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Posts Tagged ‘big bird’

Our 12 Favorite PR Stories of 2012 (Part 1)

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen lots of “best” and “worst” lists for the PR year that (almost) was. Most of them were well-researched, informative overviews that helped give us a fuller picture of a topsy-turvy year in public relations.

We debated whether to put our heads together, conduct a survey, consult the Twittersphere and create the definitive list of 2012′s most important/influential PR stories. But then we just decided to put all that reasoned analysis aside and go completely subjective—so we compiled our 12 favorite stories that appeared on PRNewser in 2012.

Some are serious, some are silly and some are nearly unbelievable. Do they all reveal some larger truth about the PR industry? No. Are they the most important stories of the year? Definitely not. Then why did we choose them? Because we really enjoyed reading and writing them. That’s pretty much it.

Here are the first six, in no particular order:

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Meet the ‘Sesame Street’ Crisis Response Team

Sesame Street courtesy of The Sesame WorkshopThis week’s New York Magazine includes an intriguing profile of a crisis response team that’s been in the news quite a bit lately: the PR group representing Sesame Street puppetmasters The Sesame Workshop. The profile seems even more relevant given the ongoing Elmo-related drama that culminated in puppeteer Kevin Clash’s abrupt resignation this morning.

Protecting the interests of Big Bird, Cookie Monster and the press-averse Snuffleupagus seems like a fairly low-risk job, but Sesame Street deals with more PR challenges than you’d expect–even if we leave out the Elmo kerfuffle. Day-to-day crises range from longtime fans’ “sellout” accusations to a multitude of unlicensed usage cases involving trademarked and extremely valuable characters.

This year, for example, the team had to do its best to “clamp down on” a glut of sexy Big Bird costumes—and we didn’t even mention the Change.org petition demanding that the company force Bert and Ernie out of the closet. Must have been hard to write a serious press release about that one.

Ironically or not (depending on your political sensibilities), the team’s leader is whip-smart Sherrie Rollins Westin, a veteran of the George H.W. Bush White House and former wife of longtime Republican strategist Ed Rollins (who briefly managed Michele Bachman‘s amazing 2012 presidential campaign). The team also includes former Newsweek CEO Tom Ascheim and Myung Kang-Huneke, who previously represented the New York City Housing Authority (an organization that’s perpetually defending itself against lawsuits). In other words, these guys do NOT mess around.

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Elmo Resigns After Second Accuser Files Suit

Kevin Clash with ElmoSeems like we just can’t quite keep up with the ongoing PR crisis surrounding puppeteer Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo. After a man accused Clash of having an “improper relationship” with him when he was 16, recanted and settled, then tried to re-file his claim, today brings news of a second man looking to take Clash to court.

According to TMZ, an unnamed accuser in his 30′s filed a lawsuit against Clash today. He claims that the two met on a gay phone chat line when he was 15 and Clash was 32–and that they maintained an ongoing relationship.

And now for the predictably gory details: This latest accuser claims that, although the relationship began nearly 20 years ago, he did not take legal action until now because he “did not become aware that he had suffered adverse psychological and emotional effects from Kevin Clash’s sexual acts and conduct until 2012″. The lawsuit even veers into character assassination, citing Clash’s “depraved sexual interests” and claiming that he used his status as an entertainer to “[prey] on teenage boys.”

Oh, and this guy’s legal team learned something from the first settlement: their filing included a demand for “more than $5 million.”

We wish we had no more to report on this unfortunate story. Even if the latest case ends with a settlement or a dismissal of all charges, the legal saga will continue to be a major headache for the Sesame Street brand.

UPDATE: Sesame Workshop just released a statement announcing that Kevin Clash has resigned from Sesame Street in the wake of these newest allegations, citing the puppeteer’s conclusion that “he can no longer be effective in his job”. A sad day for the whole team.

Will Elmo Sex Case Damage the Sesame Street Brand?

Kevin Clash and Elmo the Sesame Street PuppetThis week brings some unfortunate news from Sesame Street: Big Bird may be fine, but the future looks uncertain for Elmo. Puppeteer Kevin Clash, the voice behind the furry red monster and the subject of the award-winning 2011 documentary Being Elmo, stands accused of improper sexual conduct with a minor. The Sesame Workshop granted him an open-ended leave of absence to resolve related legal matters.

Clash, who is openly gay, acknowledges having a relationship with the man, now 23. The two differ, however, on the accuser’s age at the time of the affair. In a statement, Clash said that “I had a relationship with the accuser. It was between two consenting adults, and I am deeply saddened that he is characterizing it as something other than what it was”. The accuser has not denied the consensual nature of the relationship; he and his lawyer simply assert that it began while he was only 16 years old.

The Sesame Workshop first learned of the accusations several months ago and conducted an independent investigation. Yesterday a spokesman stated, “We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation. We also conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated”. The accuser’s law firm sees things differently, claiming that Sesame Workshop aims to “discredit the victim” in order to preserve the Elmo brand.

Clash’s publicist declined to comment further, and we can certainly see why: In order to clear his name, the puppeteer has no real choice but to let the legal case run its course. The story will almost certainly taint the public’s perception of Mr. Clash even if he’s vindicated–and it will certainly prove a big impediment to an otherwise charmed career.

But will it damage the Elmo character or the larger Sesame Street brand?

Inevitable Big Bird Campaign Ad Hits (UPDATED)

Today in Why Did This Take So Long News: The Obama campaign has decided to capitalize on Mitt Romney’s much-discussed Big Bird debate comment in a video ad, and we have to say it’s pretty good!

The ad lists a few notorious financial criminals (Ken Lay, Bernie Madoff, etc.) and implies that Mitt Romney’s adversity to financial regulation would reward the bigwigs who brought our economy down while punishing innocents like everyone’s favorite fluffy yellow…thing.

We don’t really want to get into a debate about whether Obama himself has gone far enough to rein in financial abuses, but it is nice to know that political hacks can make a decent joke from time to time.

UPDATE: Sesame Workshop just released an official response to the ad, noting that it is a non-profit, non-partisan entity and requesting that the Obama campaign stop airing the ad. Score one for consistency!

Calm Down, Everybody: Big Bird Will Be Fine

We’ll just go ahead and say it: last night’s debate was a big bore. Mitt Romney did quite well, Jim Lehrer did quite poorly, and a few million people became aware of the current President’s sleepwalking problem for the first time. (It is worth noting that, way back in June, Chuck Todd predicted that Obama would probably not win this first debate because “no one has cut his remarks short during his term in office”.)

The night’s most contentious moment, however, clearly concerned none other than Big Bird. When listing public entities that he would stop funding if elected, Romney took a moment to pick on perennial bogeyman PBS, telling Public Broadcasting employee Lehrer that he would have to cut funding for the channel despite the fact that “I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too.”

The Internet quickly made it a meme, and a predictable number of mildly amusing tweets ensued. So yeah, it was a weird line—but it wasn’t quite accurate. (In case you hadn’t noticed, this is a common problem in presidential debates.)

Unfortunately, we have to ruin everyone’s fun by calling an official end to this non-scandal. Take it away, Sherrie Westin, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Sesame Workshop–give CNN’s Soledad O’Brien some of that sweet, sweet damage control!

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