Showing posts with label public figures. Show all posts
Showing posts with label public figures. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 7

Spinning To Disaster: Gavin Newsom

I first learned of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's decision to hit his self-destruction button over at Recruiting Animal's blog and, as a political consultant, I have been itching to write about it ever since. Wow ... the difference a couple days can make.

Without a doubt, Newsom wants to apply the "celebrity spin" card in an attempt to save his political career, which, in my opinion, ended the day he said "I think the public in many cases finds it rather entertaining that suddenly they have someone who's still alive holding public office." Considering he said this in response to admitting an affair with the wife of a former top campaign aide, I guess he failed to appreciate that the people of San Francisco did not elect him to be entertaining.

In politics, there is one cliche that holds true: where there's smoke, there's fire. And sometimes, it's a real barn burner. Yesterday, Newsom attempted to spin the affair story away with the sudden realization he has a drinking problem.

No one was surprised, but many seem perplexed why Newsom would mount one scandal on another. After all, he had already come under fire as supervisor Jake McGoldrick called the mayor a “pathetic role model” who should resign. McGoldrick is not alone in his opinion, but Newsom seems to be gaining some sympathy from some very misguided people. And, in my opinion, supervisor Sophie Maxwell is at the front of this misguided pack.

“This is the mayor’s personal business and affairs,” says Maxwell. “If I look at what the mayor’s been doing on The City’s business I don’t see a reason to resign.”

What? Ms. Maxwell, with all due respect, an utter lack of judgement has everything to do with his ability to lead, and it goes well beyond making San Francisco a three-ring circus. Sure, the affair shows the shallowness of his character, driven by ego. Yes, the noted drinking problem demonstrates a man out of control, largely claiming to be unaccountable for his actions. But the real crime here is his handling of, well, everything.

After all, it is Newsom who made these personal problems the center of public attention during several press conferences. So please, spare me the idea that he is a victim. He is not and, even if he was, he is only a victim by his own hand, er, mouth, er, whatever.

If you want to meet a victim, check in with the campaign aide who will have to endure what experts say is 3-5 years of pain and suffering as he recovers (if he is lucky enough to recover) from this dual betrayal. Add to that additional exposure in a society much more sympathetic to women who are victimized by cheating spouses. Without a doubt, too many people assume the husband must have done something to alienate his wife. Maybe, maybe not.

The fact is that the only thing more appalling than Newsom's attempt to lampoon his unethical behavior is the utter idiocy of political consultant David Latterman's take on the situation.

“I can’t comment about whether he’s truly an alcoholic. There’s obviously been rumors about his drinking for quite a while,” he said. “But this is what celebrities do when they screw up, they go to rehab: Mel Gibson, Kramer, and now Gavin Newsom. It’s a tried and true public relations technique.”

Um, sorry, but Newsom has no celebrity status outside the context of his immoral, unethical behavior. Mayors are not celebrities and the public should not be expected to give elected officials (who are responsible for much more than a personal movie-making career) the same second chances they seem so willing to extend to actors, actresses, authors, and musicians.

While we have come to expect celebrities to enter rehabs and have affairs, I think we must appreciate that celebrities are different. Celebrities are not charged with governance of others. It does not impact the residents of San Francisco if Mel Gibson gets drunk. It does not damage them if Michael Richards needs anger management.

It does directly impact them if their mayor becomes the poster child for breaking personal and public trust on every level while claiming he is not responsible for his actions (the alcohol is). Further, it is deplorable that Newsom is so naive to think that you can create a media frenzy and claim that reporters are out of line in asking questions about his recent confessions. To think that he would be so arrogant to chastise an Examiner reporter who tried to ask a question by saying, “Could you possibly be respectful and could I close the door?”

It seems to me that question better belongs to his former campaign aide: “Could you possibly be respectful and leave my wife alone?”

As another Examiner article reveals: a political insider, who did not want to be named, called Newsom “thin-skinned” and said the reason why the mayor’s having a hard time with the press is because for the first several years of his tenure, “he had a relative love affair with the media.” And so goes the story of wannabe public figures who regret getting their wish.

Maybe someone should have told Newsom that getting at the truth and shaming the devil supersedes all relationships in the career of a reporter. Hmmm... it's kind of like a spouse I imagine. The love affair is great until something or someone changes the relationship. Imagine that. Except in this case, Mayor Newsom, you are solely responsible for your hurt feelings.

