Let’s play make believe: Imagine you’re a massive energy company facing a big PR headache over an oil spill caused by a broken pipeline right in the middle of Arkansas. Now imagine that you really, really don’t want everyone in the country to know about the terrible accident and your response to it.
Shoot the Messenger
Today in Classic PR Infighting news: we’ve all heard of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg‘s book Lean In, which is all about how women need to assert themselves more aggressively in the workplace.
Of course Sandberg’s been making the media rounds to promote the book. This week Kate Losse, an early Facebook employee who once wrote speeches for Mark Zuckerberg and published a memoir about her experience there, posted a critical review of the book in Dissent magazine.
Here’s how current Sandberg rep and former Facebook PR chief/Losse coworker Brandee Barker responded:
— kate losse (@fake_train) March 27, 2013
Breaking news: Political spokesmen sometimes bend the truth! Last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart devoted six minutes to shooting those messenger(s). Stewart lambasted Barack Obama’s first press secretary Robert Gibbs for the way he came clean, during his new gig as an MSNBC analyst, on his stonewalling two-step over the administration’s use of remote drones to kill suspected terrorists.
Stewart compared the glib Gibbs with the seemingly emotionally damaged Scott McClellan, George W. Bush’s second spokesman, concluding that neither are any good at protecting the POTUS in their respective retirements. “Either way, secrets spilled,” Stewart finds. “What you need is a jaded believer. Boom.”
When McClellan came out with his admissions of lying, guess which Bush surrogate went after him? Boom, Ari Fleischer.
Yet, despite all this immeasurably positive publicity, Bey’s PR team didn’t feel like the next-day coverage was quite as “flattering” as it could/should have been. You’d think anyone would love a post like BuzzFeed‘s “33 Fiercest Moments from Beyoncé’s Halftime Show“–the page has 33 thousand likes, for God’s sake. But the singer’s rep wasn’t happy, and she quickly responded by calling and emailing the site to “respectfully” request that its editors remove or replace seven of the post’s 30 still shots.
BuzzFeed’s editors, clearly annoyed at this nitpickery, decided to highlight the anal retentive PR request by re-posting the email along with the very pictures singled out as “unflattering”. While the site “redacted” the publicist’s specific email address, the post includes her full name and company–so any haters with time on their hands can easily email her.
Our question for readers: Who’s in the wrong here?
Did BuzzFeed overreact by brazenly “shooting the messenger”, or should the PR team have expected this kind of response to a completely unreasonable request?
Whatever your opinion, we think it’s safe to say the move backfired.
Many media outlets have labeled Greg Smith’s investment banking expose Why I Left Goldman Sachs disappointing; some in the financial industry have gone so far as to call him a classic “con man”. That doesn’t mean Goldman’s top PR guy Jake Siewert can rest easy.
A veteran of the Clinton administration and former adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Siewert signed with Sachs earlier this year to help the firm’s principals “put the mistakes of the financial crisis behind them” and improve their company’s public image.
Mere days after Siewert’s hiring announcement, The New York Times published Greg Smith’s defamatory op-ed decrying the Goldman Sachs culture of greed as “toxic and destructive”—so you might say he hit the ground running.
Most of Siewert’s damage control efforts over the past six months have amounted to “off the record” conversations defending the firm’s reputation, but yesterday he sat down with New York Magazine’s Kevin Roose to discuss the politics and challenges of reputation management.
We won’t reprint the entire interview, but here’s an interesting tidbit on why Goldman chose to shoot the messenger:
“Why not just issue a generic statement saying, ‘Goldman Sachs is committed to serving its clients’ needs’ and leave it at that?
That hasn’t worked out so well in the past. And frankly, we didn’t know what was in the book.”
Siewert is predictably guarded, but it’s still worth a read.
PR pros: How big is the challenge facing Siewert? Was Goldman right to attack Smith?
Bill Nye is most commonly known as “The Science Guy”, a popular children’s entertainer famous for making science (and general geekiness) cool for a generation of Americans now in their 20’s and 30’s. His Disney/PBS show ran for five years and 100 episodes, and it remains a popular in-class resource for American science teachers.
