Interviews that Went off the Rails in 2023

The PR, Done and Doner podcast panel had fun watching and discussing famous video interview flameouts of 2023.

It was a wild ride, and nice follow-up to my post about one-hit blunders, i.e. high profile figures who were felled by a single bad story last year.

We discussed what went wrong, what went right, and offered tips, through the lens of long time PR pros.  Participants included my Fusion PR colleagues Jordan ChanofskyOlga Shmuklyer and Mark Prindle.

(Not that we like to dwell on the negative, but it can be instructive to watch and learn from these, and also good to challenge the myth that there is no such thing as bad publicity).

There were many cringeworthy moments, and unforgettable quotes, from interviews of Elon Musk, X CEO Linda Yaccarino, several Ivy League universtiy presidents (yeah, that one), and Oracle CEO Saffra Katz.

So check it out, we’d love to hear any feedback and hope you enjoy. And thanks, panel, for offering your insights.

On Spotify
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No Bad PR? A Single Story Felled These Three Giants

Some say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. The very idea seems harmless enough, right?  After all, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

But most people I know who work in PR vehemently disagree with thoughts like these. Would anyone who’s been canceled say that all exposure is good?

To illustrate, I thought I’d share a few examples of some high profile figures who suffered career-limiting consequences after just one bad story in 2023.

Rehabilitate a Royal Image? No Sweat!

Celebrity: Prince Andrew

Situation: The Prince had been caught up In the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. The press reported their friendship, and allegations that Andrew had sex with a 17-year-old girl he met through Epstein.  

Then, Epstein was found dead in his NY prison cell, following his conviction and life sentence. This amped up press attention on the sordid affair, and all those who’d cavorted with Epstein, including the Prince.

Leading up to that time a PR firm associated with the Crown had been putting out feelers for an on-air TV interview with British TV show Newsnight, to discuss and highlight Andrew’s philanthropic work, according to a story in The Guardian. One conidition was that there could be no questions about Epstein, which became a stumbling block in the negotiations.

After Epstein’s death, all conditions were removed, and the Prince agreed to a wide-ranging interview with Newsnight host Emily Maitlis. Presumably, he wanted one Hail Mary to clear the air and rebuild his tarnished image.

The interview:  Most know by now that it didn’t go as planned. The Guardian reported:

A Pizza Express in Woking. The inability to sweat. A tendency to be “too honourable”. Prince Andrew’s 2019 Newsnight interview was a bonanza of bizarre excuses – in which he disastrously tried to defend himself from allegations that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl trafficked by his friend Jeffrey Epstein. Greeted with a riot of disbelief, anger and meme-making by the public, it was the most explosive royal interview of the decade.

The Guardian

The fallout: Far from clearing the air, the interview led to much more bad press and other repercussions. Virginia Giuffre, Andrew’s accuser, decided to sue the Prince after the story ran. And the Crown stripped him of his public duties.

A Rock Icon’s Victory Lap-Turned-Face-Plant

Celebrity: Rolling Stone Magazine cofounder Jann Wenner 

Situation: Jann sat for an interview with NY Times reporter David Marchese, to promote his new book, The Masters, a compendium of his interviews with rock legends over the decades. This story resulted. When confronted with the fact that all his subjects were white and male, Jann dug a deep hole for himself,

It’s not that they’re not creative geniuses. It’s not that they’re inarticulate… You know, Joni was not a philosopher of rock ’n’ roll… Of Black artists — you know, Stevie Wonder, genius, right? I suppose when you use a word as broad as “masters,” the fault is using that word. Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.

Jann Wenner, via NY Times

The fallout: The article generated lots of bad buzz for Wenner.  It revived stories about the male-dominated culture of the magazine, and the lack of women and minorities represented in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which he helped found, and served as a board member.

Jann Wenner did issue a full-throated apology via a press rep for his publisher. It seemed sincere but was amazingly inarticulate for a legendary publisher and writer who launched and nurtured the careers of greats like Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe.

Among the consequences? Wenner was swiftly booted from the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

CNN Exec’s Vanities Bonfire

Executive: Chris Licht, former CNN CEO 

The situation: Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav hired Chris Licht, an accomplished TV exec, to lead CNN following the forced resignation of Jeff Zucker. Licht had previously produced successes such as Morning Joe and the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Soon after, Licht started speaking with Tim Alberta of The Atlantic, giving the reporter full access for a year.

