June 11, 2015
When you run for president, everything is under the microscope. So it’s likely that Hillary Clinton’s campaign team saw this coming. But the string of revelations and allegations about dubious charitable dealings cannot be good for the candidate’s campaign.
But now it’s gotten worse for the former Secretary of State. Until now, the allegations of charitable wrongdoing or malfeasance were easy for supporters to laugh off as dirty politics. Sure, the opposition in the media and on the campaign would get their shots in, but there was no proof to any of the alleged wrongdoing that tied it directly to Clinton.
But this latest round of allegations has been proven, and this time, it’s Hillary’s supporters that are upset. According to reports, the Clinton Foundation accepted up to $10 million from an African church that has made a habit of condemning gays, calling homosexuals “devils” and comparing homosexual behavior to bestiality.
While, for many candidates, this association may not be problematic, to date Ms. Clinton has made her support for gay marriage central to her social platform. In fact, her initial campaign commercial featured the marriage of a same-sex couple.
This all might be just more campaign season fodder for the talking heads if not for the extreme positions taken by this particular major donor. In addition to calling gays “devils,” the church also compared engaging in homosexuality to human trafficking. Given the nature of the very public extreme views, this may very well be the salvo that forces Ms. Clinton to comment publicly about the allegations of impropriety related to her charitable foundation. It’s one thing to have people who won’t vote for you up in arms. But when your connections disparage and condemn the very people you hope form the base of your support, it’s not a bad idea to get control of the message.
Ms. Clinton could say this is nothing more than a poor attempt at guilt by association. She accepted the donations through her foundation in goodwill, hoping to do some good in the world. That might be all it takes to turn this around, but probably not. At some point, in order to assuage doubts in her constituents, Ms. Clinton will need to come out against the extreme positions of this major donor. A tough eggshell trail to walk, to be sure.
June 8, 2015
It’s been a dirty little secret that everyone knew but pretty much ignored for years. NFL cheerleaders are paid next to nothing, particularly when their earnings are measured against anyone else wearing the brand and colors of the team they represent. But, that may be about to change.
Last year, a group of Buffalo Bills cheerleaders filed a lawsuit against their team and the NFL. In part, the suit alleges the cheerleaders were not properly compensated for game performances, beyond “free tickets and parking passes.” Nor did they receive anything in exchange for attending practices and many promotional appearances. In fact, according to the suit, the “Buffalo Jills” were paid as little as $100 for an entire season of work, even though they had to buy their costumes and cover personal expenses.
That suit is still pending in state court, but at least one New York lawmaker is not waiting for the outcome. State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic recently introduced a bill that would require NFL teams to officially recognize cheerleaders as employees, pay them at least minimum wage for practice, performances, and professional appearances and offer them required benefits. “Sports teams and owners should not continue to capitalize without providing the most basic workplace protections,” Rozic said.
To date, both the Bills and the NFL are sticking to the story that cheerleaders are both hired by and supervised by an independent contractor, making them subcontractors, not employees. This arrangement is fairly common across most professional sports franchises.
But New York is not the only state considering changing that. California legislators are considering similar legislation. Both the suits and the pending legislations could prove to be the harbinger of changing public opinion on this issue. Long considered little more than pretty mascots, cheerleaders weren’t given much respect or even consideration beyond catcalls, lears and calendar purchases. Since the lawsuit, though, fans are beginning to see things from a different perspective, and the reaction of the teams involved certainly isn’t helping bolster the NFL’s case.
To date, the Bills have suspended the Jills, and may never field a squad again. And, even as the dubious to deplorable working arrangements are brought further into the light, the NFL continues to insist they have no dog in this fight – they’re just subcontractors, anyway, right? Right?
Not so right, it appears. The perception of fatcat billionaire team owners stacked up against an apparent refusal to offer the girls wearing their uniforms a fair wage, has turned public opinion decidedly against the NFL. While it’s not the first PR difficulty the league has weathered, it may not be as easy to sweep under the rug as they apparently believe it to be.