Funny. A few days ago, I might have been able to salvage this one. Today, I'd rather watch him spin himself to disaster.


Thursday, January 4

Working In A Bubble

There has been ample discussion about transparency, as it relates to blogs in particular, but it seems to me corporate transparency is optional, and best left to the discretion of each individual company. You see, I don't subscribe to the notion CEOs shouldn't blog. I think it depends on the CEO and, more importantly, the company's business strategy.

It seems to me the only problem with corporate transparency is the number of CEOs that try it without really understanding what it means. Worse, few consider that working in a bubble might be a different environment all together, becoming a public figure aside.

Maybe the answer to the question, whether to blog or not, lies within a seemingly unrelated question. How prepared are we to manage our reputation once we gain transparent visibility?

It's tricky stuff, doubly so if you have any hope to keep your message consistent. Here are 8 basic questions (I collected them from several experts and executives over the years) to ask about your corporate reputation management, adjusted a bit to skew toward CEO blogs.

1. Can you keep your focus narrow and potential issues manageable?
2. Are you willing to take responsibility (not necessarily accountability) for all employee actions and outcomes, even those outside of your control?
3. Will you maintain a positive, assertive, calm communication style that focuses attention on the most important aspects of any problem?
4. Are you willing to move toward resolution despite any negativity, including antagonistic reporters and crazy bloggers?
5. Are you ready to concede that if your local disaster becomes regional or national, that it is totally your doing?
6. Do you realize that your actions and posts will influence those around you and have an impact on your reputation and the company?
7. Are you prepared to answer tough, probing, and sometimes trick questions from not only the media but also anyone who happens by?
8. Are you willing to share your ideas internally or with consultants prior to posting in order to ensure everyone is on the same page?

If you answer no to any of these questions, then you should probably stay out of the business of blogging. Of course, if you answer no to any of these questions, your company is operating without any concern for reputation management anyway, and sooner or later you'll learn the hard way (these questions apply to picking a company spokesperson too).

Having worked with CEOs and, even more maverick, politicians, I can safely say that the decision to be transparent or blog is an individual question. As many as I have advised to blog, there are dozens more I have advised not to blog. For each, I base my advice on whether it makes strategic sense for the company and if the CEO (or anyone for that matter) is fit to be a blogger.

Or perhaps I shouldn't say "blogger" given the industry push to change the term. What is a blog? Seems to be a lot things to a lot of people, and I don't think narrowing the definition will change that.

Of course, if we are all going to make our companies "bubbles," I propose a new occupational title: "window washer." Just kidding.

Friday, December 29

Remembering Top Posts Of 2006

With the new year upon us next week, we would like to say goodbye to 2006 with a recap of our five most popular communication-related posts, based on the frequency and the immediacy of hits after they were posted.

Wee Shu Min’s Post Impacts Economic Reform

When Wee Shu Min, the teenage daughter of a Singapore member of parliament, stumbled across the blog of a Singaporean who wrote that he was worried about losing his job, she thought she’d give him a piece of her mind. She called him “one of many wretched, under motivated, over assuming leeches in our country” on her own blog and signed off with “please, get out of my elite uncaring face,” a post that received international scorn and had such an impact that the Singapore government paid out S$150 million to about 330,000 low-income workers five days before its recent election.

Links: Wee Shu Min, Wee Siew Kim

Jobster Loses Control Of A Blog Rumor

After starting a rumor that 2007 would mean more profitability for Jobster, the rumor runs away from the company as bloggers speculate whether that will mean layoffs at the young, but fast growing online recruitment company. The outcome leads to one of the worst public relations and internal communication nightmares in recent memory. From the net to mainstream media, the Seattle Times picks up on what continues to be an interesting communication case study. A few more days and Jobster might have overtaken Wee Shu Min’s post. Go figure.

Link: Jobster

Wal-Mart Fires Julie Roehm

Julie Roehm never intended to gain her most fame for being fired by Wal-Mart, but that is exactly what happened after Wal-Mart allegedly grew uncomfortable with her friendly connection to Draft FCB, which she had pushed for to become Wal-Mart’s agency of record. Draft FCB was fired three days after Roehm. Still spinning an upbeat message, Roehm told Advertising Age she would take “60 days to find out exactly what I want to do and take advantage that people want to talk with me…” Her other alternative, she said, is to open her own shop.

