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Posts Tagged ‘cheaters’

Swiss Banking Industry Offers Shockingly Sincere Apology for Tax Shelters

The hills are alive with the sound of groveling

Swiss bank accounts are kind of like steroids in sports: lots of ridiculously wealthy people use them and everybody knows that these people use them, but they’re still a big no no. We joke about how they’ve become such a regular part of the national conversation, but any connection to them becomes a PR liability for big-name clients. Just ask Mitt Romney.

For this reason, we find ourselves amused by the incredibly earnest apology issued today by Patrick Odier, a spokesperson speaking on behalf of the entire Swiss banking industry. He wants to let the world know that his clients are very, very sorry for encouraging Americans to avoid paying domestic taxes on the money that they worked so hard to earn (if by “worked so hard” you mean “established high-yield savings accounts”). Here’s his explanation:

It was not because we lacked skills and knowledge that we found ourselves in these unfortunate situations. It was because we acted wrongly and we displayed wrong conduct. I regret this all the more because we have damaged the reputation of the entire Swiss financial center.

Yes, this apology came after Switzerland’s decision to (begrudgingly) assist the U.S. in identifying tax cheats, and that came after a lengthy investigation that forced the nation’s oldest bank to close and threatened to wreck the industry’s credibility. But Odier sounds downright masochistic here. Have any crisis comms pros ever witnessed such a self-effacing apology?

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Drug Makers Turn Doping Scandals into Good PR

Lance ArmstrongHere’s an interesting way for controversial brands to maintain or improve their reputations: take an industry’s biggest scandal and turn it into a PR win through effective advocacy and counter-messaging efforts.

We’ve heard a good bit about EPO and other performance-enhancing drugs in the past few months thanks in large part to athletes like Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorious, the Olympian double-amputee and accused murderer who apparently liked to mix his alcohol with illegal steroids. Lest we forget, these drugs primarily serve as useful medicines that can help lengthen and improve the lives of those affected by chronic conditions like anemia.

In a determined PR move, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline–two of the world’s largest drug makers–have joined the World Anti-Doping Agency in an attempt to prevent the abuse of their products and protect their names from the inevitable backlash.

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PR Disaster: Notre Dame Star Manti Te’o's Fake Dead Girlfriend

Mani Te'oIt was every sports journalist’s dream story: Promising college senior, Heisman trophy runner-up and near-certain first round NFL draft pick Manti Te’o suffers the deaths of his grandmother and his beautiful, supportive girlfriend within 24 hours–just before dominating the field in his team’s upset victory and continuing his streak as one of the nation’s most promising college football players. His heartbreaking tale of grief and victory quickly spreads beyond the world of sports.

One problem, though: it wasn’t true.

Deadspin broke the astonishing story yesterday as a web of complex lies promoted by some of our most respected publications began to unravel and the damage control campaign began.

A summary for those who haven’t been following: Manti Te’o is a gifted football player and devout Mormon from Hawaii who claimed, via his Twitter feed and various public statements, to have developed a relationship with a woman known as Lennay Kekua who he supp0sedly met after a 2009 game between Stanford and his team, Notre Dame. She had a Twitter account with which Te’o frequently interacted, expressing his love and encouraging his fans to follow her sister (both fake accounts were later deleted).

Then came the news that, right after the (real) death of Manti’s beloved grandmother last September, Kekua passed away from leukemia approximately a month after suffering a serious car accident. Manti doesn’t attend her funeral because she had insisted that he not miss a game. South Bend Tribune fleshed out the story through interviews with Te’o before Sports Illustrated, ESPN, CBS, the New York Post, The Associated Press and pretty much everybody else in the media world reported on it. Someone set up a charity in Kekua’s name. Manti Te’o was an American classic: the tragic hero.

And then things began to fall apart.

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Lance Armstrong’s Confession: A PR Win for Oprah?

Lance ArmstrongIn a breaking story that will surprise very few, sources close to Lance Armstrong confirm that he used his exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey (taped yesterday) to admit that he took illegal, performance-enhancing substances throughout his cycling career–and that he plans to testify against officials who “encouraged” the practice.

Even as Armstrong confessed to what pretty much everyone suspected, he also seems to have hedged a bit, using the “everybody was doing it” defense to argue that he was not, in fact, a doping “ringleader”. Given his extremely aggressive PR efforts in denying all relevant accusations for years, we’re not quite sure anyone will buy that line–but he clearly made a strategic decision in the interest of saving what’s left of his multimillion dollar reputation. By testifying against others involved in the scandal, he hopes to overcome his lifelong ban from competitive sports so he can continue to compete in “triathalons and running events” while raising money for his charity.

This is obviously a big story, and some within the industry see it as a major PR win for Oprah, whose influence has been slipping of late as her OWN Network struggles to gain viewers and seeks media attention via moves like a partnership with The Huffington Post. Oprah clearly aims to make the most of the interview–she’s splitting it into two parts, and directly after its conclusion she tweeted:

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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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Yelp Cracks Down on Fake Reviews

Regular readers will know how much we dislike the “fake ‘user’ review” phenomenon, so we’re somewhat encouraged to report that Yelp, that notorious bastion of foodie self-promotion, recently made some big moves to crack down on the cheaters.