June 1, 2015
Popular TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting has been pulled from the lineup after allegations of past sexual abuse by one family member on other family members was confirmed. In a further development, Josh Dugger, who admitted to the acts “12 years ago,” has also resigned from his position at the Family Research Council. It’s likely the crisis PR blowback of this revelation will continue. Here’s the story:
Since 2008, the lives of the Dugger family have been watched by countless American homes. They were paragons of “family values” and the darlings of social groups and politicians alike. Then, in the wake of one article, it all came crashing down. In Touch Magazine reported that eldest Dugger child Josh, now 27, admitted to molesting several girls when he was 15 years old. At least some of those young girls were family members.
Since the article ran, TLC has released this statement: “Effective immediately, TLC has pulled all episodes of ’19 Kids and Counting’ currently from the air. We are deeply saddened and troubled by this heartbreaking situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and victims at this difficult time.”
Josh Dugger countered the impending PR firestorm with a Facebook post: “Twelve years ago, as a young teenager I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends.”
Possibly worse for all involved, TLC was running a “19 Kids” marathon the day the claims made the national news. Social media erupted with rage.
Of pulling the episodes, one TLC executive said, “this is a family in crisis. It’s no time for a television show.”
TLC has yet to say the show will be canceled, only that it is being pulled for the time being. Are they testing the waters to see how forgiving the viewing public can be? Sure, Americans are willing to forgive just about anything…but a supposed paragon of virtue molesting his family members, then his parents covering it up for the better part of a year before they told authorities? That seems like a lot to forgive.
Child molestation is one of those things that Americans are rarely able – much less eager – to forgive. And what about advertisers on the show? Which brands really want to be coupled with that sort of baggage? Time will tell. Until then, that nameless TLC exec is right: this is a family – and a brand – in crisis.
May 26, 2015
When your favorite sports team advertises a major charity event hosted at their ballpark, it’s reasonable to assume at least some active team members will make an appearance. Reasonable, it appears to everyone but the Marlins organization.
It started off as a good idea, but the execution resulted in a ridiculous unforced error. In theory the annual “Fish N Chips” event gives Marlins fans a chance to mingle with players and play some fun casino style games, all for a good cause. However, this year, only coaches and new team manager Dan Jennings showed up. No players made it.
It may have been just a simple embarrassment, except that donors attending the event were expressly promised the opportunity to “rub elbows” with “your favorite Marlins players…” When it comes to money changing hands, even if it’s all for charity, “well, almost” just doesn’t cut it.
And this PR disaster could not have come at a worse time for the team. Currently being drug along on a seven-game losing streak, The team isn’t doing a lot to inspire fans on the field, so the event was a chance to earn back some lost goodwill and team spirit.
The blowback was immediate … and it was harsh. One fan among thousands on Twitter reminded players they are paid handsomely to play a “child’s game” and that a losing streak is nothing compared to many problems in the world.
This sentiment that the players skipped the event because they were pouting over the loss and trouble in the clubhouse was rampant…and fans were not empathetic.
Fan after fan blasted the team on social media, talk radio and sports media. In some baseball-crazy town that might not be such a bad thing. Fans bounce back. But in Miami, there is plenty of competition, and the fair weather tends to generate more than a few fair weather fans. If the Marlins lose the support of their shaky fan base, this little snub could end up being the seed that grew into a revolt. They better get on top of it … and soon.
May 22, 2015
Loud, brash and brazen in concert, Simmons – aka The Demon – is also a reality TV star and marketing genius behind much of KISS’s plethora of swag, mementos, and souvenirs. What is it about Simmons that makes him so successful?
First, nothing is ever good enough. When asked why he keeps going, even with a net worth reportedly exceeding $300 million, Simmons is quick to answer, “I’ll never stop hunting more money. I’ll never have enough. Life is business … I must keep moving.”
While some people may pretend otherwise, the want – or need – for more cash is a fine reason to continue to push and grow and strive for greater success. From the very beginning, Simmons pushed the group to sell as much merchandise as they could. From plush dolls to lunchboxes and TV shows … KISS is not happy unless they are leveraging their fame and hard work for more money and fame … which can lead to even more money. Not a bad cycle, really.
