Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Deconstructing Mel: Mel Gibson’s first apology was apparently enough for one Disney executive. Oren Aviv, head of the Disney film studio, told Slate: “I’ve worked with Mel on several films over the years and we have a great relationship. We all make mistakes and I’ve accepted his apology to what was a regrettable situation. I wish him the very best on his path to healing.”

And that was before Gibson’s second, by-the-numbers apology, specifically to the Jewish community, saying he was “in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from” and that he wants to “meet with leaders in the Jewish community, with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.”

It will be interesting to see how many people buy Gibson’s approach, which is pretty much public relations 101. Some in the media are clearly sophisticated enough to deconstruct Gibson’s strategy. The Boston Herald’s Beth Teitell, for example, offers a witty explanation of Gibson’s apology: “That’s the real Mel Gibson talking. The Mel Gibson authorized to speak for Mel Gibson, not the rogue Mel Gibson going around ruining Mel Gibson’s reputation. And now—how unfair is this?—the Hollywood powers are debating whether Mel Gibson has a future in Tinseltown. Which means Mel Gibson is as much a victim of Mel Gibson as are a female sergeant at the police station (‘sugar tits’ in Gibson’s parlance) and the Jewish people (the ones ‘responsible for all the wars in the world’).”

That’s the kind of cynicism we need more of.
Projecting an Image: Tony Snow’s latest initiative to address the Bush administration’s image problem is to redecorate the White House briefing room.

The new press room will likely have “a video wall that could display everything from ‘flags waving in the breeze [to] detailed charts and graphs,’ according to a senior White House official working on the project. For TV viewers, the video feed could be the sole on-screen image, or could share the space with the speaker.”

The video wall will supplement the White House PR team’s ability to provide the appropriate visuals for any news story. President Bush won’t have to visit an aircraft carrier to declare “mission accomplished” any more. He can do it against a backdrop of an aircraft carrier from the safety of the White House.

“Putting a video wall in the White House allows any administration to shape almost any story much more directly,” Ralph Begleiter, a former CNN foreign-affairs reporter and now a professor of communications at the University of Delaware, told the Wall Street Journal. It’s “an extension of the idea that the government wants to speak directly to the public with a voice that’s very carefully crafted, without room for the analysis or critiques or amalgamations of fact that reporters routinely bring.”
Philanthropy is Not CSR: Strange op-ed piece at the FT on the decline of corporate social responsibility. Christopher Haskins, a former chairman of Northern Foods, seems to be conflating CSR with corporate philanthropy, or perhaps community relations, when he bemoans the fact that 21st century companies—unlike the 19th century businesses he holds up as exemplars—no longer support their local communities the way they once did.

This leads to the bizarre contention that companies in the U.K. lag the U.S. in terms of CSR. American companies do indeed give more to charities than their British counterparts, but that doesn’t make them more responsible. Indeed, I suspect many American companies use their giving as an excuse not to do all the things that really constitute responsible behavior: progressive workplace policies, environmental protection, purchasing at fair prices from suppliers in developing countries, providing equal opportunities to women and minorities.

The fact that both ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart have robust corporate philanthropy programs does not make them any more responsible.

Moreover, Haskins seems to view even philanthropy in parochial terms. He praises Boeing (no irresponsible behavior there in recent years) for its commitment to its local community, but global companies are not—and should not be—focused on their home towns. Their responsibility is to the world, and that should be reflected in their giving policies and, of course, their behavior.

Monday, July 31, 2006

A Passionate Respone: Rich Klein, whose Riverside PR blog is focused on litigation and crisis public relations, questions the ethics of Rogers & Cowan, the PR firm representing Mel Gibson, in the wake of the actor’s drunken anti-Semitic rant while being arrested.

My own interpretation is that Gibson, who clearly identifies with messianic characters (from William Wallace to Jesus Christ) literally thought he was being arrested by the Jews and was about to be sentenced to crucifixion.

Seriously, it’s hard to interpret the Passion of the Christ as anything other than an anti-Semitic screed, even without this latest evidence of Gibson’s feelings on the subject. The four gospels each present a different version of the crucifixion myth. Gibson could have chosen any one of them as the basis for his movie, but instead he cherry picked from each, and in every case chose the version least favorable to the Jews (Herod’s refusal to get involved from Luke, the scourging of Jesus in front of a Jewish mob from John, Pilate’s washing his hands of responsibility from Matthew). It’s hard to accept those decisions as simple coincidence.

Klein raises interesting questions about whether Gibson deserves continued representation, but the real PR challenge is likely to be faced by Disney’s ABC television network, which last year commissioned Gibson to produce a non-fiction TV movie about the holocaust. (Don’t ask me why.) Jewish groups are likely to question whether Gibson is the best man for such a sensitive project. But expect Gibson’s followers on the Christian right to react with fury—and a boycott—if he’s dropped.
Snake Bit: The FT wakes up to the Snakes on a Plane phenomenon.
Lessons in Trust: To study the dynamics of trust, what happens when trust is violated, and what can be done to restore it, three Wharton professions set up a money game that allowed them to measure changes in trust over time. They began the experiment, according to this article at Knowlegde@Wharton (registration required) with a widely held assumption—that trust is fragile, easily broken and hard to repair, but found the truth to be a little more complex.

Instead, the money game experiment revealed that “trust harmed by untrustworthy behavior can be effectively restored when individuals observe a consistent series of trustworthy actions,” the researchers conclude. And making a promise to change behavior can help speed up the trust recovery process.

But when a person’s trust is violated, and the violation includes deception—for instance, a friend didn’t merely forget to return a DVD as promised, but also lied about it—it is difficult to restore. “It’s okay to screw me over, but don’t deceive me as well,” says one of the researchers. “If you screw me over and lie about it, it’s going to take even longer to recover from it.”
Astroturfing Sucks: I must offer my support to TheNewPR’s anti-astroturfing efforts. It’s interesting to note that while 25 leading PR bloggers have signed on to support the campaign, very few of the leading agencies have done so. Do they not know about it? Or is astroturfing too valuable to give up, even though they know it's wrong?
Meat Market: The U.S. Meat Export Foundation “has a long-range plan to build confidence in U.S. beef among Japanese consumers” according to a report at CattleNetwork.com. Good news, I guess, although an official acknowledges that rebuilding confidence will take time. I wonder if it occurs to anyone in the cattle community that it would have been easier—and cheaper—just to bring American beef safety monitoring standards up to those of the rest of the world. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the industry’s reasons for resisting those standards were ideological (regulation is bad!) rather than pragmatic.