Links: Roehm, FCB Draft

Jim Gibbons Elected Nevada Governor

Fueled largely by last minute assault allegations made against Jim Gibbons by Chrissy Mazzeo, a 32-year-old cocktail waitress at Wynn Las Vegas, the governor’s race in Nevada became a hot topic nationwide. Eventually, Gibbons overcame the obstacle after video evidence proved he was not in the location where the incident supposedly took place. Gibbons won over Dina Titus, 48-44. For our part, we worked on Gibbons mailers for the Nevada Republican Party’s Victory 2006 campaign after working with State Senator Bob Beers on his spirited policy-changing primary.

Links: Jim Gibbons, Gibbons Wins

Miss USA Crowns In Turmoil

The Miss USA pageant scandals remind us that all of us have personal brands. Donald Trump capitalized on the publicity by teasing Miss USA Tara Conner with the statement, made days ago, that he would be "evaluating her behavioral and personal issues and would make an announcement within the week." He forgave her, but Miss Nevada, Katie Rees, did not fare as well when 3-year-old photos surfaced on the Internet. The decision prompted many to ask whether the Miss Universe Organization had double standards in regard to ethics rulings.

Links: Rees, Conner

Those were the top five topical posts in 2006, followed closely by predictions for YouTube, e-mail disasters, Stoern’s publicity stunt, business card techniques, and Sam Sethi’s dismissal from TechCrunch.

Links: YouTube, E-mail, Stoern, Business Cards, Sethi

Let us hope 2007 brings more attention to the best practices as opposed to the biggest mishaps. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 22

Stocking Stuffers For Public Figures

While most people are heading home for the holidays, Judicial Watch, a public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, decided to release some unwanted stocking stuffers for a few politicians. Here is the 2006 “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” list:

1. Jack Abramoff, former lobbyist
Abramoff is at the center of a massive public corruption investigation by the Department of Justice

2. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY)
In January 2006, Hillary Clinton’s fundraising operation was fined $35,000 by the Federal Election Commission for failing to accurately report more than $700,000 in contributions to Clinton’s Senate 2000 campaign.

3. Former Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA)
In November 2005, Cunningham pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion.

4. Former Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)
Tom DeLay, who was forced to step down from his position as House Majority Leader and then resign from Congress, decided in 2006 not to run for re-election.

5. Former Representative Mark Foley (R-FL)
Foley left the House in disgrace after news broke that he had been sending predatory homosexual emails to a House page.

6. Representative Denny Hastert (R-IL)
In addition to mishandling the Foley scandal, outgoing House Speaker Dennis Hastert allowed House ethics process to ground to a halt on his watch.

7. Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
Hastings is one of only six federal judges to be removed from office through impeachment and has accumulated staggering liabilities ranging from $2,130,006 to $7,350,000.

8. Representative William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson (D-LA)
Jefferson is alleged to have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to help broker high-tech business deals in Nigeria.

9. Former Representative Bob Ney (R-OH)
Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney resigned in early November 2006, three weeks after pleading guilty for accepting bribes from an Indian casino in exchange for legislative favors.

10. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)
Senator Reid came under fire in 2006 for failing to properly report to Congress a $700,000 land deal.

Judicial Watch has long maintained that public corruption is endemic to our nation’s capitol. To some degree, it is right. Many representatives arrive in Washington D.C. as average citizens and leave with the keys to newfound wealth.

For some, it stands to reason that serving in Congress will open doors of opportunity. After all, many companies look for skill sets that politicians acquire while in Washington. Others hope that partnering with or adding a sitting/former congressman will increase their company's credibility.

Still, what makes some, if not all, of these ten politicians a bit different is that they didn't wait for retirement to cash in or demonstrate any restraint or remorse when abusing public trust. Then again, sometimes the public gets what it asks for: Hillary Clinton still polls strong as a presidential hopeful and Senator Harry Reid will likely retain his seat in Nevada as long as he wants it.

That is the state of political affairs today, with Katie Rees, former Miss Nevada, being placed under more scrutiny for what she did five years ago than most folks, who are running the nation, might be doing right now. No, I am not saying all politicians are bad people or corrupt. Having worked in the political arena for about ten years, I can attest to the fact that there are some politicians who rise above the rest in terms of ethics. Thank goodness for them.