The key, for Simmons, has been about keeping the brand in front of current and potential fans as much as possible. He understands that a band can only produce so much music, so they can only sell so many records. But they can sell swag to the same people who buy the records…so why not? The system increases the fan’s connection to the band, which, in turn, increases the band’s fanbase and popularity.
And, that, really, is the key factor. No matter what you are selling, if you have customers, you should do what you can to turn those customers into fans. Fans feel a part of your brand, not just a consumer of it. That connection is the real pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. As the brand, you give greater meaning and value to the fan, and they return that connection with greater brand loyalty. Everyone wins, or, in Simmons’ case, they keep rocking all night…every night.
May 19, 2015
Days after the deadly Pennsylvania Amtrak crash while investigators are still trying to sort out what happened, the rail line is trying to pick up the PR pieces. The crisis PR has not been good – and that will continue to be an uphill battle. Already tiny factoids are popping up on social media comparing airline travel and rail travel.
The main question being asked by investigators is “why did the train speed up when it was supposed to be slowing down.” According to reports, when approaching a curve rated for no faster than 50 mph, the train, which had been traveling at 70 mph, sped up to more than 100 mph. At this point, investigators say they are unclear as to whether or not the train speed was increased manually by the engineer.
To this point, investigators have found no issues with the track or the mechanics of the train. But that is not the question the general consumer public is asking. All they can see is that a train was going too fast and killed at least eight people and sent 200 more to local hospitals. “Why” is a secondary concern. They want to feel safe, and they don’t, regardless of what caused the issue.
And, because they don’t feel safe, speculation rules. Despite the fact investigators have already released the information that the engineer was not using his cell phone and had not been drinking or using drugs, people are still – loudly – asking “what went wrong” with the driver.
Spokesmen have said that no “common sense rational person” would think it okay to travel at that rate of speed in that turn, but this is not comforting.
In point of fact, there’s no evidence to prove the engineer is a “crazy person.” But now that this idea is in the head of the public, it’s not just going to sit down and die. It may fester and spread.
Amtrak has a multifaceted PR nightmare. They are dealing with the facts of the case as they are revealed, AND they are dealing with countless speculations and outright rumors that are being generated by all the PR missteps. Every mishap leads to crisis PR – and those who handle it well have less damage than those who do not.
May 12, 2015
A recent USA Today article compared the two top picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, Marcus Mariota, and Jameis Winston. The comparison was not about on-field skill, however. Ronn Torossian says this head to head matchup is even more important to the business of football. That comparison? Marketability or, to put it more bluntly, which QB can bring more cash to the organization and himself by way of sponsorships and merchandise sales. With untold hundreds of millions on the line, this is a vital PR consideration. And, even with the draft over, this aspect of the quarterback competition is still a raging debate.
In order to gain some semblance of the upper hand in this debate, prognosticators use something called the Celebrity DBI. That is an index that purports to measure consumer perception of celebritiesto determine market worth. Given that it’s only based on a 1,000-person survey sample, the results are easy to question, but still provide a starting point for understanding athlete marketing potential.
According to USA Today Sports, the index places Mariota above Winston as the better potential celebrity endorsement candidate. The report ranks Winston on the level with names like Johnny Manziel, Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly … in other words, in the bottom 2 percent of the list. In the “trust” factor, he is also in the bottom 7 percent along with Vanilla Ice and Mark McGwire. The verdict, then, at least according to the prognosticators who use this index, is that Winston is going to struggle to find strong endorsement deals and advertising opportunities.
The future, though, is reportedly much brighter for new Tennessee Titan. Mariota. Marcus is in the top 7 percent in endorsement potential, That is on par with names like Staubach and Aaron Rogers in a category called “aspiration,” which measures the desire of respondents to “be like” a certain individual.