Last month, however, he decided to get political by taking a public stand on the “issue” of evolution in a short video produced by Big Think and encouraging parents not to teach creationism to their children or bring it into the classroom. The spot has gone viral with over 4 million views to date, inspiring a series of responses and online debates that continue to make headlines today as he travels the country lecturing university students on the value of scientific study and personal ambition.
Nye was quite blunt in an Associated Press interview, saying “The Earth is not 6,000 or 10,000 years old. It’s not. And if that conflicts with your beliefs, I strongly feel you should question your beliefs.”
Despite the fact that Lance Armstrong’s recent decision not to fight the continued charges leveled against him by the US Anti-Doping Agency shocked observers around the world, millions remain in his corner. Be they die-hard fans who see no clear evidence of cheating, admirers who argue that his status as a cancer survivor and charity icon supersedes any ethical lapses, or longtime sponsors like Nike who have always seen him as a somewhat controversial spokesman, quite a few individuals spent the last week arguing that Lance Armstrong is a good guy no matter what.
Well, they’re not going to like this latest news. Mike Anderson, who served as Lance’s personal assistant and technician for two years while he dominated the sport of cycling, just published an extensive “My Life with Lance Armstrong” article in Outside Online magazine—and he’s not doing the champ any favors.
Anderson’s main point: Yes, Lance probably cheated. But, more importantly, he’s always been kind of a jerk. He didn’t just aggressively deny doping charges throughout his career, he repeatedly shot the messengers. These people weren’t just mistaken; according to Armstrong, they were “troll[s]” filled with “bitterness, jealousy and hatred.” Hmm…doesn’t respond well to criticism? Do go on…
Press Secretary to the President (or PS2POTUS) Robert Gibbs took a bath last night due to the ace throwing arm of Bill Plante of CBS News.
The dunking tank at the White House luau is just another way the Obama administration is bringing humor and humility to its relationship with the 4th Estate.
PR and lobby shop Quinn & Gillespie is hosting their annual Flak Bash tonight to “honor D.C.’s most daring and verbally agile communicators.” The awards–flak jackets–are handed out to flaks (or flacks) to the Best Spokesperson in the following categories: Presidential Campaign (Republican and Democrat); Capitol Hill Press Secretary (Republican and Democrat); and Industry (business and association).
According to Quinn & Gillespie’s Ashley Prime:
Nominees come from the general public, and are judged by a top journalists including Jeff Birnbaum, The Washington Times; Eleanor Clift, Newsweek; Bob Cusack, The Hill; Eve Fairbanks, The New Republic; Arianna Huffington; Kathryn Jean Lopez; National Review Online; Charlie Mitchell, Roll Call; Brody Mullins, The Wall Street Journal; Bara Vaida, National Journal; and Jim VandeHei, The Politico.
According to Politico’s Shenanigans blog:
This is always a pretty popular affair, of course, honoring the best flaks in each political party in campaigns, on the Hill and in industry.
But there are some names that pop out. Sarah Palin, for one. Joe Biden. Tim Kaine. T. Boone Pickens. Tom Tancredo?
Where’s Obama’s smooth talking southerner Robert Gibbs, and McCain’s Nicole Wallace? Surely they deserve respective kudos for being keeper of the message, and nearly-shot messenger/Needless Markups shopper?
[Colbert's angel of death, via 2040worldview]
In what could prove to be the ultimate messenger-shoots-back moment, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino joins Rahm Emanuel, Orrin Hatch, Eleanor Holmes Norton tonight to roast Stephen Colbert for the annual Spina Bifida fundraiser.
Colbert hasn’t been too rough on Perino, only referring to her “rockin’ bod” on the Report. Emanuel suffered the threat of a second severed finger for telling freshmen Dems not to appear on “Better Know a District”.
[Analysis of Colbert's insults via The Examiner's Yeahs and Nays]
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