Last Month in PR || April 2021 NewsWorthy

A light-hearted and incomplete roundup of PR hits and misses from recent weeks. Our only agenda is to remind everyone how hard it is to do PR well—and how easy it is to get it wrong. Written by Jeff Rodriguez.

GEORGIA ON THEIR MINDS: Several corporations, including Coca-Cola, have plunged into national politics, speaking out against the voting laws recently passed in Georgia. Depending upon your point of view, they’re either taking a bold stand, or caving to a very vocal minority. Sen. Mitch McConnell responded by warning corporations to “stay out of politics” adding that he will no longer accept corporate political contributions (just kidding). Former President Trump, meanwhile, called for a boycott of Diet Coke, only to be photographed a couple of days later with a bottle of Diet Coke partially exposed on his desk. It’s just so much better than Mountain Dew.

TAKE ONLY AS MISDIRECTED: What can we safely do after being vaccinated? If you’re not sure, you’re in good company. A recent news article stated, “At a particularly crucial juncture in the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a messaging problem.” The article included comments from public health experts. One professor said, “Whether you’re a public health agency or doing a communications campaign of any kind, an erosion of trust is incredibly damaging.” A second expert said simply that the CDC’s messaging on post-vaccine restrictions “has been a mess.” The CDC issued a statement in response, but no one could understand it.

JUST DON’T DO IT: Olympic gymnast Simone Biles announced that she was ending her six-year relationship with Nike to sign with Athleta, which, she said, will “help me be a voice for females and kids.” Nike gracefully wished Biles “the very best,” and canceled an order for 300,000 bobbleheads.

THE FRIENDLY SKIES: Why do flight attendants greet you when you come on the plane? Flight attendant Kat Kamalani created a TikTok video to explain. Her clip has drawn more than 2.5 million viewers, all of whom want to know if they can have two carry-on items.

JUST ASKING: Texas Sen. John Cornyn got himself in a tangle while trying to criticize President Biden. Quoting an excerpt from an article about Biden, Cornyn tweeted in part, “Tweets from his account are limited and, when they come, unimaginably conventional. Biden has opted for fewer sit down interviews with mainstream outlets and reporters.” The senator then followed with his own words: “Invites the question: is he really in charge?”  Cornyn’s criticism prompted quite a backlash, with a sarcastic, “If a president isn’t on Twitter constantly is he really even a president?” Cornyn quickly backpedaled, stating, “That tweet was not meant to suggest anything about the president’s competency — physical or mental … certainly wasn’t my intention.” There is no proof that Cornyn made his comments in an attempt to distract attention from fellow Sen. Ted Cruz.

ALL THUMBS
Anybody can tweet. But that doesn’t mean everybody should.

  • Ivanka Trump shared photos of herself getting vaccinated and encouraged others to do so, but was met with a pandemic of angry responses.
  • Singer Cardi B posted photos taking her daughter on a $29,000 shopping spree. Followers were outraged at her extravagance, but Visa sent her six new card offers, all with 0 percent introductory financing.
  • ESPN analyst Paul Pierce posted a video showing him in a room full of exotic dancers who were not wearing masks (at least, not to cover their faces). ESPN fired Pierce, but he was unfazed, tweeting, “I can’t lose even when I lose I’m winning.”
  • Retired football star Brett Favre criticized players for kneeling during the national anthem, only to be reminded of a tweet from last fall where he had spoken in support of “freedom of speech.” Timeout has been called while the officials review the replay.
  • Singer Cher tried, very, very hard to tactfully tweet that, if she had only been there, she might have been able to do something to save the life of George Floyd. After a wave of criticism, she tried a different route:  “I Thought some ppl wouldn’t understand, Or Believe an Entertainer Could have Honest emotions about a human Being,suffering & Dying,even if It’s Only Shown On tv. You Don’t Know What I’ve Done, Who I Am, Or What I Believe. I CAN, I HAVE, & I WILL..HELP.” We got you, babe.
  • Singer Demi Lovato went on Instagram to criticize a frozen yogurt shop for selling sugar-free products, adding the hashtag #dietculturevultures. The ensuing furor caused Lovato to backtrack, acknowledging she had “definitely jumped to conclusions.” And the yogurt shop doubled its followers.

