aged 18-34 were drafted for the Vietnam War — the 1970 number would naturally be lower.

We should always make sure to check the background of any statistics we use. Our goal is to help our client, but another one of our goals should be to provide factual, relevant information to our audiences. Check the context of all statistics and make sure the information is being presented in its correct light, and ensure you are not making wide-sweeping claims based on these statistics.

An example of a PR blunder related to blanket statements and statistics is the Baby Einstein case in 2009. The New York Times Article No Einstein in Your Crib? Get a Refund explains how Disney, who bought the rights to Baby Einstein, had to offer a full refund to any parent who bought Baby Einstein for their children after studies were released that showed that “television exposure at ages 1 through 3 is associated with attention problems at age 7.”

Baby Einstein previously claimed to improve a baby’s cognitive development and prepare them for future education, according to the article. Baby Einstein also released a variety of baby-related statistics as good PR for the company, which, whether the statistics were true or not, helped create a false image of validity and reliability for the company.

Vicky Rideout, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, stated in the New York Times article that companies were more careful with blind claims after the Baby Einstein case, but misuse of statistics still occurs.

“When attention got focused on this issue a few years ago, a lot of companies became more cautious about what they claimed,” said Rideout in the article. “But even if the word ‘education’ isn’t there, there’s a clear implication of educational benefits in a lot of the marketing.”

Remember, just because it’s a number does not mean that you shouldn’t check and re-check the validity, just as you would with any other source. According to the PRSA Code of Ethics, PRSA recommends that all professionals “protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information.”

Statistics can be very useful and fun in highlighting trends to your audience, in creating a message and in tracking the success of a campaign. Just keep ethics in mind, and there shouldn’t be any problem!

By Karissa Bursch

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Can LeBron Take the Heat?

With the NBA season starting, the much publicized team re-alliances are back in the headlines. The leader of these shifts is LeBron James’ abandonment of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the more championship-favored Miami Heat. The announcement, made by James in a one-hour ESPN special July 8, left Cleveland fans heartbroken and betrayed by their once hometown hero. The fallout led to a stream of anti-LeBron YouTube videos, Facebook pages and accusatory statements by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.

Nike, which endorsed James since he was 18, saw this November as its time to speak up. The company released a commercial asking “What should I do?”. In it, James asks what the public wants from him, to disappear, to admit he’s a championship chaser or to just sell shoes? He asks the hard question of what exactly fans expect from athletes.

This is a challenge for any PR professional responsible for handling an athlete’s image. In all logical sense, James made a business decision. He switched from one company to another; people do it all the time without sparking Facebook hate groups. But Nike, a company that makes its money off understanding the personal connection people form with athletes, knew this was not the case.

So, what do you do when an athlete’s image could be in jeopardy? No, he didn’t get caught in a series of infidelities or sending inappropriate text messages to a reporter. What he did was much worse in the eyes of the fans: he let down the people who wear his jersey and buy his shoes.

That is what’s so great about James’ new commercial. It puts this heavy question in the hands of the fans. Nike does not condone his decision as right or wrong. It simply addresses the issue and allows fans to draw their own conclusions, while reminding us that at the end of the day James is a basketball player making a career choice.

This isn’t the first time the Nike PR team responded to an image problem with a commercial. In fact, they seem to follow the same plan they did with Tiger Woods. After Woods’ infidelities came to light, Nike waited a few months, then ran a simple but heavy-hitting commercial with a recording of Woods’ late father speaking to him. The commercial seemed to be Nike’s way of reprimanding him for his actions while also showing it would continue to support him and not drop its sponsorship.

It worked. Sure, there are still Tiger jokes and no one supports him the way they used to, but no one questions Nike’s business decision to stick by him. So the question is, “will this work for James?”. Of course, no Cleveland fans are about to jump back on the James bandwagon, but the almost 4 million views on YouTube suggest that those of us stuck in the middle can certainly forgive and forget.

