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Posts Tagged ‘bad behavior’

Bribes, Blockades and Blackmail: Inside China’s ‘Black PR’ Industry

Bo XilaiWe all know that public relations can get a little…insane at times. Bad behavior, lawsuits, internal leaks…we’ve got it all, right? Sure we do–but when it comes to crazy we can’t even compete with China. A “shocking expose” first reported by the People’s Republic’s Caixin magazine and translated by the Tech in Asia blog reveals a seedy PR underworld in which firms earn millions every year on the strength of bribery and blackmail–all committed in the name of media relations and reputation management.

The primary players in this sordid saga are two firms called Yage Times and XinXun Media. What did these firms do, exactly? They specialized in getting negative news stories about clients removed from prominent websites–but it all goes much deeper than that.

Not only would these companies bribe site runners to delete “unflattering” posts–they also paid their friends in IT to have related search terms blocked on Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google. Imagine entering “Beyoncé lip sync” or “Burger King horse meat” into your browser and coming up with a big fat nothing and you’ll get the general idea.

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Mediabistro Job FairLand your next big gig! Join us on January 27 at the Altman Building in New York City for an incredible opportunity to meet with hiring managers from the top New York media companies, network with other professionals and industry leaders, and land your next job. Register now!

PR Fail: Cinemark Invites Families of Aurora Shooting Victims to Theater Reopening

A note to readers: While most of the PR failures we write about are unfortunate, they are also amusing (on some level). This one, however, cannot be categorized as anything but horrifically insensitive, bordering on cruel.

Relatives of the victims of last summer’s movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado recently received invitations from Cinemark USA to attend the reopening of the same theater at which their loved ones lost their lives. The invitations, which were sent just after the holidays, urged recipients to “reserve [their] tickets” for an evening of remembrance and a movie to follow.

In response, family members sent a strongly-worded letter to Cinemark in which they expressed anger and outrage at the company’s lack of compassion, calling the invitation “disgusting”. They also noted that Cinemark representatives never reached out to offer their condolences; the company even rebuffed requests to meet with family members without lawyers present. The letter admonishes the reopening celebration as a “thinly veiled publicity ploy” and calls for a boycott of the theater.

Click through for the full letter, which appeared in The Denver Post complete with the signatures of eight shooting victims’ relatives:

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Airline Industry to Public: We Don’t Like You, Either!

As PR professionals, we constantly preach about the importance of self-awareness. Brands, companies and people must always be privy to what the public is thinking and feeling. Being tone deaf–or even conveying the perception of being tone deaf–to public sentiment can be PR suicide.

But what about the public’s own collective self-awareness? History has proven that the public is capable of some pretty grisly acts, and those horrible transgressions typically occur when the public is the least self-aware. So let’s take a deep breath and do a little soul searching.

In the PR realm, we’ve addressed, for example, the public’s role in the mistreatment of Kate Middleton and the invasion of her privacy. And now, thanks to a book titled Tales from the Tarmac and written by 16-year airline industry veteran Claudia Helena Oxee, we can once again look into the mirror. The reflection isn’t pretty–Ms. Oxee’s perception of us is both unfiltered and unforgiving.

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Nurse Who Handled Kate Middleton Prank Call Commits Suicide

Today in Tragic PR Stunt News: radio prank calls are as old as radio itself. Sometimes they can be amusing—who can forget the time an excited Sarah Palin answered a call from Canadian radio host “Nicolas Sarkozy” or the time Miami pranksters insulted Hugo Chavez?

Unfortunately, shock jock antics sometimes go too far. This week two Australian DJ’s followed up on the “Kate Middleton Is Pregnant” story by prank-calling the hospital that housed the Duchess after she suffered from a spell of nausea. They convinced a nurse/receptionist to put them through to the Duchess’s private nurse, thereby gaining undisclosed personal details about her case. The prank got them plenty of attention.

Today brings news of that first nurse/receptionist’s death by apparent suicide. While media outlets rightly hesitate to draw a direct line between the prank call and the tragic passing of Jacintha Saldanha, longtime hospital employee and mother of two, we think it’s quite fair to say that the DJs made a very bad decision by continuing to hype their #RoyalPrank story after Saldanha died and the radio station issued a public apology.