Want to see the practice in action? Here’s a craigslist post specifically offering to pay for positive Yelp reviews. The site’s famous review filter can only get rid of so much of this stuff.

OK, we get it: Yelp is extremely influential within the hyper-competitive restaurant world. Bad Yelp reviews can be worse for business than negative editorials in local papers. We can see why the temptation to encourage friends, employees and paid “freelancers” to post glowing write-ups might be hard to resist, but that doesn’t make the practice acceptable. It’s fake, cheap PR.

In a possible attempt to justify its dubious “Real People. Real Reviews.” tagline and acquire something resembling credibility, Yelp decided to adopt an unusual strategy: publicly shaming any businesses caught cheating.

Here’s the deal:

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Goldman Sachs Will Address The Court of Public Opinion Now

Today marks a Very Serious Literary Event: the release of Wall Street turncoat/general sad sack Greg Smith’s highly anticipated non-fiction debut, Why I Left Goldman Sachs.

Smith’s book expands upon an op-ed he wrote for The New York Times back in March in which he decried his former employer’s once-noble culture as “toxic and destructive” while claiming to be shocked at “how callously people talk about ripping their clients off”. The article’s best-known revelation was the fact that managers referred to their clients as “muppets”—and not in an endearing Fozzie Bear kind of way.

First the obvious: Most Americans don’t think too highly of Goldman Sachs right now, no matter what Mr. Smith says. When Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone referred to the company as a “great vampire squid”, he wasn’t just engaging in colorful hyperbole: According to the widely cited YouGov Brand Index, GS remains engaged in a bad-PR battle with JPMorgan Chase to determine which financial organization Americans hate most.

Politicians may have plenty of love for Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, but the average “man on the street” feels differently. So how will the biggest name in investment banking deal with its most visible enemy? Until now, the organization has largely ignored Mr. Smith, but a curious internal memo reveals that this is no longer the case.

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Nike (Finally) Drops Lance Armstrong

Looks like public opinion has turned decisively against Lance Armstrong. According to a statement issued today, prime sponsor Nike (NYSE: NKE) officially terminated its contract with the cycling star.

Nike’s reversal of support for the embattled biker came after a report released yesterday indicated thatKathy LeMond–wife of that other American cycling legend Greg LeMond–testified under oath that, in a separate suit filed against Armstrong in 2006, Nike coughed up a $500,000 payoff to former Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) president Hein Verbruggen in order to cover up a positive Armstrong drug test.

Another day, another aftershock stemming from the reams of evidence made public by the USADA.

One bit of silver lining in this dark cloud: the sporting goods behemoth (and extremely spendy sponsor of countless athletes and causes) will continue supporting Lance’s Livestrong foundation: Read more

Lance Armstrong Doping Gambit: Blame Big Tobacco

Bonked. Cooked. Whatever bike racing term you use, it now applies to the reputation of Lance Armstrong and, more sadly, to the reputation of his 15-year-old cancer advocacy organization, The Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF, or Livestrong).

Today the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a statement and a collection of documents detailing the extent of its conspiracy investigation against Armstrong, the entirety of which is to be sent to the Union Cycliste International (UCI), the governing body that oversees the Tour de France.

That’s not to say Armstrong isn’t attempting to fight back: Just this morning, USA Today reported that lawyer Tim Herman sent a letter to the USADA as an obvious “see what sticks” damage control tactic, writing: “This reasoned decision will be a farce, written by USADA with the significant assistance of lawyers from one of Big Tobacco’s favorite law firms at a time when Lance Armstrong is one of America’s leading anti-tobacco advocates. While USADA can put lipstick on a pig, it still remains a pig.”

That’s a bit of a wild conspiracy theory there, no?

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Possible PR Fail: Gold Peak Tea Disqualifies Contest Winner

The Coca-Cola-owned Gold Peak Tea Company had a pretty cool idea for a contest: the “Take the Year Off”competition offered its lucky winner a $100,000 prize and a chance to quit work for twelve months (not quite sure how that provision would work, but OK).

To enter the contest, tea fans simply had to answer a couple of questions, write a brief essay about what they would do with the money and, if they were determined to be one of the top 10 or 15 contestants, submit a short video elaborating on the theme “The Comforts of Home.” Facebook users would then vote to determine the winner.

Earlier this week, Georgia-based attorney Theodore Scott was declared the contest’s winner–until he wasn’t.

Two days after naming him champion, the folks behind the contest disqualified him. Why? Because he posted a note in the About.com Sweepstakes Forum encouraging readers to vote for his video. Now Scott, who just happens to belong to a family of lawyers, is trying to decide whether or not to sue Coca-Cola for depriving him of his rightful prize.

Let’s review:

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