For those few honest politicians and anyone who reads this blog ... Merry Christmas ... Happy Holidays. Until our next.

Thursday, December 21

Losing Fame In 19 Frames

It seems some people have an easier time forgiving the present than they do the past. Miss Nevada, from my home state, will not get a second chance.

Just days after Donald Trump refused to fire embattled Miss USA Tara Conner, Paula M. Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization, had no problem firing Katie Rees for photos that are five years old.

In a statement to the TV show "EXTRA," an attorney for Rees says, "Katie wants the public to know she was 17 and had a lapse in judgment. This was an isolated incident that occurred more than five years ago when she was a minor."

While I will not publish them here, the full set of photos has been published at TMZ. Despite block-out stars, several are explicit.

Ultimately, the decision to fire Rees raises an eyebrow over the ethical standards Miss USA is attempting to set. While impossible to defend the behavior in these photos, considering Miss Nevada is meant to be role model, one wonders about the arbitrary state of the pageant, given that press time played a role in the decision.

A week earlier, Rees might have been the one receiving a second chance. She seemed more deserving of one, given the photos are years old and she apologized more sincerely than Miss USA.

Yet, as I've often noted as a public relations instructor: it's always better to err on the side of caution in case you might one day be in the public eye. If not, your greatest embarrassment might be featured in the Wall Street Journal, er, on TMZ.

First runner-up Helen Salas will assume the Miss Nevada title and compete at the 2007 Miss USA Pageant on March 23 in Los Angeles. She was a second runner-up at Miss Teen USA.

Wednesday, December 20

Teasing Tara Conner

Tara Conner
According to the Associated Press, Donald Trump refused to fire embattled Miss USA Tara Conner, despite widespread speculation that she would be stripped of her tiara. The rumors surfaced after allegations that the beauty queen, despite being underage, was a big drinker.

"I've always been a believer in second chances," said Trump, who owns the Miss Universe Organization, with a tearful and surprised Conner at his side.

"In no way did I think it would be possible for a second chance to be given to me," said the choked up beauty queen.

So why a second chance? Simple. Her bad behavior has garnered more attention for Miss USA than the pageant could garner on its own. The finals, broadcast by NBC, only attracted 7.75 million viewers, the second-lowest viewership since the pageant began in 1952.

In contrast, since the New York Daily News reported Conner had tested positive for cocaine, had lustily kissed Miss Teen USA Katie Blair in public, and had sneaked men into their Trump Place apartment, she has become a household name who suddenly made the title Miss USA relevant for a scandal-loving public.

Congrats to Trump for proving once again that he is a master at publicity by teasing Conner with the statement, made days ago, that he would be "evaluating her behavioral and personal issues and would make an announcement within the week."

Of course she got a second chance. Conner has single-handedly saved what an army of marketers could not save on their best day.

Monday, November 27

E-mailing History

The most convenient and abused communication method, e-mail, turned 35 years old today. The very first text message was forgettable, QWERTYUIOP or something similar, IT programmer Ray Tomlinson told The Sun reporter Josh Burt.

But it didn't take long before people became more inventive, writing e-mails they would never pen on paper. Burt includes five of the most famous cases in his commentary: Cringe! Worst e-mails ever.

• In 2000, Claire Swires sent a saucy note to her boyfriend while working at the London law firm Norton Rose. Her boyfriend forwarded it to a few of his closest friends, which turned Swires into a global talking point.

• Lucy Gao, who worked for Citigroup, demanded via e-mail that her 39 guests adhere to numerous ridiculous demands, including what time she would accept gifts and cards for her birthday.

• Joseph Dobbie spilled his heart out to a pretty girl over e-mail, blissfully unaware that his warm words to Kate Winsall would be forwarded to the entire world.

• Richard Phillips left his job as a senior associate with the world's biggest law firm, Baker & McKenzie, after he demanded a secretary, Jenny Amner, pay £4 to dry clean his ketchup stained pants. Amner replied to his e-mail, which she cc'ed to all 250 members of their staff: "I must apologize for not getting back to you straight away but due to my mother's sudden illness, death and funeral I have more pressing issues than your £4."