NO HAT, ALL PRATTLE: Congressional candidate Dan Rodimer is tired of having to talk about his Texas drawl. But people keep asking, mostly because Rodimer has lived in the state less than a year and was born in New Jersey. He also did a commercial showing him riding a bull, only to have to admit later that a stunt double was used for part of the shoot. Fellow Republican Matt Gaetz—yep, that Matt Gaetz—criticized Rodimer, tweeting, “Fake Texan makes fake video of fake bull ride.”  When Matt Gaetz is criticizing your public profile …

And a few hits…

CALLS BLOCKED: Actress Milana Vayntrub is appearing as “Lily” in a new round of commercials for AT&T. And she’s drawn a new round of extremely inappropriate comments on social media. In March, Vayntrub responded, tweeting: “Been getting a lot of ‘Why are they placing her body like that in those ads?’ Well, I direct the ads. I place myself like that. And it’s because of the thousands of unwelcome comments I receive about my body. You’ve lost the privilege of looking at it until I feel safe again.”

THE BALL STOPS HERE: After the Liverpool soccer club canceled plans to join a new league, the owner of the club, John W. Henry, felt compelled to issue a remarkably frank video apology. “I want to apologize to all the fans and supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused … I’m sorry, and I alone am responsible for the unnecessary negativity brought forward over the past couple of days. It’s something I won’t forget .” Save that for the textbooks.

ORGANIC RESPONSE: Haltom City candidate Willis Odell had his campaign signs translated to Vietnamese. But someone, intentionally or otherwise, messed up the translation, and Odell’s signs inadvertently included a reference genitalia. The error was tactfully pointed out to Odell by Haltom City Mayor An Truong—Odell’s opponent.

A SPACE ODYSSEY: After players at the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament posteed photos showing only one set of barbells for their workout area, the NCAA responded that it was due in part to “limited space.” Oregon player Sedona Prince then posted a video showing there was enough unused space available to house, well, the men’s workout room. The clip went viral, and the NCAA quickly gave the women more appropriate equipment. Fortunately, there was a sale that week at Target.

PARTING THOUGHT
“I needed to do something to brighten not only my spirits, but also the spirits of others.” — 82-year-old La Verne Ford Wimberly, who puts on her Sunday best for church services each week, even though the services are online.  

Last Month In PR || March 2021 NewsWorthy

A light-hearted and incomplete roundup of PR hits and misses from recent weeks. Our only agenda is to remind everyone how hard it is to do PR well—and how easy it is to get it wrong. Written by Jeff Rodriguez. 

CLEANUP IN THE PRODUCE SECTION: After a Trader Joe’s worker wrote to the corporate office asking for more COVID protections for employees, the company fired him. But after he posted the termination letter on his social media and drew widespread support, the company rehired him. Side note: One media outlet interviewed an independent scientist, who said the employee’s safety requests were appropriate.

AVAILABLE FOR IMMEDIATE HIRE: After White House press secretary TJ Ducklo learned a reporter was working on an unflattering story about him, he said he would “destroy” her. Ducklo resigned after his actions made headlines.

LINCOLN, LOGGED OUT: The San Francisco school district announced it will rename Lincoln High School because Old Abe did not sufficiently demonstrate that “Black lives mattered,” or defend Native Americans. Schools named after Thomas Jefferson and Paul Revere also will be renamed. A district representative said that “only good can come” from eliminating the names.

COSINE OF THE TIMES: The Oregon Dept. of Education is drawing flack for encouraging teachers to take a training on dismantling racism in mathematics. The toolkit explains, “The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it even much less so.”

NON-BINDING AGREEMENT: Toymaker Hasbro has announced that Mr. Potato Head is becoming nonbinary. Henceforth, the toy will be known just as “Potato Head.” The company said the new name will be less “limiting” for gender identity and family structure. A side note: Actual potatoes possess both male and female flowers and are self-pollinating.

REALITY CHECK NO. 1: The Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team acknowledged having photoshopped masks onto the faces of fans.

REALITY CHECK NO. 2: A special effects editor created an amusing and stunningly believable “deepfake” video of Tom Cruise.

REALITY CHECK NO. 3: A Pennsylvania high school cheerleader’s mother is accused of creating some very unamusing deepfake photos and videos of other cheerleaders acting inappropriately, hoping to get the girls kicked off the team.

TWITS: Various tweets that were later deleted (or should have been):

  • The Republic National Committee tweeted, “Keeping schools closed has DEVESTATING effects” on children.
  • In the midst of the Texas ice storm, Sen. Ted Cruz was reminded that when California was suffering through rolling blackouts, he had tweeted that “California is now unable to perform even basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity.”
  • On International Women’s Day, Burger King’s U.K. division announced a cooking scholarship for female employees by tweeting, “Women belong in the kitchen.” Follow-up tweets explained, “If they want to, of course. Yet only 20% of chefs are women. We’re on a mission to change the gender ratio.”

But the lag between the tweets was enough time for it to draw a whopper of criticism. Burger King later tweeted an apology, then later deleted the original tweet due to numerous inappropriate comments.