The story: The resulting 15K word piece, entitled The Story Behind the Meltdown at CNN, was probably not what Chris Licht had in mind.

It chronicled his efforts to build ratings for CNN by remaking its editorial mission. Granted, a tough job, as Zucker left big shoes to fill.  Licht endeavored to make CNN less MSNBC-like, and more open to views from the other side (ahem, Fox News, anyone?), culminating in the disastrous Town Hall with Trump. These things, other bad decisions, and his management style sowed fear and loathing in his newsroom,  making a tough job tougher, and leading to bad press before the massive Atlantic story.

Podcaster Kara Swisher summed up the article pretty well.

There were so many devastating quotes. To embed a reporter of such quality in that organization for a year? I don’t even know why he thought that was a good idea… He seems to lack self awareness.

Kara Swisher, on The Pivot

The fallout:  the piece (and more bad press in its wake) made a tough job impossible. Licht fell on his sword, and apologized to his staff before the axe fell.

Dishonourable Mention

I thought I’d share a couple of other examples that happened more recently.

PR by Lawyer

Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, questioned the presidents of three prestigious universities at  a hearing about antisemitism on college campuses.

It was not a trial but it sure seemed like one, as she grilled each in turn.  Here’s a clip from C-SPAN.

Many across media criticized the presidents for their carefully crafted, lawyerly answers to questions abourt whether calling for the genocide of Jews violates their schools’ policies. University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned shortly afterward. Claudine Gay of Harvard stepped down this Tuesday.

Linda Yaccarino whiffs Code Conference interview

Context: X CEO Linda Yaccarino appeared at the Code Conference for an interview with Julie Boorstin. Linda’s performance was roundly criticized – she seemed comabtive, tense and somewhat clueless.

In Linda’s defense, she was blindsided by a last minute addition to the roster, Yoel Roth, a former X employee who has been an outspoken critic of Musk.  Yoel spoke with Kara Swisher before Linda’s interview.  He mentioned death threats, X’s current engagement, and said Yaccarino “should be worried.”

“I think many people in this room were not fully prepared for me to still come out on the stage,” she told interviewer Julia Boorstin, senior media and tech correspondent at CNBC. 

There was lots of bad press in the wake of this interview. OK, she was not fired or canceled but I believe has kept a lower profile since then, at least with media.

Final Takeaways

These people did not have to take the interviews in most cases. All went in with hubris and clearly little prep. The examples emphasize the importance of good PR counsel and media training.

Posted in Campaign Analysis, Crisis Management, Current Affairs, In the News, Interviews, PR, Public Relations | 2 Comments

Friends from Israeli Tech Speak out on the Conflict, PR and Media

I have been blogging about the war in Israel, as you may have read. It hits close to home, as I have family there, and Fusion PR works extensively with the Israeli tech sector.

But it is not my home. I live in NY. What do people who live there and work in the tech community have to say?

I wanted to find out. So, we invited guests to join a special PR, Done & Doner episode, a Fusion PR partner and a client: ⁠

We had an intense, wide ranging and sometimes emotional discussion that covered the following areas:

  • Impact on lives, families and the tech community
  • How to best respond and communicate
    • What should the message be to employees, customers, investors and the world?
  • Thoughts on the US reaction

You can listen to the full podcast here, or check out the video above. It was recorded one month after the attack by Hamas, so it does not include the latest developments, but is still relevant. I share below an edited transcript from our conversation.

Bob: How are you and your families doing?

Yotam: I’m in Herzlia, a couple of kilometers North of Tel Aviv. In general, central Israel is safe at the moment. We do get some some rockets, like once or twice a day, which are handled by Iron Dome and and other mechanisms.

So it’s relatively safe. Kids are back at school, they have shelters there.

It kind of feels like everything is normal, but it really isn’t. My daughters are are eight and eleven. We try to to shield them from the situation as much as we can, but when you’re walking in the street, you see signs with pictures of people being kidnapped. They ask you about it, you try to circumnavigate that as much as you can. You take them out of the room when you watch the news. So, we try to shelter them, and and hopefully things will improve.