While this index could be just another form of sport-related hocus-pocus prognosticators use to get in the media and create points to argue about for the talking heads and radio callers. It could also serve as, at least, a rough starting point for each player’s PR team in the coming days and months. Who will get the last laugh? Time will tell…because, no matter what, the best PR team almost always wins the battle of public perception.
May 11, 2015
When you think about public relations in the banking industry, you might think of patriotic commercials, earnest-looking tellers and clean-cut guys in pinstripes waiting to “earn your business.” But, would you expect any of those folks to wear the robes and crown of the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church? Probably not. Well, Ronn Torossian says, think again because the Pope is now in the game of banking PR.
Recently, Pope Francis gathered with a host of cardinals to discuss the financial health of the Holy See. There were—flowcharts, spreadsheets, graphs and PowerPoint presentations. PowerPoint in the Vatican? Yep. Congrats Microsoft, you have papal approval.
While it’s really no secret that Vatican finances have been growing through a rough patch in recent years, the extent of the issue was not well known because the Vatican kept their books locked up tighter than the gold at Fort Knox. Need to know only. According to Bloomberg, the meeting last February was the very first time that many cardinals were ever given the opportunity to see the church’s financial picture in such detail. Moreover, many of the presenters were not even clergy. Several lay experts were also present, breaking things down for the assembled holy men.
While this is hardly the first time Pope Francis has made headlines for breaking with church tradition, previous popes have challenged church practicum and theology. However, financial disclosure on this scale is virtually unprecedented. The lesson here is one of deft public relations. Underneath all the discussion about the church’s role in global culture and politics, is a steady current of dismay and outright revulsion related to both the institutionalized privacy and the abhorrent sex-abuse scandals. In opening the books, the pope is doing something so relatively drastic, which no one can look at it and not begin to rethink their position, at least on the church’s privacy issues.
The message is clear: this pope is not just changing the way the church deals with its people. This pope is changing the way the church operates internally, at the most basic of levels. When you open the books, you invite criticism of previous mismanagement and potential catcalls of corruption. The gesture, then, communicates a willingness to address any potential issues and a dedication to a new level of openness. At least, that’s the message being conveyed. Whether or not the faithful – much less the general public – buys it is an entirely different story.
May 7, 2015
Things just went from bad to much, much worse for Mike Coupe, head of British supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s. Coupe was just handed a two-year jail sentence in Egyptian courts for “attempting to seize checks from Egyptian businesses sixteen years ago. At the time, Sainsbury’s was trying to break into the region. According to reports, Egyptian courts said they convicted Coupe because he is the most senior employee of the company. When Coupe chose to skip the trial, he was convicted in absentia. The conviction won’t mean much as long as Coupe steers clear of Egypt, but, even still, the conviction is a prime example of how unfair both legal and public relations issues can become.
Unfair? Yes, definitely. How else can you describe being convicted of a crime based on the actions of a company that, at the time did not employ you. That’s right, Coupe was convicted even though he had not met the complainants and he was in London – not employed by Sainsbury’s – at the time of the incidents.
Sainsbury’s PR team has fired back, calling the claims – and the conviction – groundless and promising to appeal. Of course, from a PR perspective, the conviction just pushes more pressing business into an unforgiving public light.
First, Sainsbury’s foray into Egypt turned out to be a disaster. The company tried to find a place in the market but failed, at a cost of 111 million pounds and a loss of 100 stores. Of course, that was sixteen years ago…but it gets worse. Amidst falling sales and dropping stock value, the company was expected to cut hundreds of jobs across the board. Even the most frivolous lawsuits bring these other very real and very painful items to the surface.
That’s the PR lesson here. Nothing happens in a vacuum. If something goes wrong while something else bad is happening or on the heels of another PR crisis, the whole is always worse than the sum of its parts. The two negative stories – if not stopped – can feed on each other, creating a self-sustaining wave of negative PR that is difficult to stop. The earlier your PR team can get out ahead of the story and stop it, the better it will be. Wait too long, and it may be too late to do anything at all. At that point, your brand is at the mercy of the news cycle and your customers’ attention spans. Don’t ever let it come to that.