TASTIER: In the U.S., Burger King announced the scholarship program with a full-page ad in the New York Times. Although they used the same headline, the explanatory text was immediately evident, stating, “If there’s a professional kitchen, women belong there.”

BAD INFLUENCE? In advance of the murder trial of George Floyd, the Minneapolis City Council approved funding to hire six individuals to serve as social media influencers. Widespread criticism prompted the Council to scrap the plan.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS: Meghan, Harry went on Oprah to plead their case, Ted Cruz went to Mexico to warm up and ERCOT and the PUC went AWOL. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo acknowledged having intentionally and drastically under-reported the number of COVID deaths in nursing homes, but now is dealing with multiple allegations of sexual harassment. And three words we’ll never forget: Zoom kitten filter.

PET CEMETERY: Speaking of kittens, the New Hampshire House of Representatives announced it will no longer allow legislators’ pets to appear onscreen during Zoom meetings.

TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT (A recurring feature, unfortunately): In the midst of the winter storm, the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, posted these comments in Facebook: “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!! … Only the strong will survive, the weak will parish. … Bottom line-DON’T BE A PART OF PROBLEM, BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION!”

The mayor resigned, and in a later post, explained, “Things I said were taken out of context … if I had it to do over again I would have just kept my words to myself and if I did say them I would have used better wording.”

AND SOME HITS… Actor Jonah Hill (who is not exactly a Dwayne Johnson look-alike) was photographed by paparazzi on the beach with his shirt off and mocked for being chubby. Hill responded on Instagram by saying, “I’m 37 and finally love and accept myself. This isn’t a ‘good for me’ post. And it’s definitelynot a ‘feel bad for me post.’ It’s for the kids who don’t take their shirt off at the pool. Have fun. You’re wonderful and awesome and perfect. All my love.”

An Indianapolis middle school student refused to remove his hat because he was embarrassed by his haircut. Instead of disciplining the student, the principal offered to cut his hair for him. Another staff member posted a photo of the principal trimming away According to one local TV station, the post has been shared more than 26,000 times.

WORDSMITH: “PR is a mix of journalism, psychology, and lawyering – it’s an ever-changing and always interesting landscape.” – PR exec Ronn Torossian

GFW PRSA Webinar: 10 Tech Tools to Make Your Life Easier

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COST: $10 for members, $15 for non-members and $5 for students

Shoring Up the Base

Another photo-op idea that was all washed up

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

They say a picture is worth—oh, never mind, you know that bit. This month’s column is not about the value of a great picture, but about the cost of a bad one.

That’s what happened on January 9, 1971, when President Nixon went for a walk on the beach near his home in San Clemente, CA.

Whether you were a fan of Nixon or not, most people agree he had a reputation for being somewhat stiff. With the 1972 election coming up, his aides thought it was a good idea to try and build up his image as a man of the people.

So they came up with a plan to have the President photographed while walking along the beach. It seemed like a good idea; after all, everyone enjoys spending some time on the beach (except for whales).

There was only one problem: Nixon took his stroll wearing his official Presidential windbreaker, slacks and wingtips. So he looks completely out of place, more like someone who is walking for help after his car broke down. This was not the way to be seen as a man of the people—unless perhaps the people are in North Korea.

To his defense, Nixon had a very good excuse: He always preferred to dress that way. As he once told a reporter, “I’m always wearing a coat and tie. Even when I’m alone. … That’s the way it is.”

And he was right: In fact, you can find many other shots of Nixon “relaxing” in non-relaxing clothes. There are photos of him at picnics, riding on a small boat, playing with his dog, hosing down the roof of his house, even lounging by his pool. In each shot, he is dressed like he is on his way to a conference, and in most of the photos, he looks like he’s the keynote speaker.

Nixon once said he thought it was more important for a politician to be respected than loved. As it worked out, he ended up with neither, but this PR move clearly did not serve him well.

A sidebar: The aides may have gotten their inspiration from Nixon’s old rival, President Kennedy, who also was photographed walking on the beach; what’s more, he was wearing a sport coat.

But JFK, ever the style maven, was shrewd enough to also wear khakis and sneakers, and the photo could have made the cover of GQ. Even more impressive, JFK also was once photographed on the beach with no shirt on. That shot alone had to be worth a few thousand votes.

And so another well-intentioned photo-op when awry. But this gaffe was no fault of Nixon’s; someone, anyone, on his team should have spoken up. It was similar to Michael Dukakis’ infamous tank ride, a topic we previously covered, as may be recalled by both of our regular readers.

As PR pros, we are assigned to always be on the lookout for ways to better “position” our clients. But positioning is a craft, not a science, and requires both skill and insight. So before we try to burnish our client’s credentials, it’s probably wise to make sure we’re using the right polish.