PR Debacles and How to Avoid Them
In last Thursday’s edition of this e-zine about Jay Leno—and knowing how to communicate using different media—I failed to include a very important takeaway point:
* Never trust a television studio. You never know when your mike is live and picking up your stupid comments, or the camera is on you while you are picking your nose—or both.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, spiritual and moral adviser to President Bill Clinton—and a man who fathered a child out of wedlock, paid her $40,000 out of his nonprofit corporation and once referred to New York City as “Hymietown,” an anti-Semitic slur—is in the limelight once again. He was caught on camera last week with a live microphone saying, “See, Barack’s been talking down to black people ... I want to cut his nuts off.”
The cable news folks had a field day, and Jackson was forced to apologize to the presumed Democratic nominee.
The word “nuts” made Jesse Jackson look like a chump.
On Dec. 22, 1944, the word “nuts” turned an obscure U.S. Army brigadier general into one of the great heroes of World War II.
The Battle of the Bulge
In the winter of 1944, when Allied forces were clearly winning the war, Hitler ordered one last-ditch, surprise assault. In the pivotal town of Bastogne in the Ardennes Forest of Luxembourg, the U.S. 101st Airborne Division was surrounded. It was the worst winter in years. The weather was so bad that air support and resupply were impossible. The beleaguered Americans were under siege by a vastly superior force and running out of food and ammunition. Gen. Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz sent a party of four German soldiers waving a white flag into the U.S. headquarters to demand that the Americans surrender immediately or face obliteration. The acting commander was Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, who said, “Surrender? NUTS!” A formal message was typed up and handed to the German delegation:
“To the German Commander, NUTS! The American Commander”
McAuliffe’s one-word response electrified the country and the world. The following day the weather changed and the “Battered Bastards of Bastogne” got air support and supplies. On Dec. 26, Patton’s Third Army broke through and came to the rescue.
In this case, the word “nuts” resulted in a massive PR coup, as opposed to Jesse Jackson’s PR goof.
Always Have Your Ducks in a Row!
Three recent events illustrate how supposedly savvy PR professionals can screw up big time:
* Dec. 17, in the thick of the Democratic primary campaign, former President Bill Clinton made a startling announcement in Orangeburg, S.C. “Well, the first thing [Hillary] intends to do, because you can do this without passing a bill,” Clinton said, ”the first thing she intends to do is to send me and former President Bush and a number of other people around the world to tell them that America is open for business and cooperation again.”
“He has never discussed an ‘around-the-world-mission’ with either former President Bill Clinton or Sen. Clinton,” retorted former President George W. Bush’s chief of staff, Jean Becker, “nor does he think such a mission is warranted since he is proud of the role America continues to play around the world as the beacon of hope for freedom and democracy.”
* Jan. 28, The Times of London reported that a company called Qtrax announced to the world that it had cut a deal to make more than 25 million songs available on the Internet, “that users can download to keep, free and with no limit on the number of tracks.” Among the companies that bought into the scheme were EMI, Universal Music and Warner Music—that previously “chased file-sharers through the courts in a doomed attempt to prevent piracy.” Later that day, The Times printed this retraction:
A Web site which promised to give music lovers the world’s first legal file-sharing service was forced into a humiliating climbdown today after it emerged that the company had not secured the backing of the record industry. Qtrax, a New York firm, unveiled its service with a glitzy £500,000 launch in Cannes at the weekend, hiring stars including James Blunt, LL Cool J. Today it emerged that none of the four major labels had done deals with the site, putting a large dent in the promised catalogue of 25 million songs and prompting allegations that the site’s founders had misled fans.
* Last week TheTimesOnline.co.uk ran a story headlined, “Russia threatens military response to U.S. missile defense deal.” This apocalyptic specter followed Condoleezza Rice’s signing of an agreement for the Czech Republic to be the radar site for a missile shield system. “We will be forced to react not with diplomatic, but with military-technical methods,” stated the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Maybe Secretary Rice, who said she was “disappointed,” should heed John Lennon’s “Mind Games,” his 1973 song: “I want you to make love, not war.”
’You’re My Orgy’
“Make Love, Not War” was carried from the sublime to the ridiculous. France’s new first lady, Mme. Nicolas Sarkozy (aka pop singer Carla Bruni) has added to her reputation as a hottie by not accompanying hubby to the G8 Summit in Japan. Instead she remained at the Élysée Palace to finalize the publicity and promotion campaign for her new album, “Comme se de Rien N’était” (“As if Nothing Happened”). What The Times of London’s Charles Bremner described as a series of breathy love songs. Bremner writes:
They include “Ma Came” (My Junk), the now famous drug song which caused an official complaint from the Bogota government last month—Bruni sings of an amorous high with the effects of Colombian cocaine. Most of the songs were written before her romance with Sarkozy last winter, but one song, “Ta Tienne” (“Yours”) is a declaration of passion for the president, whom she calls her “orgy” and her “prince charming.” Here are some of it’s lyrics:
I put an end
To all my emblems
To my career as an Amazon
And to my sovereign freedom ...
I give you my body, my soul and my chrysanthemum
For I am Yours
You are my lord, you’re my darling
You’re my orgy
You’re my folly, my mix
You are my blessed bread
My charming prince
I am yours...
The name of the recording company Mme. Sarkozy is working with? Naive Records.
Finally, From the Ridiculous to the Totally Nuts
Maxwell Mosley, a multimillionaire and the son of Britain’s most famous World War II Fascist, Oswald Mosley, is currently czar of European Formula 1 Grand Prix racing. Last April 7, Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World reported that the distinguished Mosley was involved in “a depraved Nazi sadomasochistic orgy,” and offered video proof on its Web site.
Refusing all calls for his resignation as president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, Mosley turned around and sued News of the World for “gross and indefensible intrusion” into a lifestyle he has enjoyed for 45 years. In his July 9, 2008, story in The New York Times titled “Trial About Privacy in Which None Remains,” John F. Burns writes:
LONDON — At moments, it seems like British satire at its whimsical, Monty Python-style best: a judge and a bank of lawyers, all stern-as-you-like in horsehair wigs, exploring the finer points of bottom-spanking with an aging multimillionaire and several young women who joined him in a Chelsea flat last winter, for a $5,000 fee, for what was described as five hours of sadomasochistic “fantasy” play.
If your idea of good PR is going to court for invasion of privacy, be prepared for your privacy to be invaded exponentially and worldwide.
Put another way, Max Mosley has given a bold new meaning to the term “public relations.”