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Posts Tagged ‘rich people problems’

Apple’s ‘Made in USA’ Plan: Good PR, Bad Strategy or Both?

Tim Cook and Brian WilliamsApple CEO Tim Cook made the media rounds this morning to hype a major announcement: For the first time in well over a decade, Apple will be manufacturing a certain number of its products within the United States.

As cynics, we see this move as a blatant attempt to counter all the bad PR that Apple received over the Foxconn outsourcing/slave labor/suicide scandal (though we would note that this awful story didn’t really prevent anyone, least of all ourselves, from buying Apple products).

The fact that late CEO Steve Jobs supposedly denied a request for more domestic production from none other than President Obama strengthens this theory. As much as we’ve accepted outsourcing as a part of the modern business landscape, everyone loves to hear about good new jobs for Americans. So this is great PR, right?

Maybe–but investors hated it, and we have a feeling certain Apple advisers did too.

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Mercedes-Benz Enters High-Risk Super Bowl Ad Game

This is a strange time for the car industry.

As the public emerges from a crippling recession and attempts to shake off what has been a tough decade for most Americans, even those with jobs have tired of commuting to and from work in the same cars they drove 10 years ago. Just take a look at our highways–they’re filled with vehicles just as weary and worn out as the American public.

Thankfully, that may be changing–Mercedes-Benz is banking on the fact that the public believes the worst to be behind us. The upscale auto brand plans to connect with a new generation of customers by advertising its more affordable CLA to 30 -and 40-somethings during Super Bowl XLVII.

Only brands with something to prove even entertain the thought of advertising during the Super Bowl–and most of the 100-million plus Americans watching the game will even be in the market for a new high-end car–but Mercedes-Benz clearly believes its gamble will pay off.

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The Dream Is Over: San Francisco Bans Public Nudity

Photo via Associated Press This week in Local Government Relations: The times, they are a’ changin’–or are they? Just as the Seattle Police Department learned to love its citizens’ newfound embrace of a certain forbidden substance, the City of San Francisco‘s Board of Supervisors made an effort to curb the endless love-in by banning public nudity via a razor-thin 5-4 vote.

Has the decision divided Bay Area residents? Of course it has. Did dozens of advocates immediately stop in their tracks and strip down in protest? Of course they did.

As we learn more, we’re a little surprised by the depth of the City of Love’s long-term “live and let live” relationship with those who have no problem letting it all hang out. According to various reports, city dwellers will no longer have the right to “[lounge] nude in the city’s plazas, [parade] up and down city streets sans pants, or [ride] subways and buses bare-bottomed”. Wait, you mean they could do that before?!?! Apparently Rice-a-Roni wasn’t the only San Francisco treat!

City Supervisor Scott Weiner (tee hee) introduced the ordinance in what seemed like an attempt to counter complaints from local business owners about a surge in “habitual nudists” flaunting their flesh in the city’s infamous Castro district–but he noted, to opponents’ surprise, that “The dominant demographic expressing concern is gay men”. Based on the close vote and the immediate public outcry, we’d say the city has a bit of a public relations problem on its hands–and we anticipate weeks of futile protests punctuated by gratuitous flashing sprees.

Public nudity remains legal in the state of California as long as it isn’t deemed “lewd or offensive”, though we’d say that wording allows for a bit of a slippery slope…and we wonder how the act of dropping one’s drawers constitutes “free speech”. The fact that “…preschoolers can still go bare, women can still go topless and public nudity will continue to be allowed at events permitted by the city” also diminishes the power of the protesters’ point, doesn’t it?

A final note to the City of New York and the MTA: thank you for not letting people ride the train nude. Improv Everywhere‘s “No Pants Subway Ride” already shows us more than enough skin. Read more

BP Agrees to Pay Highest Fine in History for Gulf Spill

BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico Spill BP‘s hopes of negotiating an out-of-court settlement regarding the disastrous 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill officially died today as the company agreed to pay a $4.5 billion dollar fine to the US government. That total includes reparations owed to government agencies like the SEC and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation along with $1.3 billion in criminal fines–the largest such penalty in history.

Perhaps even more significantly, the company also admitted its own culpability in the deaths of 11 rig workers as part of the agreement and confessed to lying to members of congress about the scale of the damage. And that’s not all: two BP employees will face felony charges of manslaughter relating to their roles in the deaths.

We can’t say we envy the firm responsible for dragging BP’s reputation out of the gutter. The company’s Olympics ads may have been surprisingly effective in boosting consumer perceptions, but we can’t imagine this latest development going over too well with an already skeptical public. BP won’t be getting past this you-know-what anytime soon.