Israel is fairly small. I mean, sometimes we sit here outside and we actually hear the the fighting going on in Gaza which is, I don’t know, 80 kilometers away. You can sometimes hear it at night.

It kind of feels like everything is normal, but it really isn’t.

Israel is fairly small… sometimes we sit outside and we hear the the fighting going on in Gaza.

Sadly, we’re very well rehearsed in this very unnatural situation… we are trying to keep ourselves safe and endure.

Yotam Gutman

Bob Have any missiles actually landed in that area, or has Iron Dome gotten them all?

Yotam Only small fragments. As long as people adhere to security instructions, e.g., you walk into the shelter whenever there’s a siren, you wait for 10 minutes. We even have a special application on the phone so, if you don’t hear the siren, you run to the shelter.

Sadly, we’re very well rehearsed in this very unnatural situation. So, we are trying to keep ourselves safe and endure.

Bob What about you and your family Shai? As I understand it, you are in the reserves, is that correct?

Shai: Yeah, so my mandatory service was as a combat soldier. Mandatory service was three years, now it’s a bit less. I got injured in the in the last quarter of the last year. So I volunteered for reserves during the first week of the war, serving in the IDF as a spokesman.

We’re mainly focused on global media and trying to get out the story to as many people as we can. So, we’ve connected a group of 50 CMOS and VPs of marketing that work for global companies, like us, and try to generate media pickups of of either families of hostages, families of people who were lost due to this tragedy, or people that were actually there.

Whenever there’s an opportunity from the global press we’re just introducing the right people… and telling the story of what happened. We are trying to make these connections because we know that the press is as important as the actual fighting.

When you look at it from a numbers perspective, it’s very easy to be to be numb to what actually happened. But when you hear the stories, when you hear the people tell about their friends or family who just woke up on a Saturday morning and wanted to eat with their closest and dearest and got massacred, it brings a different angle and we’re more than happy to do these connections.

I want to roll back to the to the question that you originally asked, about how are we, and I think this could be the the most complicated question to answer, because on one hand, we’re okay; we’re physically okay, mentally okay. My family is is also fine, but Israel is such a small country. I don’t think that there’s a single person that doesn’t know someone who was affected by this tragedy. So, it kind of makes you think about how to answer the most basic questions of how are we, how are we feeling?

This is the craziest thing in this situation.

We’re mainly focused on global media and trying to get out the story to as many people as we can. We are trying to make these connections because we know that the press is as important as the actual fighting.

Shai Alani

Bob: It seems like important work, are you starting to have an effect?

Shai: Definitely, we’ve had around 300 interviews since the beginning of this scenario, with global press… from New Zealand to San Francisco. We’re very happy with what we’ve accomplished. Sadly, due to the fact that the Israeli military is currently in Gaza trying to clear out the terrorists, we’re seeing the global media kind of shift to things that are occurring now in Gaza, not not the situation that was the actual root of what’s happening.

Bob: It was the lead story on many networks; of course it has been for weeks. We just had an election yesterday, and the Republican debate’s tonight, so it quickly gets pushed off the front pages by many.  How has business been impacted?

Shai: It was impacted. Every business in israel was impacted by the situation. Plenty of people got fired, mostly in the domestic businesses. Plenty of people just can’t wake up and go to work. There are employees in our company, their dearest one is either hurt or currently serving in the army just trying to protect the civilian lives here. So, they just can’t come to work knowing that their loved one could be hurt at any given time.

I have two brothers, one is serving in the northern border of Israel and one is serving in the southern border, and whenever something happens, you can’t think of anything else.

As a global company, we continue to do what we do because we need to push forward the economy and and we need to make sure that we’ll survive in the global domain that we’re taking an active part in.

Bob: We’ve been on calls with clients and heard the sirens in the background. We’ve been on media briefings and heard the same. Yotam, are you continuing your great work in cyber?

Yotam: I’m consulting to cyber companies and they have been impacted in very similar way, starting from employees who have been drafted and others who have relatives and friends who have been impacted; some killed some kidnapped, others just with families in the conflict areas. They’ve been evacuated towards more central, secure locations. So, they have to tend to their families.