• Trevor Luxton, a clerk at Credit Lyonnais, made a big mistake when he thought he'd boast about his cheating ways over e-mail, calling himself the worst boyfriend in the world. Presumably his friends agreed, forwarding his e-mail until the entire world knew too.

Burt left off a similar story, where an executive stationed overseas boasted about using his expense account to rob the company blind. His e-mail's final destination was The Wall Street Journal, which underpins the point I always share with public relations students — never write an electronic message that you wouldn't be proud to see published in The Wall Street Journal. One day, it just might be, even if you wrote it years ago.

Monday, November 20

Sacrificing Privacy For Exposure

Like it or not, there are different rules for public figures than private individuals in regard to privacy. The more public your position or actions in society, the less privacy you retain because the public has a legitimate and substantial interest in public figures and public conduct.

That's why NBC affiliate WSLS-TV fired meteorologist Jamey Singleton on Thursday after a frontal nude shot of him getting out of the shower was posted on someone else's MySpace site; and why he will likely not be able to pursue charges against the poster despite the fact he was fired. It's also why MySpace pulled the pictures, because it has positioned itself as a distribution channel, not a publisher (protecting it from what people post, but pulling such content only if it is determined the subject did not consent).

According to the station, Singleton was fired because the photo broke the morals code in his contract. The moral code in the contract is indicative of his position as a public figure. Singleton told the Roanoke Times that he cannot blame them if the photo was the straw that broke the camel's back (he was retained earlier this year after admitting he was a recovering heroin addict).

It's an interesting commentary on how definitions are being changed today as becoming a public figure is easier than ever. Blogging, for instance, comes with the risk of sacrificing privacy rights. The greater your readership, the greater your potential to become a public figure with fewer privacy rights. It's something to think about while you share your commentary because, sometimes, there are unforeseen consequences to moving into the public eye.

Tuesday, October 24

Sanitizing Personal Opinion

There seems to be much ado about Wee Shu Min, a teenage blogger whose online journal was criticized as insensitive and elitist. The story has escalated to the point of absurdity with her father, MP Wee Siew Kim, and the principal of Raffles Junior College telling The Straits Times that Miss Wee had received counseling for using insensitive language.

She has since shut down her blog and apologized for her comments, though not directly to Mr. Derek Wee, a Singaporean who works for a multinational corporation. He had written in his blog on Oct 12 that he was concerned about competition from foreign talent and the lack of job opportunities for older workers. Miss Wee had responded to him on her blog, calling him old and unmotivated and said he was overly reliant on the government.

She specifically wrote: 'Derek, Derek, Derek darling, how can you expect to have an iron rice bowl or a solid future if you cannot spell? There's no point in lambasting the Government for making our society one that is, I quote, 'far too survival of the fittest.' If uncertainty of success offends you so much, you will certainly be poor and miserable.' She concluded by telling Mr. Wee to 'get out of my elite uncaring face.'

In the apology, Wee Siew Kim went further to say that in "In our current desire to encourage more debate, especially through the Internet, our comments must be tempered with sensitivity. I will not gag her, since she's 18 and should be able to stand by what she says. ... Nonetheless, I have counselled her to learn from it. Some people cannot take the brutal truth and that sort of language, so she ought to learn from it."

Before writing an unpopular opinion, I will offer up that as an accredited business communicator, I adhere to the International Association of Business Communicators' Code of Ethics, which encourages members to "engage in communication that is not only legal, but also ethical and sensitive to cultural values and beliefs; and engage in truthful, accurate and fair communication that facilitates respect and mutual understanding; among other things." I wish more bloggers would consider such ethical guidelines before posting various rants on the Web.

However, Wee Shu Min has obviously not bonded herself to such a code, and therefore, must be respected for her opinion, no matter how insensitive or elitist it may have come across. If anything, I have personally welcomed people to state their minds, no matter how insensitive, ignorant, or bigoted they may be, because it is the very language they use that may reveal their own lack of credibility or character. In fact, Wee Shu Min self-describes herself as elitist and insensitive, which seems to me to make any criticisms of her for being that rather redundant.

In sum, both Derek Wee and Wee Shu Min have a right to their respective opinions. It seems to me that Derek Wee probably made the stronger case, given that Wee Shu Min did resort to name-calling and colorful insults as one might suspect from an 18-year-old college student. However, the equally aggressive rebuttals and public outcry, and then public apology by her father and the principal of her college, seems largely disproportionate.

