News and Updates from 5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian

Tag: Media Relations

King James is Changing Lives in his Hometown

lebron james akron - ronn torossian

Akron native and NBA superstar LeBron James has always been vocal in his heartfelt support for his hometown and the greater Akron community. Even after leaving Cleveland for Miami, James was a force for good in Ohio. Now, he is taking those efforts even further.

James recently announced that (at least) 200 Ohio school kids will have the opportunity to go to college entirely for free … as long as they complete his mentoring program. That program, the LeBron James Family Foundation, works with at-risk kids in Akron.

According to further reports, the scholarships are available to middle school children in Akron Public Schools IF they complete the six-year mentoring program through the Foundation. The mentoring program is supported by the University of Akron and JPMorgan Chase.

According to JPMorgan, company tech staffers have volunteered to work with students on a variety of projects ranging from mobile application development to tech optimization.

This project and, to a larger extent, this program exemplifies the magic that happens when a person of means and influence connects with a cause that is nearest and dearest to them. The lesson here for anyone involved in any charity is to look for your greatest support from those with a strong reason to support you.

In your , marketing, and imaging never be afraid to be who you are. Send out a clear, concise and consistent message. Don’t try to be more things to more people. Be what you are about and do what you want to do.

There are a lot of good works being done out there. Don’t chase what you think will be the most popular. Instead, work on a way to connect your cause with the people most likely to support it. Good marketing, solid branding and expert PR will get you a lot further than trying to please everyone.

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Old Navy Breakdown Creates Social Media PR sensation

old navy - ronn torossian update

Sometimes you get a win falling right into your lap. That’s what happened with recent events for Old Navy. But they took that win and amplified it – you might even say they supersized it. Louisiana photographer Rachel Taylor recently took a picture of herself wearing an American Flag plus size tank shirt in Old Navy’s dressing room.

Taylor had been shopping at Old Navy that day when she found herself between a mother and daughter discussing the tank top and how huge it was. Her feelings were hurt, and she exited the store. She went directly to her car and cried. Afterward, she decided she didn’t want to leave feeling bad about herself, so she went back into the store, grabbed the tank top and took the picture.

She posted the picture with a thank you to Old Navy for having fun clothes in all sizes so everyone can enjoy the opportunity to look “fierce.”

Old Navy rapidly responded  to this PR windfall. They posted the picture to their account offering their gratitude to Rachel Taylor in turn and sending her a gift certificate for her next shopping adventure to Old Navy. The picture and message went viral getting over 100,000 Facebook likes almost immediately.

Obviously this picture touched on a nerve. One that had people both commending Taylor’s ultimate choice and others calling her something of a cry baby and to just stop being so sensitive. Whatever your personal opinion, Old Navy also came out looking “fierce,” as a considerate and accommodating fashion retailer.

The average American woman is a size 12 by most reports. That means for all the size 0’s there are multiple plus-sized women. Old Navy is savvy to that, and they put themselves into a situation to get some strong, unsolicited PR. While you cannot plan it, you can certainly lay the groundwork by giving your customers reasons to sing your praises . And, when they do, double down by showing a little public gratitude. .

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Affleck Controversy Halts PBS Debut

ben affleck - ronn torossian updates

PBS has reported it will “postpone” the next season of “Finding Your Roots” after allegations surfaced that actor Ben Affleck manipulated showrunners to hide uncomfortable realities about his ancestors. According to a statement released by PBS’s New York station WNET, the series’ co-producers ‘violated PBS standards by failing to shield the creative and editorial process from improper influence. And by failing to inform PBS or WNET of Mr. Affleck’s efforts to affect program content.”

So, crisis prevention from all sides has turned into an episode of the Three Stooges. Everyone is trying to dodge the pie in the face while simultaneously getting poked in the eye. And, as with most failed backside-covering efforts, the whole is tangibly worse than the sum of its parts.

According to the story, back in April 2014, Affleck asked showrunners to edit out facts about his family’s history of slave ownership. The parties involved acquiesced, and the show ran in October 2014 as “Episode 204”. While it’s unclear why the issue was even an issue – millions of Americans have slave-owning ancestors. Terrible to contemplate, certainly, but not a fact that people today should feel compelled to cover up. That could have been the narrative from the Affleck camp. Instead, in trying to cover up something shameful, they made yesterday’s atrocity today’s deceit. Suddenly, a problem more than a century old became a personal, imminent trust issue – for everyone involved.

The problem has become so intense that PBS has announced it has removed Episode 204 from its lineup. PBS will also halt production of Season 4 of the program until it is “satisfied that the editorial standards of the series have been successfully raised.”

Now they are talking about bringing in an “independent genealogist” as well as other experts to protect the soiled integrity of the show. And therein lies the problem. Nobody would have questioned the show’s integrity if they had just run the segment as recorded. Now everyone will. Suddenly, bringing in “an independent genealogist” will turn into questions about why this is happening prior to season 4 … what were the safeguards before this?

That is the most polite way that question will be asked. Others will be much less circumspect. Unfortunately for all involved, one PR error will cast a shadow of doubt over an entire series that, otherwise, provides an interesting and entertaining view into American lives and history.

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Annie Leibovitz Stealing the Spotlight

Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz is famous in her own right, but far more people know her name than can tell you why she is famous. Yet, there is no doubt that Leibovitz is famous…and that she has earned her fame. Her story is a strong example of the PR power of practicing your skill close to the flame of fame.

Most recently, Leibovitz was the figure behind the camera that produced the Caitlyn Jenner cover for Vanity Fair that lit up both traditional and . Even though the main conversations were about “Caitlyn,” nee “Bruce,” in nearly every conversation, report or newscast mentioning the cover, Leibovitz also had her name mentioned.

Extensive work and planning went into shoot dynamics and tactics. But most of those involved in transforming the sixtyish six-foot-two former athlete into a glamorous model fit for the cover of one of the world’s imminent fashion and culture publications remained anonymous. Not Leibovitz. When it was all said and done, it was Annie’s name next to every published photo, and on the lips of every reporter covering the story.

The lesson here is in understanding how to leverage talent, skill and personality in a way that “borrows” beams of the spotlight to create one’s own special place in the limelight. The tactic carries with it some inherent risks. If you don’t knock it out of the park for a cover as prominent as this one would be, it’s a good bet you won’t be getting any more calls. In that regard, Leibovitz once again delivered, etching her name into granite as the go-to glamor photographer ever deeper. Even her colleagues in this project went on the record calling her “iconic.”

“Iconic” is a pretty good performance review.

And that’s exactly the level your game has to be at if stealing the spotlight is part of your PR plan. We all remember Kanye West’s disastrous awards show gaffes. Yes, he stole the spotlight, but only to create legions of haters. Leibovitz, in contrast, is a case study in Getting It Right.

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Clinton Under Fire for Association with African Church

hillary clinton
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.

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Marlins Frustrate MLB Fans

florida marlins fans - public relations
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 , 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.

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Gene Simmons on Brand Development

gene simmons brand development
If there is any band in music that understands brand development, longevity and merchandising, it is KISS, and, for that success they can largely thank Gene Simmons and his personal PR campaign.

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.

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Amtrak’s Crisis PR Is Off The Rails

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 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.

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Pope Working on Vatican Bank PR

pope vatican bank public relations
When you think about 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, 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.

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Sainsbury Chief Headed to Jail

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 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.

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