I am very lucky, my family is safe; no one I know has been impacted. We’re very fortunate, but when you see the news, when you hear the sirens, something changes.

We thought we were immune to that. I mean, living here for the past 45 years, I’ve seen like the first rockets fired here; it was ’91, the first Iraq war. Then, we had numerous terrorist bombings. I’ve been in the IDF for six and a half years, then another 14 in reserve duties, three wars. You think you’re immune to that, but what we’ve seen and felt on that day and going forward was something completely different.

A lot of people here compared it to the Holocaust. It sure feels more like a genocide than an actual war. And the fact that it hasn’t been resolved, there are people who are absent. Some may never be located. There are over 200 people kidnapped. Having kids of your own and thinking about kids in captivity, or taken from their parents, or seeing their parents bleed to death. I mean it shakes you.

We thought we were immune to that. Having kids of your own and thinking about kids in captivity, or taken from their parents, or seeing their parents bleed to death. I mean it shakes you.

Yotam Gutman

We’ve heard stories like that from 70 plus years ago. We never thought we’d live to see that happening here.

So, on one hand, yes, I’m sitting here it’s nice, I’m having air conditioning. I’m older than Shai, so my closest friends aren’t in the field at the moment, and the people I know are safe.

On the other hand, I always like to to look at other places and compare. We have a very recent example of a conflict on a much larger scale with massive human suffering going on in the Ukraine, over close to 18 months or so.

And, as you said, it catches the the headlines for the first week, the first month. Then, when something outragous happens…

There’s constant fighting there going on every day. Regardless of who you think is right, there’s a huge human tragedy going, on and people have learned to live with that. I have friends in Kiev who work with Israeli companies and in other places because Ukraine is a big tech hub… A lot of companies have outsourced entire teams to the Ukraine.

And the first couple of months, once this whole thing started, it was, you know, crazy. People didn’t know whether their employees were somewhere under Russian occupied territories. They couldn’t hook up to the Internet.

Luckily, Ukrainians are very technically proficient. They managed to circumnavigate all the blockings, connect through VPNs. And you talk to these guys, they say “yeah, I mean there are Russians outside but I’m in the basement, I have internet connectivity. I might as well just work, get some money flowing to my family.”

And the fact that they’ve been doing it for so long, under extremely difficult conditions. I mean, hundreds of thousands of people have died in that war and five million have fled the country. It gives me hope. I mean, I sincerely hope our situation will end sooner, but people can endure under very difficult conditions. And I think what you said, Bob, this is the key… I mean we have to keep on functioning as a society, we have to keep on doing business.

If we don’t bring money in, there’s no way we can pay taxes and support this effort. So, by doing what we do now, we actually help Israel overcome this situation. That gives me a lot of hope and optimism.

Bob: What should companies be saying and doing at this point? I’m talking about all channels: internally, to their employees, social media, and public relations.

Shai: You need have a lot of compassion first for your employees; yes the the internal communication is the most important channel as I see it. Because people are going through stuff. If you want the business to keep on rolling, you need to make sure…

(Siren interruption)

You need to be very open with with the the employees of the company. Show compassion, show that you know that they’re going through something and it’s okay if they’ll take the time.

You need to be very open with with the the employees of the company. Show compassion, show that you know that they’re going through something and it’s okay if they’ll take the time.

Shai Alani

I think most of the companies did that after the first week of war, just let the employees do whatever they wanted. A lot of people decided to volunteer to help the the the army build its forces, make sure that logistics work, and volunteer whatever they can.

There were people in the south that were evacuated in tens of thousands, or people who got recruited on a shiny Saturday for weeks of war.

So, that was the first week – talking it through with the employees of the company. But then, I think after the first week it was our responsibility, as Yotam said, to try to make the business roll, to try to make the economy roll.

If you’re not an active reserve server, which is most of the the Israeli people, you need to make sure that after this war will end, the business will survive. it’s our responsibility

So communicating and talking with your investors, your customers, that the business is running, we know that you’re aware of the situation in Israel. We’re very proud of being Israelis, we talk about it very openly with our customers. We’re a tech company, so we work mostly with engineers and data scientists and they’re fully aware of where we’re based we’re not shy about it.