If anything, her post did succeed in revealing the country's growing disconnect, perhaps, between younger and older adults, skilled and unskilled workers, and/or affluent and less affluent citizens. Until that is addressed, with open dialogue, there is little chance any measures could be taken to address Derek Wee's concerns and grievances.

But then again, I live in a country that, despite occasional pressure to be 'politically correct' in stating opinions, allows for unpopular language under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Although frequently tested, one simple truth remains: the abuse of free speech will die in a day, but the censorship of free speech, including rants from those like Wee Shu Min, will span generations.

Friday, September 29

E-mailing Is Never Private

The first e-mail rule I tell every client or public relations professional is: don't send it unless you would be proud to see it on CNN.

Unfortunately for Rep. Mark Foley, he was never a client or a student. CNN reports he resigned today after a former congressional page questioned e-mails Foley had sent to him.

Foley apparently sent the e-mails in August 2005, when the male page was 16 years old.

"Today I have delivered a letter to the speaker of the House informing him of my decision to resign from the U.S. House of Representatives, effective today. I thank the people of Florida's 16th Congressional District for giving me the opportunity to serve them for the last twelve years; it has been an honor," said Foley. "I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent."

In the e-mails, which were obtained by Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Foley discussed a second page, saying "I just emailed [him]... hes such a nice guy... acts much older than his age... hes in great shape... i am just finished riding my bike on a 25 mile journey now heading to the gym... whats school like for you this year?"

Foley then asked the page for a picture.

The young man, who forwarded the e-mails to another congressional staffer, called the e-mails "sick, sick, sick."

"Maybe it is just me being paranoid, but seriously. This freaks me out," the page wrote in the e-mails obtained by CREW.

A spokesman for Foley told CNN the congressman acknowledged he had an e-mail exchange with the former page but flatly denied that it was anything inappropriate.

Of course, if there was nothing inappropriate, one has to wonder how he let his family and the people of Florida down.

I'm not going to add any speculation on the implications, but limit this to the aforementioned lesson. There is no such thing as private communication anymore, especially in e-mail or on voice mail (as State Sen. Dina Titus recently learned in Nevada).

Wednesday, September 20

Making Perception Reality

Without considering the philosophical questions, perception and reality are the same in the marketing world. Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes it's not.

As such, the old adage that ''any publicity is good publicity'' is dead wrong and the primary reason has to do with brand value.

The Brand Channel recently asked if a brand hopes to cash in on the allure of a star athlete, does it also suffer when that athlete is caught in a misadventure off the playing field? While several comments offer up answers on both sides of the argument, Tiger Woods provides the best answer of all.

Recently, he lashed out at an Irish magazine for falsely linking his Swedish wife Elin, a former model, to pornographic websites.

"It's unacceptable and I don't want it to detract from the beauty of this event," he told a news conference on Wednesday in the build-up to this week's Ryder Cup at the K Club in County Kildare, according to Reuters. "I am very disappointed in how the article was written. Yes, my wife has been a model and she did do some bikini photos but to link her to porn websites and such is unacceptable. I do not accept it and neither does our team."

The latest edition of the Dubliner, a listings magazine, carries bogus nude pictures of Elin, as well as a story on some of the U.S. Ryder Cup wives headlined 'Ryder Cup filth for Ireland'.

Part of the article read: "Most American golfers are married to women who cannot keep their clothes on in public. Is it too much to ask that they leave them at home for the Ryder Cup?"

"My wife is an extension of me. We're in it together, we're a team and I care about her with all my heart," Tiger said.

While any brand damage will be short lived and I suspect Tiger Woods will easily overcome the bogus charges, the perception generated by the publication did cause temporary brand damage in that it disparaged his image (even though the false charges were directed as his wife, because as he said, she is an extension of him).

Fortunately, his excellent handling of the negative publicity will help him in the long term, despite the fact that it distracted from his upcoming play and personal brand.

But what if he didn't handle the situation well? Then what?

His image, or personal brand, would have been damaged whether or not the charges were not true. Nice upstanding athletes do not marry porn stars, and if they do, they're not good role models. Nice upstanding athletes are also expected to keep their cool, even when their wives are falsely linked to porn sites. (Unless, of course, their brand is to fly off the handle. Then, that's what we would expect.)

