Clumsy ex-journos create PR disaster for Burson Marsteller

Hat tip to Ragan’s PR Daily; a couple of mud-slinging, ex-journos who have fence-jumped into PR for Burson Marsteller find themselves the uncomfortable subjects of an embarrassing media story in USA. It appears they’ve been trying to dish the dirt against Google, while working for a client with an anti-Google agenda. Offers to ghost write critiques, secure coverage in Washington Post; you know; the standard media flak subterfuge. More ex-media types giving PR a bad name but hey, BM employed them for their ability to cultivate influence!!

Reputation2.0 and Ricky Nixon's latest PR disaster

If you’ve ever pondered what it’d be like to watch someone publicly hang themselves, then cut free just before the final, fatal asphixiation, only to give an encore petard-hoisting the following day, then Channel 7’s ‘Sunday’ night interview with AFL leper Ricky Nixon provided a comparably grisly spectacle. Instead of the ‘3 R’s’ stock-in-trade of crisis management – Regret, Responsibility and Remedial action, Nixon opted to Refute, Recriminate and Retaliate.
During the vilified footy entrepreneur’s latest, most clumsy – and to date implosive – attempt at PR redemption, there were lessons aplenty for the modern celebrity, politician, public figure and even corporation. Clearly visible lessons included:

  • Don’t do media interviews when you’re tired or easily provoked to irritation or anger
  • Don’t give interviews when you can’t master your ego and emotions or mask your simmering aggression, disdain or sense of hurt and injustice Continue reading

Coulson resigns, damages PRs sullied reputation

As documented in my book ‘Public Relations Disasters’, Andy Coulson is a major UK media player heavily linked to deceptive and unsavoury media practices. He’s just left the Tories in the lurch after resigning as Comms Director for David Cameron. I’ve long had this bee in my bonnet, that ex-journos are not ideal fodder for top communications roles. But clients often believe ex-journos to be all-powerful – how wrong.

As a former editor of the less-than-sparkling-clean newspaper the News of the World (c2007), Coulson elected to resign when his reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for hacking messages of personal telephones of the rich, famous and influential. At the time, Coulson said he took responsibility for it happening on his watch but denied knowing about it. If it’s possible to believe that a national newspaper editor did not know that his staff were covertly involved in hacking phones to steal the editorial march on competitors then he was a spectacularly inept newspaperman. If he did know about it, then Coulson has been lying all the while. The truth will out. Either way, it’s a PR disaster for him.

Storm in a teacup and a new Ryanair PR disaster

With staff who have insulted bloggers, a Chief Exec who wanted to figure out a way to charge for ice and plans to charge customers for using toilets, budget airline Ryanair is no stranger to PR disasters. Now, it seems they’ve charged an in-flight heart attack victim for a cup of tea and biscuits used to treat him in lieu of a defibrilator.

Where’s the heart? Without any emotional intelligence, organisations leave themselves open to creating PR disasters time after time.

A genuine PR, 'PR disaster' as BP tries photoshopping its image

While I previously posted about trying to give BP a break re their oil spill PR disaster, I’m moved to retract. Now that they’ve been caught altering and photo-shopping aerial images of their spill response, the facts seem to point to a company culture that’s prepared to fudge on fact, rather than learn from their past misrepresentations in this regard. BP says they only retouch images to help readers get a better view of photos, but at a time when the company’s every actions are so intensely under the microscope, this is a practice that only casts more suspicion on the company’s communications practices. Often in a PR crisis, the appearance of wrongdoing is just as influential as actual evidence of it.

Dead cat doctorates, phoney physicians and a PR disaster on Twitter

Via digital comms agency Grace DR, we hear the tale of another Twit-fest where a self-styled holistic health expert, Dr Gillian McKeith, has let irritation and high emotion cloud her Twitter tweets. On their blog, Grace DR document the spat between ‘Doctor’ Gillian and one Rachel Moody – the way it unfolds, then is attempted to disguise who tweeted what only adds to the embarrassment that Dr McKeith’s doctorate was purchased for $60 from the same online source as one of her critic’s dead cats! This digital reputation business sure can create great PR disasters!

BPs Gulf PR disaster – give them a break!

As the author of ‘Public Relations Disasters’, I know that the critical commentary about BPs handling of its Gulf oil spill guarantees only one thing; this will go down in corporate history as the case study in how not to handle environmental crisis communications; from premature statements about modest impact to the now laughable “we have turned the corner” claim and the money-minded assertion there was “no reason for the share price movement”, many of the utterances signalled those of a self-interested and self-serving organisation.

However, many of the forensic, nay nit-picking, critiques by analysts, experts and profiteering pundits of every hue have been hysterical (against Hayward’s “I want my life back” and yacht trip, and Svanberg’s “…small people” comments), opportunistic (the US political pot-shotters) and aimed to inflict additional pointless discomfort (experts insisting how they’d’ve done it better) on an established brand and corporation patently struggling to cope with a natural and PR disaster beyond it, Haliburton’s and Transocean’s ken. Believe me, BP wants this to end and will be pursuing that goal 100%. Where is that perspective ever reported though?

So I ask you all; where is our balance, our perspective, our compassion to support all concerned in the midst of this horrible environmental catastrophe? Where’s our willingness to give everyone involved (yes, even BP) a break? Societal (ie media) statements, utterances and opinion is increasingly seeming like a harsh, judgemental and very ugly thing. Social Media in particular often supports the angriest critics, not the fair-minded voices of reason. What a cold, unforgiving and pointlessly punitive environment for PRs and communicators trying to convey any kind of company perspective or position.

The BP response has confused many PR experts, but perhaps that’s only because it ceased to be a PR issue months ago. As this AP article shows, the stakes exceed communications and reputation needs. It’s now all about limiting financial damage and the likelihood of corporate and personal prosecution. For example, some years ago I asked a former Comms Chief at a scandal-hit agricultural organisation why Execs listened to lawyers more often than they listened to PRs: “Lawyers can keep them out of jail”, was his deadpan reply.

Sarah Ferguson – the queen of PR disasters?

Yet another embarrassing PR gaffe for ex-Royal Sarah Ferguson – the last in a long line of “judgement lapses” that include a topless toe-sucking from a suitor, $4million personal spending debt, a stint as a Royal weightloss ambassador and now this: “The News of the World video showed Sarah Ferguson promising to introduce an undercover reporter posing as a wealthy businessman to the Prince, who has been the UK’s special representative for international trade and investment since 2001.”

Over years, it appears that Sarah Ferguson has what might been described as a flawed character. She has now apologised for this latest indiscretion.