So, I think communicating and talking with either the champions or teams that you’re working with, that: “thank you for being worried for us…. we’re here, available for you for whatever you need …” it’s our responsibility.

Bob Yotam, would you agree? Any other viewpoints?

Yotam: Yeah, I agree. I think it’s the right way to to handle any company, especially as startups. Employees first, customers second and investors third; so that’s the order of of importance.

Obviously, the business cannot last without the employees; they need your support. All the companies that I’ve spoken to have given their employees the leeway to do whatever they want to do. Some have allocated funds for them to call in babysitters to allow people to work.

There’s a massive shortage of of working hands in the industry and in agriculture. We have a lot of foreign workers from Thailand that have fled the country, so the fields are are filled with fruits and vegetables ripe for the picking, and no one to pick them. Entire companies took a day off, went to the fields and have picked them up. There’s huge logistic supports around the country.

So, if you do that as a company, it helps bring people together, it gives you a sense of meaning.

Obviously it’s not going to save the country or the agriculture, but it does help a lot of people, volunteering in general. A lot of Israeli companies do it on an ongoing basis for myriad reasons, but especially now it’s critically important.

And I think that customers are aware of our situation, and I think they understand that for a week or two there’s going to be some delays, and that’s fine if you communicate that clearly. And, after that, you should emphasize that although, yes, it has some impact on the business, we will try to do whatever we can to keep everything normal.

And, again, it’s not business as usual it’s an economy under war, but we’re robust and resilient enough to withstand that.

I look back not very long ago to Covid. When Covid started, it seemed like the end of the world. How can we work when the office is closed? And we all managed to find ways to circumnavigate that and find new ways, and actually businesses have found ways to do it better, in an improved manner.

A lot of tech companies are very young, people out of the IDF; so they’ve been drafted; and they still manage to deliver on time. That just means they’re going to be more effective down the line.

I think this is a very strong point with Israel: yes we can operate in such unnatural circumstances. We should not ignore the challenges – but on the other hand I think that we should keep our focus on doing business and delivering. 

Bob: What about the backlash and anti-Israel sentiment?

Yotam: Some companies have picked fights… where people have said, you know, things against Israel.

I think that personally you should do whatever you think you should do, but keep the business going, don’t get into dog fights. Don’t try to be the the spokesperson of Israel.

People have started doing battles on LinkedIn, posting a lot of very graphic content. I don’t think that’s the right platform to do that. Anyway, if you want to be active, do it as your own voice and not as the company and pick the right platform where people are interested in having discussions.

Otherwise, doing this on social media is just like smashing your against the wall. nothing good is going to come out of it.

Bob: I think it’s a very strong message to send about resilience, and, let’s face it, much of the world depends on a lot of the great technology that comes out of Israel; and, for the most part, Israeli tech is keeping up, right?

Yotam: As far as I can tell. I mean we’ve gone into this situation not in bad shape but not in terrific shape. The economy had taken a hit even prior to this attack. It hasn’t been a great year for tech in general, and in Israel, specifically, with everything that’s going on locally and politically.

But businesses are still moving and we’ve had two huge exits this week alone worth over a billion dollars. I mean, Paulo Alto came and bought two cyber companies. If that’s not a vote of confidence…

It’s not like they’re based here, it’s not like they can take this IP and implement it into Palo Alto’s platform and it will work tomorrow. No, they have a very long effort of implementing it, they count on Israel. I see it as a vote of confidence, that the leading cyber company in the world (we can all agree, they have like $70 billion in in market cap, it’s huge) and they’ve placed this bet on Israel saying we believe in this market; we believe in this tech community.

So who am I to argue with Palo Alto? They’re not an Israeli company by any means. They do have some Israeli ancestors but, other than that, they want to do business. They think the tech is good, they trust the people to be here.

Going forward I think that’s a strong message: it’s difficult but we will endure.

Shai: I want to second that, and I think if you’re talking about a non-Israeli company making investments, you can look at all of the big names: Nvidia, Intel, Google, Apple Amazon; all of these companies have either shown support in Israel, or in their Israeli employees. They’re showing the people that work there: we’re with you, stay strong and we’ll go back to business as soon as everything is going to end.