All this is pretty unfair, but that's the way it goes when it comes to public perception. True or not, all publicity can have a positive or negative effect on the personal brand of the athlete and the products they endorse (or vice versa).

But that is what a brand really is: the collective sum of all positive or negative impressions shared by all people, whether or not those impressions were made by fiction or reality.

Monday, September 11

Sacrificing The First Celebrity

So the team behind the lonelygirl15 YouTube mystery has come forward, claiming that lonelygirl15 is part of their “show” and thanking their fans effusively for tuning in to “the birth of a new art form.”

New? Not really.

In 1938, H. G. Wells led thousands to believe that an interplanetary conflict had started with invading Martians spreading wide death and destruction in New Jersey and New York. The broadcast disrupted households, interrupted religious services, created traffic jams, clogged communications systems, and, in one Newark neighborhood, prompted more than twenty families to rush out of their houses with wet handkerchiefs and towels over their faces to flee from what they believed was to be a gas raid.

Naturally, Orson Wells did provide ample announcements during the broadcast that emphasized the story was fictional. But in 1990, pop artists Milli Vanilli, who virtually had a similar effect on the public, did not warn the public.

It was during a live performance at the Lake Compounce theme park in Connecticut that their song "Girl You Know It's True" jammed and began to skip, repeating the line "Girl, you know it's-" over and over. Later, it was confirmed to reporters on Nov. 15, 1990 that Morvan and Pilatus did not sing on the records, causing a class action lawsuit that resulted in a multi-million dollar refund for anyone who wanted to return the record for any reason.

Just a few years earlier, in 1988, the public had chastised front-running presidential candidate Gary Hart for having an extramarital affair. Hart dared the press to "Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'll be very bored." Unfortunately for him, two reporters from the Miami Herald took up his challenge and observed an attractive young woman coming out of Hart's Washington, D.C., townhouse on the evening of May 2. By the end of the New Hampshire primary, it was clear that Gary Hart's White House hopes were over.

Orson Wells. Milli Vanilli. Gary Hart. While all three were ridiculed for the outcomes, all three also softened public expectations, opening the doors for the others to do virtually the same thing without any public backlash.

Ashlee Simpson received widespread derision, but survived, using a pre-recorded vocal track for a performance on Saturday Night Live in 2004. Bill Clinton was impeached, but largely survived his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a young female White House intern. And countless radio shows and movies have borrowed Wells' concept to create faux reality entertainment without any impact whatsoever.

Lonelygirl15 is nothing much more than the first 'vlogger' caught presenting fiction as fact, opening the doors wide open for similar Web programming in the future, where storytelling is sometimes difficult to discern from the real thing in what sometimes seems like a 'War of the Words' not 'War of the Worlds.'

Ironically, Loneygirl15 will not be the one who really benefits. I think documentary filmmaker Brian Flemming is right. The lonelygirl15 phenomenon has "jumped the shark."

Personally, whether the public will be softened to faux reality Web shows after ceremonially sacrificing their first 'Web celebrity' or not —open, honest, and candid communication remains the best policy for entertainers, marketing gurus, politicians, corporate executives, and anyone else who wants to survive longer than the fifteen minutes of hype. And that's advice you can take to the bank.

Wednesday, September 6

Trending Toward Entertainment

There are hundreds of comments critiquing Katie Couric and her debut on Tuesday as a “CBS Evening News” anchor and the first woman to solo anchor for a major broadcast network newscast. Whether you think she seemed to struggle to keep a lid on her trademark perkiness or not, public relations professionals should take note.

National news, much like local news, has been and continues to trend toward interactive entertainment. From asking viewers to send in potential Couric sign-off lines to including a new regular feature called "Free Speech," a segment of opinion and commentary from a wide range of Americans, it's clear that the network has a new formula in mind for the future of news.

As Greg Kandra, CBS editor, wrote on one of several CBS blog strings: "Katie intends for this blog to be a dialogue, not a monologue. Don't be bashful. Most postings will have a comment section, so feel free to post and comment and tell us what you really think."

Why? News commentary and controversy have become the norm and CBS is struggling to emerge with something fresh for television by borrowing something old from radio: active participation. It's an interesting concept that means public relations professionals should prep clients as if they are attending a public forum as well as a media interview.

