Ronn Torossian Update

News and Updates from 5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian

Walmart vs. Tracy Morgan? Not so far

tracy morgan walmart public relations
In an interview with NBC’s Today Show, superstar comedian Tracy Morgan thanked Walmart, the company whose truck slammed into his vehicle more than a year ago, severely injuring Morgan and killing his friend, James McNair. The horrible accident made national news, and many people were surprised by Morgan’s response.

Morgan said Walmart “stepped up to the plate in a tremendous way,” indicating they never sought to dodge or shift responsibility for the tragedy that claimed the life of Morgan’s good friend, McNair. Further still, Morgan said the company had taken full responsibility for the accident and had already settled with McNair’s family.

“I’m just happy they looked out for Jimmy Mac’s family. He can rest in peace now,” Morgan said. During the interview, Morgan made one concession that seemed to indicate the issue could have gone a very different way. “In the beginning there was a misunderstanding, but that got squared away. They came through in the clutch.”

Many pundits declared that the “misunderstanding” was likely an attempt by Walmart or their attorneys to sidestep blame or culpability in the accident, though neither Morgan nor Walmart will confirm or deny this. In fact, much the opposite. According to Morgan, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and his attorney Benedict Morelli spoke directly to Morgan to offer their personal apologies and condolences.
Some critics are speculating that, had the victims in this case not included at least one national marquee name, the “misunderstanding” may have continued to court. That sort of cross-talk might make for some entertaining afternoon drive radio, but it’s not germane to the PR lesson at hand.

The lesson here is that message control is key to an optimal outcome. Both Morgan and Walmart wanted this situation to be dealt with quickly and fairly. Walmart wanted its name out of the headlines, and Morgan wanted his friend’s family cared for in the best – and quickest – way possible. Any ugliness in the press would have hamstrung both of those goals, divergent as they might seem.

Another integral factor to the quick resolution? The facts of the case, as presented, were absolutely damning for Walmart. The at-fault driver had reportedly been traveling more than 20 mph over the posted limit … and he had been up for at least 24 hours. The more those numbers were repeated in the media, the more speculation, accusation and confrontation would damage Walmart’s PR brand.
Understanding all of these dynamics before a PR crisis explodes can go a long way toward a Best Possible Outcome.

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Affleck Controversy Halts PBS Debut

ben affleck pbs pr crisis

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, public relations 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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Can U.S. Open Save Golf

US-Open-Golf
The 2015 U.S. Open is bringing new surprises that golf has yet to see. The question is, can these new approaches to golf tournaments turn around the PR for this sport? It’s worth noting that the players and the premises for golf are not as thrilling as we remember when seeing Tiger Woods move up the ranks.

There may be a lack of exciting prospects to follow for the current generation. We are surely not hearing great golf stories flood the news arena. American pro golfing is now hoping to renew interest in golf with a spectacular course no professional has yet known.
This will be a U.S. Open challenge: the first of its kind. The course is, “. …not a golf course,” according to many professional golfers, however. It does, nonetheless, have challenges that could renew interest in the golf pastime when players are forced to bring their A game to make a measly par. This course choice is about making spectacular things happen as men compete on the fairways. Spectacular action is the only way to win this course and not leave the tournament beaten by the earth.

These are standing moments in golf history that will pave the direction this sport is bound to take. Where within public sentiment will that be? The world may never know. What we can see is that big moves are being made to give golf what it has never had with a U.S. Open, and many of the players involved are not too thrilled about the prospect.

The Chambers Bay course for the 2015 U.S. Open spreads out with numerous elevation changes, extremely dry grasses, fescue as the primary grass and ripples in the fairways that make golf balls shoot in every other direction than intended. Some sand bunkers are so deep they need stairwells for entrance and exit.

This will be a sight to see for sure. At this moment, the 2015 U.S. Open is to be held in Chambers Bay, Washington state. The course is situated south of Puget Sound and west of Tacoma. This tournament will bring many “first-time” situations for the U.S. Open and golf in America. The year 2015 will hold the first ever Open to be located in the Pacific Northwest.
Golfers generally feel a bit intimidated by the course selection that was built on the old site of a gravel mine. The surface of the fairway and green are said to be indistinguishable, and its stiffness will make balls jump higher and bounce more out of control. So this could be a great success or a great disaster as golf aims to improve their PR.