Despite all the noise, BP still managed to make a $5.5. billion profit in the third quarter alone–so brace yourself for a glut of commercials starring oil-splattered birds, wrecked homes and Good Samaritans who just happen to be wearing BP logos.

Sandy Twitter Troll Outed and Shamed

To the unfortunate few who pay attention to online flame wars: the nightmare is over. ComfortablySmug–the Twitter “troll” who posted false messages during Hurricane Sandy claiming that Con Ed was about to shut off power to all of Manhattan and that the New York Stock Exchange had experienced severe flooding–has been named and shamed. Get ready for some huge surprises:

  • He lives in New York
  • He works in finance
  • He doubles as a political consultant
  • He has trouble maintaining serious long-term relationships

After a Buzzfeed post revealed the offender’s name, he disappeared, only to pop up again with what amounted to an apology combined with a press release promoting Christopher Wight, the Congressional candidate whose campaign he managed until his abrupt resignation this week:

Well, at least he doesn’t stray off-message. Once a flack, always a flack.

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The Communist Party Guide to Damage Control

We’re going to make a somewhat bold assessment: If the People’s Republic of China weren’t a one-party country, the ruling Communist bureaucracy’s PR efforts would not be particularly effective. Party spokesmen (and they’re always men) have no discernible sense of humor, and they aren’t too skilled in the art of nuance–their public proclamations have all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

An interesting study in Communist Party PR unfurled this week. For the past year or so, Chinese politics has revolved around the sort of organized transfer of power that occurs once every decade; most observers believe that current President Hu Jintao will hand the reins off to his VP, Xi Jinping.

The transfer, already plagued by the arrest of top official Bo Xilal and his wife on charges of fraud and murder, ran into even more controversy thanks to a recent New York Times expose focused on the finances of prime minister Wen Jibao‘s family–a proudly humble clan that has somehow managed to accumulate billions of dollars in assets over recent years via assorted business alliances.

Like the Wen family’s finances, the Party’s damage control plan is all over the map: First censors blocked web access to the Times site throughout China; then they scanned the popular Chinese Twitter equivalent Sina Weibo in order to scrub all references to the number 2.7 billion (the supposed financial worth of the PM’s family). After relying on the government to implement a “nothing to see here” approach, members of the Wen family pivoted, directly addressing a story that they’d previously tried to erase and threatening legal action against the Times for reporting on “corporate and regulatory records” that were available to the public. What’s more, the family never directly addressed any of the story’s particulars–and the Times report did not allege any sort of illegal activity.

This completely ineffective response to the scandal hints at the complexity of Chinese politics: in an unelected government, public perception is invaluable because brute force can only accomplish so much.

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Citi Analyst Fired, Company Fined Over Email Snafus

We didn’t think Citigroup could fall any lower on the public opinion scale. The abrupt departure of CEO/punching bag Vikram Pandit was bad enough: Business Insider columnist Henry Blodget just came very close to labeling his subsequent “I resigned” claim as fraud.

But Citi’s fortunes keep getting worse: The bank recently settled a suit over releasing confidential information about Facebook’s financial status before the company’s IPO, and today brought news of a $2 million fine and the termination of a highly respected financial analyst.

Here’s what happened: Analyst Mark Mahaney, who is widely regarded as the financial industry’s number one expert on big-name tech companies like Google and Facebook, emailed a French journalist with his unpublished thoughts on the financial prospects of YouTube. This kind of move blatantly encourages insider trading. It went against his company’s official non-disclosure policy–and it also happens to be illegal.

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White House ‘Pissed’ Over Advisor’s PR Work

A Daily Beast follow-up to a weekend article in The New York Times asserts that White House staffers got “pissed off” on learning that Anita Dunn, current Obama campaign insider and former White House communications director, also performs PR duties for some clients who have a certain…interest in influencing policy.

The Beast somehow recruited several anonymous stock characters to say very bad things about Mrs. Dunn. Some key quotes:

“It smells.”

“You don’t hear stories about [lobbyists] so obviously exploiting their access.”

“I think she is well over the line.”

Obama himself was “…not aware…of the extent of her firm’s work. I bet he won’t be happy.”

Despite these redundant quips, official White House spokesmen defend Dunn’s dual roles, stating that all involved parties followed—and continue to follow–relevant ethics rules. Dunn’s own nameless colleague at SKDKnickerbocker, which has doubled in size since she left her communications director position in 2009, told Beast reporters that the firm nurtures no conflicts of interest, saying “We’re a public relations not a lobbying firm”, though she did note that the firm gives suggested statements, or “talking points,” to lobbyists for use on behalf of their clients.

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Goldman Sachs PR Chief Dishes on Damage Control

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?

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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