For the public, as the trend solidifies, it means even more difficulty in discerning fact from opinion, especially as more and more reporters seem eager to polarize what once was their common ground to find the truth. In today's world, the only common ground seems to be that criticism delivered Olberman-style means stealing tomorrow's headlines and public interest or that presenting to extremely polar opposite guests always makes for interesting, if nonsensical, controversy.

Nowadays, the truth is often, not always, somewhere in the ever-expanding middle. Personally, I hope the public knows it.

Tuesday, September 5

Remembering Dana Plato

After watching NBC's Behind The Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff'rent Strokes yesterday and then reading a review on TV Squad, which points out that the actors never seemed to be held accountable for their failures as young adults, I thought I'd offer up a personal perspective because, frankly, I think TV Squad is wrong.

But then again, I saw a different side of Dana Plato, one that did not make the show.

Sure, I'll agree that the movie drifted far too often into melodrama, but I'm not convinced the view was all that unbalanced. While I cannot speak for Todd Bridges or Gary Coleman, because I never met them, I did meet and speak with Dana for several hours in March 1992, shortly after her arrest for forging prescriptions for Valium in Las Vegas.

I was given the assignment by ShowBiz Weekly, which has recently transformed into LVM (Las Vegas Magazine). At the time, ShowBiz Weekly was also Las Vegas' local cable listing guide similar to TV Guide, which included articles that went beyond typical production show write-ups and reviews.

Shortly after Dana's arrest, Dennis Levinson had given her an opportunity to star in the production 'Tropical Heat,' which played at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. It was her first stage role.

''When I was sitting in the Clark County Jail, I thought it was all over,'' she told me. ''Now, I thank Dennis Levinson for an opportunity most wouldn't have gotten.''

In the show, she played sidekick to Tom Walleck. Her character, Pricilla, was an attorney's associate who must pass a test for a second chance at life. Not unlike Dana herself.

In fact, after speaking with her for nearly two hours, it seemed to me that her life was about to imitate art. Dana was ready for a second chance: she was in a drug and alcohol dependency program, attended regular group sessions, and had recently met her biological mother. She was even ready to become an anti-drug advocate.

''What I was trying to do for a long time was ask for help, but I didn't know how,'' she told me. ''When you have a dependency program, you don't know how to ask for help, even when you know you need to.''

When I asked about her daily counseling sessions, the interview turned more personal than professional. She spoke about it candidly, honestly, and in surprising detail.

''Can I tell you something?'' she frowned. ''Everybody is really nice, but I don't feel like have any friends. Maybe we could be friends.''

I told her I would welcome it. You see, Bridges and Coleman are spot on. Dana was a free spirit, someone who was incredibly at ease sharing herself as a person. In fact, we may have even become better friends than a single follow-up after I saw the stage show (she was curious what I thought) had it not been for an overly protective public relations specialist, rightfully distrusting of a young 20-something reporter hoping to get another assignment.

When I asked about her upcoming sentencing, the public relations specialist breezed back into the dressing room, ears perked, and said: "My, my, you two seem to be becoming fast friends. Now, Dana, we don't want you to talk about your upcoming sentencing with a reporter. I think you have enough for an article on the show. Don't you?''

"See what I mean," Dana had whispered.

As a public relations specialist, I would have said the same thing. Journalists, even friendly ones who spend most of their time on the other side of the fence, cannot be trusted. After all, it's their job to tell the truth, especially little known truths about people in the public eye. In fact, it's for that very reason I tend to gravitate more to the other side ... I enjoy looking for the best in people, even when the worst is being laid out in vivid detail.

Looking back, I can safely say it was a shame we did not become better friends nor that the show, which was 'all right' by any standards except those of glitzy Las Vegas, did not last long. Within a few months, Dana's second chance evaporated. And so did our brief semi-professional acquaintance.

I went on to string for ShowBiz Weekly for several years, including ongoing coverage of Siegfried & Roy. She left Las Vegas and moved on to Florida, until apparently committing suicide on her way to back to California to revive her career.

Coleman and Bridges always say they doubt she intended to commit suicide. I have to admit, though I hardly knew her for a minute by comparison, I tend to agree with them. There was something about Dana, despite some life choices and bad luck, that made the people who let her be herself feel like anything was possible even if she didn't have as much faith in herself.

That's the way I'll always remember her, one little piece of personal history as we celebrate 15 years of professional service. Enjoy.

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