By Megan Cotton

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Olbermann “Contributes” to Ethics Scandal

On Tuesday, Nov. 9, Keith Olbermann resumed his position as host of the MSNBC news program “Countdown,” after a weekend suspension. Olbermann was suspended for contributing to the campaigns of three democratic politicians. While he claims not to have known about the no-contribution rule in his contract, Olbermann apologized to his fans for causing “unnecessary drama.”

In his apology, the host called the ordeal an “injustice.” However, just days before Politico broke the story, Olbermann interviewed Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, one of the politicians to whom he gave money. Olbermann did not disclose his connection to Grijalva at any point during the interview.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, a journalist should “be free of any interest other than the public’s right to know” and should “remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.” Does Olbermann not consider openly favoring one political party over another to be an injustice to his viewers?

While I do give credit to Olbermann for using his first show back as a platform to talk about transparency, I have to wonder, whose idea was that? Rumors of a publicity stunt have been circulating since the story broke. For a network that consistently ranks at the bottom of news outlets, it’s certainly possible that these rumors are true.

But did MSNBC’s hard-line stance against the “Countdown” host work? It’s hard to say. Sure, these actions caught the nation’s attention, but I’m not sure it had the effect MSNBC was hoping for. Whether you side with Olbermann or not, most of the nation seems to agree that a weekend suspension is more of a slap on the wrist than a time out. The network’s response came across as more of a publicity statement for MSNBC than as a statement against Olbermann. But then again, why would a network want to harm the reputation of its most popular host?

It seems as if neither Olbermann nor MSNBC took this issue very seriously. Neither seemed to think of the ramifications their actions would have on their image. Their wishy-washy attitudes toward the practice of serious journalism don’t help either.

Do you think Olbermann’s actions will hurt his reputation?
Did MSNBC’s response hurt or help the network?

By Meredith Julian

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PR Makes a Stand in the Schoolhouse Door

The University of Alabama (UA) in Tuscaloosa paid homage to alumni Autherine Lucy Foster, James Hood and the late Vivian Malone by hosting an event recognizing the three individuals for their contributions to the school.

On June 11, 1963, Alabama Gov. George Wallace stood in the doorway of UA’s Foster Auditorium to prevent the enrollment of two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood. Famous for his 1963 inauguration speech, in which he advocated for “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” Wallace posed strict opposition to enrolling Malone and Hood. His opposition, however, was a failed attempt as the students were ultimately allowed to enroll at the University. Even with all of the controversy surrounding their acceptance, Malone and Hood were not the first black students to enroll at UA. Autherine Lucy Foster was accepted and spent three days at the University in 1956. After threats, attacks and mob violence, UA officials told Foster they could not protect her, and she was eventually expelled.

How is the recognition of this event and these students a strategic public relations move for the University? The math is pretty simple. A predominately white university with a history of segregation + a significant tribute to three iconic black students = a milestone in acceptance and diversity. Instead of seeking to hide its dark past, UA used a transparent method of communication and highlighted the problems with its past by honoring the progression of its present.

In early 2010, UA administration tossed and turned about what to do with the famous Foster Auditorium. The building certainly reached its peak; literally falling apart, Foster Auditorium desperately needed renovation. UA administrators sought student input. They held several meetings and invited students to cast their votes and share their opinions about remodeling decisions. This provides another great example of strategic PR; two-way communication is key in engaging an audience, and UA allowing student input was the perfect model.

Now, almost one year later, UA not only remodeled the building while still preserving historic remnants but also held a day-long event in honor of the three students. On Nov. 3, 2010, Foster, Hood and a family member of Malone participated in a panel discussion regarding racial discrimination and injustice at predominantly white universities. Following the panel discussion, UA honored the three at a private luncheon. The climax of the day-long celebration was the dedication of the newly modeled Malone-Hood Plaza and Lucy Clock Tower at Foster Auditorium. UA’s president, Dr. Robert E. Witt, welcomed the three icons and shared his gratitude of their presence on campus. Representatives from the Student Government Association and Black Student Union were also a part of the program.