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Apple Poised to Enter News Business

apple news insights torossian
NPR recently reported that Apple just announced it will enter the news business. Well, the 21st Century digital aggregate version of that field in any case. iOS9 will, reportedly, be released with an app simply titled “News,” which comes equipped along with standard apps such as Calendar, Music, and Maps. The purpose of the app will be, essentially, a news aggregator. Pick your favorite sites and get all your news through a single app.

It’s an idea that’s about as new as disco, so why is Apple so excited about their version of something that’s been available for years? Because they know people will use it. They won’t be forced to, per se, but they also won’t be able to delete the app once they upgrade to iOS9. The app doesn’t have to cover new ground, it just has to be at least as user-friendly as the news aggregator app the customer is already using.

And, for those who have several apps they use to connect to the news they want, this app will prove a convenient space saver. Just like its predecessor, Newsstand, which proved to be an unwieldy failure. So, no guarantees of success here, but Apple is sticking to the plan that brought it this far. Give customers a convenient alternative they can’t get rid of and try to win them by attrition.
The message Apple is feeding the press is one of solidarity and innovation. News brands have lost power in the open market of the net, so why not figure out a way to help consumers navigate these uncharted waters? It’s an interesting approach that hopes to force publishers to filter their content through a product owned by Apple. Essentially, while providing customers a “convenient” experience, Apple is squeezing publishers in the hopes that, this time at least, they acquiesce to slapping an Apple on their delivery system.

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Can Hockey and Basketball Gain Some Ground?

sports in america
It’s no secret that professional football and baseball reign supreme in American sports. After that, NCAA football engenders the most fan loyalty – and cash. As far as pro sports go, each year, the NBA and NHL battle it out for which professional sports league will be Number Three With a Bullet. This year, more than any in recent memory, both leagues have a chance to gain even more ground than that.
Ask any basketball or hockey fan and they will tell you one good game is all it takes to get hooked.

The fast pace, athleticism and artistry are more than enough to get past the confusing rules and unfamiliar names. See a truly epic contest or championship series and you can become a fan for life.

In most years, the NBA and NHL finals are fairly pedestrian. In many cases the two best teams have already played and only the die-hards really care who wins the “Big One.” But that’s not the case in 2015. This year, in both the NBA and NHL, the finals have been incredible.

In the NBA Golden State and Cleveland – two teams a fair-weather basketball fan may not even consider – are battling it out game after game. The Warriors are champions of “small ball,” using ball handling, strategy and shooting skill to defeat ersatz Goliaths. That role, this season, is being played by one of the most unlikely of all giants – the Cleveland Cavaliers. Lead by dynamic superstar LeBron James, the Cavs were expected to contend but generally relished the potential to be the Cinderella team. Now two overachieving franchises are putting on a basketball clinic, night after night. It’s a series that largely puts both dedicated basketball fans and potential converts on the same playing field.

Golden State v. Cleveland … really? And it’s exciting? Yes. It. Is. The series signals a turning point in the NBA where the perennial dynasties are overshadowed by teams that always seem to be having a rebuilding year. The only difference is that these teams look built to last.

In the NHL, all the networks were salivating for a Blackhawks v. Rangers series. As was most of NYC. But the brash young skaters from Tampa said no … again. When the Tampa Bay Lightning were formed, did anyone really believe they would have two Cup appearances by now … much less a strong shot at winning both series? Tampa believed. The beleaguered football town has transformed this season into Hockey Town by the Bay.

Tampa fans love their Lightning, and their team gives them great reason. Consider, four games into the Cup series and Tampa has stayed even with the Hawks, who EVERYONE believes is the better team. And they have done it without marquee player Steven Stamkos scoring anything. It has been role players and the enigmatic Triplets igniting this team against the storied Hawks. But there is a better headline buried within that story, particularly for fans on the fence or those looking to get hockey fever.

Those upstarts from the Sunshine State, should they win the cup, will have beaten four of the Original Six. They already beat three, and, like the Warriors in the NBA, the victories fly in the face of league tradition – which could very well be a perfect reason for newcomers to latch on to hockey.
Both series offer exemplary PR opportunities to be leveraged by the respective leagues. It will be interesting to see how they manage that earned goodwill in the offseason.

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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 social media. 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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NFL Cheerleaders use PR Pressure for Better Pay

nfl cheerleader public relations
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.

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Crisis PR Situation: 19 Kids and Unemployed

19 kids and counting public relations
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.

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Marlins Frustrate MLB Fans

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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.

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