And now we’re very slightly satisfied to report that the hosts in question appear to have been fired for their bad behavior. Their Twitter accounts are no longer active.

We guess the station made the right move in the end, but the whole incident rightly leaves them looking very bad indeed.

UK Tabloid PR Man Busted for Sex Crimes

Max CliffordSeems like everyone in the UK media world had way too much fun in the 70’s, doesn’t it?

The latest chapter in Britain’s never-ending sex scandal, however, may the most ironic of the bunch. Owner of amazing eyebrows Max Clifford is a bigtime UK PR man who we’ve covered before (and who represented such clients as a certain obscure goat-herder named Simon Cowell). He made his name breaking trashy tabloid stories—and getting sued for them! Many of his “greatest hits” happened to involve sexual scandals, “toe sucking” and “hamster sandwiches”—classy stuff, that.

This week the esteemed Mr. Clifford found himself arrested for undisclosed sexual offenses dating back three decades as part of an ongoing “inquiry” by UK law enforcement.

That’s not the worst part of this story, though. Here’s a quote from an interview that the oh-so-wise Clifford granted a couple of weeks ago:

“I think there’s a lot of very famous people that are very concerned, very frightened. In the 60s and 70s, everything opened up. All kinds of things were going on. At the time, these were young guys, many of them were being pursued in dressing rooms and concert halls and everywhere they went by young girls. A lot of them have trouble remembering what happened two weeks ago, let alone 40 years ago or more.”

Ah yes, the eternal struggles of successful men “being pursued” by young, sex-crazed girls. Next week we’ll bring you the latest chapter in our definitive PR guidebook, How to Make Yourself Look Like a Horse’s Ass.

Postmortem: Rihanna’s Crazy Mess of a Tour

Rihanna 777 TourSince we feel like covering the indulgent lifestyles of pop stars today, we’d like to offer a postmortem assessment of Rihanna’s recent PR disaster disguised as a whirlwind international tour.

See, the very concept behind this extended promo event demanded the “stunt” label: The pop star planned to play seven countries in seven days, and she invited approximately 150 music journalists to join her on her Boeing 777 mega-jet (we don’t really get the “7” theme).

Anyway, chaos quickly descended upon the unfortunate entourage. These journalists relayed news of on-plane streaking, hunger, sleep deprivation, lack of bathroom access and general anxiety while receiving very little attention from an apparently disinterested Rihanna. The star’s heart just didn’t seem to be in it: She received boos from fans in Berlin after forgetting the lyrics to her own songs and denied all interview requests during the trip as some journalists began to wonder whether she was on the plane at all.

On first glance, this all looks to be something of a PR disaster. On second glance, it looks even worse.

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Petraeus Scandal’s Third Wheel Played Politics, Ran a Shady Charity

David Petraeus and Jill Kelley courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Last week we updated you on the juiciest available details regarding the David Petraeus scandal; most of these revelations involved a Tampa, Florida-based socialite named Jill Kelley, who seems to have played the role of third party spoiler in this twisted romantic tragedy.

As the controversy grows into every tabloid writer’s dream scoop and the media subjects Mrs. Kelley’s life to a far greater degree of scrutiny than she ever expected, a few interesting details have come to light.

There’s quite a bit to sort through: First of all, Mrs. Kelley has an identical sister named Natalie Khawam. The two enjoy participating in Florida politics, raising money for charitable causes…and racking up combined debts of approximately $7.6 million! Mrs. Kelley is currently “mired in lawsuits from a string of banks”, and Ms. Khawam declared bankruptcy earlier this year after engaging in a court battle over custody of her son and receiving character testimony from both General Petraeus and top Army General John Allen (who seems to have developed an amorous interest in her sister that included hundreds of not-so-discrete emails).

Another mini-scandal: Petraeus helped Kelley earn a gig as “honorary” consul to South Korea, but Kelley reportedly dropped the first part of her fake title when socializing—and this weekend the New York Daily News ran a story alleging that she tried to turn the unpaid position into a big-time score by enticing businessmen with her fictional connections to South Korea’s president.

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Budweiser Miffed Over Flight Product Placement

And now we bring you a very, very welcome respite from politics. Yes, it felt great to type that.