Today, UA is the No. 2 public flagship university in the nation in the enrollment of African-American students, who represented more than 12 percent of the student body in the fall semester of 2010. Within the past two decades, UA increased African-American undergraduate enrollment by almost 70 percent.

With the recent release of these stats, UA’s dedication couldn’t have come at a better time. In addition to honoring the students, the dedication served as a strategic PR move to help polish UA’s image and alleviate the stigma attached to Wallace’s Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.

Do you think this helped mend UA’s historic reputation?

By Miah Evans

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Weighing in on Marie Claire’s PR Disaster

“Kiss my fat rolls.”

That was just one of more than 3,600 responses to a Marie Claire blogger’s post called, “Should ‘Fatties’ Get a Room? (Even on TV?).” The post, in which blogger Maura Kelly addresses her disgust for overweight couples on television shows like the CBS sitcom “Mike & Molly,” has been the root of Marie Claire’s latest public relations disaster.

In the post, Kelly writes:

“So anyway, yes, I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other…because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across the room – just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair . . . What do you guys think? Fat people making out on TV – are you cool with it? Do you think I’m being an insensitive jerk?”

Based on the the impassioned responses to the post, the overwhelming consensus is, yes, Maura Kelly is being an insensitive jerk. However, Maura Kelly is not the only one under fire for the blog; Marie Claire is, too.

In an attempt to smooth things over, Kelly updated her blog post with a personal apology to Marie Claire readers:

“I would really like to apologize for the insensitive things I’ve said in this post. Believe it or not, I never wanted anyone to feel bullied or ashamed after reading this, and I sorely regret that it upset people so much . . . People have accused me of being a bully in my post. I never intended to be that — it’s actually the very last thing I want to be, as a writer or a person. But I know that I came off that way, and I really cannot apologize enough to the people whom I upset,” she wrote.

It’s obvious Maura Kelly’s apology will never completely smooth things over. However, it’s important to note she took a step away from her hostile comments to try to amend her relationship with Marie Claire readers.

Editors and other leaders within Marie Claire’s ranks, however, neglected to try to preserve the relationship they share with readers. Instead of issuing a formal apology, Marie Claire editor Joanna Coles responded by saying Kelly is “a very provocative blogger” and “she was an anorexic herself and this is a subject she feels very strongly about.” Instead of reprimanding Maura Kelly, Marie Claire chose to stand by her side in support.

Marie Claire took the hands-off approach to the issue because the article was published on a blog and not in the magazine. What Marie Claire failed to recognize is the blog remains hosted on its website and the public affiliates the blog and Maura Kelly with the magazine itself. The connection seems strong enough that the blog post may as well have been published in an issue of Marie Claire.

In addition, allowing Kelly to post the blog further damages Marie Claire’s reputation because, instead of applauding individuals of all shapes and sizes, the blog openly criticizes the obese. Granted, obesity is one of America’s greatest health issues; but, the manner in which Kelly brought up the problem was highly offensive. The post secured Marie Claire’s position as yet another women’s magazine perpetuating the ideal (and unreachable) standard of “beauty” that causes such low self-esteem in women and girls.

Marie Claire’s choice not to address the blog fueled the public’s uproar and affected Marie Claire’s reputation negatively. Many people say they will never purchase issues of Marie Claire magazine again and Marie Claire lost their support. Others canceled their subscriptions. Some even decided to hold a “Kiss-In” protest at the Hearst Building in Manhattan.

By simply acknowledging the harm done by Maura Kelly’s post and issuing a formal apology, Marie Claire could have salvaged its reputation. But that apology will never come, although readers are still waiting.

How do you think Marie Claire should have reacted? Do you think its reputation has been harmed?

By Desiree Mahr

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