In the eyes of the average brand, product placement is a good thing–especially when the product in question plays a role in a hit feature film. But representatives for worldwide King of Suds Anheuser-Busch aren’t too happy with the fact that a bottle clearly bearing the Budweiser logo appears in the new Denzel Washington thriller Flight.

Why would any brand demand to have its logo removed from a critically acclaimed movie starring one of the industry’s biggest names? It’s fairly simple, really: his character has a drinking problem.

That’s right, Denzel stars as a commercial airline pilot who works an evening shift as a hopeless alcoholic–and that fact turns into a big problem after he survives a “horrific crash” for which we can only assume he bears responsibility (no spoilers please–we’re waiting for the DVD).

Turns out that DVD may well be missing a certain dark-brown bottle with an iconic red logo. This week, Anheuser-Busch asked Paramount and its parent company, Viacom, to remove all traces of the offending Bud from subsequent cuts of Flight. The company’s vice president issued a statement: “We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking…It is disappointing that Image Movers, the production company, and Paramount chose to use one of our brands in this manner.”


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Last Night’s Winner: NYT’s Nate Silver

This afternoon we offer a semi-apology to those who follow American politics closely, because you’re going to see a whole lot of headlines like this one today and in the weeks ahead.

There’s a reason for that, though, and it needs to be covered: Nate Silver of The New York Times scored this election’s biggest branding win. He made a large portion of the  media’s pundit/PR class look ridiculous, and he did it using the most basic public relations strategy: honesty, consistent messaging and confidence in his clearly defined brand.

The fact that his book, The Signal and the Noise, quickly climbed to number 2 on the Amazon sales list today is no coincidence.

Some very quick back-story: Silver was a sports statistician who blogged electoral politics as a hobby, and in 2008 people started noticing how accurate his predictions turned out to be. The New York Times hired him as a regular contributor and began to host his blog on its main site. His audience quickly grew; he provided approximately 20% of the NYT‘s traffic in the days leading up to the vote.

For the past three weeks, Silver predicted a small but decisive Obama win despite the pundit class’s insistence that the race was “a toss-up”. Quite a few media folk lashed out, calling him partisan and insisting that his numbers were meaningless–but he never wavered. The only time Silver came anywhere close to damaging his brand was a few weeks ago, when he responded to the taunts of talk show host and former congressman Joe Scarborough with the offer of a bet–if the president lost, Silver would donate $1000 to the Red Cross on Scarborough’s behalf. NYT  public editor Margaret Sullivan questioned whether this wager was appropriate, but Silver’s fans jumped in to defend him—and we don’t think we’ll see too many criticisms coming from the management team after last night.

This is a big story—and we have confidence that it will change the political PR game in this country.

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Worst Branding Ever: Accused Rapist Debuts ‘Four Loko Defense’

The toxic combination of caffeine, alcohol and corn syrup known as Four Loko got a lot of bad press a couple of years ago thanks to Chuck Schumer and a few other buzzkills with time on their hands (like Brooklyn Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, who wasn’t afraid to use his own vomit to make a point).

After the company caved and removed the caffeine from its products, a whole bunch of other beverage makers like Colt 45 decided to cash in on the “dangerous sugar drink” craze. Politicians had some new enemies, but Four Loko just kept chugging along.

The worst news regarding the infamous Loko involved reports of young people blacking out after drinking it—and now, in a frankly disgusting turn of events, a man accused of raping a woman in Manhattan’s Hudson River Park has debuted the “Four Loko defense”, claiming that he was too intoxicated by the sugary drink to remember what happened that night—the implication being that he should therefore not be held responsible.

Innocent until proven guilty, of course, but did we mention that this guy is both homeless and a twice-convicted sex offender? The accused allegedly told officers “I drank five Four Lokos, Grey Goose vodka, smoked marijuana and K2. I was going toward the Brooklyn Bridge and was going to jump off the bridge.”


We guess that, when a product is best-known for its ability to help one “get blotto”, reports like this one can’t do too much damage to the brand. But based on the frankly disturbing photo attached to this story, we know somebody somewhere does publicity for Four Loko—and we can’t imagine that person is too terribly happy with his or her job right now.