Bob: Apart from letting the world and your customers know that you’re there, you continue to operate, what should the message be, what should the pace of communications be? Are we going to come out with a big product announcement now, are we continuing with events, are we acknowledging what’s happening in some way, even if we’re not getting political?

Shai: It depends; how big are you, how strong are you? I do gree with Yotam. I think that most of the companies shouldn’t pick a side.

I’m an Israeli civilian. I live in Israel, so I can pick a side, it’s okay as myself. Will Aporia go out with a huge announcement that we back up israel? It’s not relevant.

For big brands that have employees that work here, it is important. For startups, 400-500 employee companies, is it important to pick a side? No, it’s important to keep on working. I don’t think that it’s a company’s job to pick a side, unless we’re talking about huge brands like all of the ones I’ve named before.

Yotam: And even if you are such a big brand like Intel (and they have massive operations here). They have more than 10,000 employees in Israel, and they have given a grant of I think $500 to all their employees in Israel.

That’s a big investment, and that’s to show that they support the people of Israel. They didn’t have to go out publicly and say we condemn the people who are going against Israel… no, they just very publicly said these people are in need there, as a company we support them…

I think that’s what you should be doing. The best way to test that will be, going forward, there’s a big AWS conference at the end of the month. Many cyber companies, many Israeli companies will be there in some capacity.

I think that’s the best way to ensure that, I mean, we show the world that we keep on. And business – it’s not as usual but it’s operating.

So you don’t have to be there with a huge Israeli flag. It’s enough if you stand at your booth and you welcome people. If they want to talk politics, they can do that. You’re not there to represent Israel, not there to fight people who want to boycott you, that’s not your role.

If you are there and you’re accessible people say, hey we know that you’ve been through a rough time, but this is the business and you keep doing what you need to.

Bob: It must be incredibly frustrating, assuming you’re watching the headlines and the news coming outof the US; not just from the media, but some of the conflicts and protests against Israel. What is your reaction – do you watch them, do you tune out these kind of reports?

Yotam: I don’t think it’s possible to tune it out, I mean it it will reach you on any platform that you use: Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn. It’ll catch you on TikTok. You see it in the mainstream media.

I mean, as I said it’s a big world. There’s lots of opinions, and and I think at least the mainstream media is doing an okay job in portraying the situation as it is (I am not talking about the history).

There have been atrocities. There are casualties on the other side, we understand, it’s a war. I mean, if you keep a balance in reporting, it’s fine.

As with all the anti-Israeli sentiment in the world, again I always look back at history. It’s nothing new. It happens every time there’s an armed conflict involving Israel. It has happened to the Jewish people before.

I don’t think the state of Israel should be extremely concerned about this at the moment because we have more acute things to deal with. And, in the end, if we do what we need to do to keep our a civilians safe, that’s the main focus at the moment.

Although, it does get under your skin. I mean, we know that there has been, as I said, atrocities. Kids and and babies have been murdered. I’m not saying that kids aren’t dying in Gaza, but no one here is doing this on purpose.

I mean, this is the big difference. And I guess, when you live far away and you feed off media or even just social media influencers, you would get a very unbalanced view of what’s happening. And I don’t blame people, especially young. If you lived through 9/11, you know that it feels like a kick in the gut to anyone living in the free world, but specifically people in the US. If you’re younger than that and you don’t have this living in the memory of civilians dying in a huge unprecedented terror attack, I mean if you haven’t actually felt that, it might seem, you know, mundane. Okay, there’s been another skirmish in Israel. More people are dying. It doesn’t seem that unique.

When you’ve lived through that time, you’re traumatized even if you’re not impacted directly. The same with Pearl Harbor, although no one here is old enough to have lived through that. But something like that lives in the memory of a nation, and if you’ve lived through that, I think you have some empathy to what we’re going the moment; and if you haven’t, I hope you’ll never experience that in your life

I mean, you’re a New Yorker right? 9/11 lives in your memory. Whenever you look there at the skyline. something is missing. You don’t even have to go to Ground Zero to know that something terrible has happened.

When someone dies here in Israel, we use the word halal, which literally means a vacant space to describe them… If you’re killed on active duty, we call you literally a vacant space or blank space, and that’s what you see when you look at the skyline, I mean you can always imagine what happened there and what the people must must have felt.

But if you’re new to New York and you look at the skyline, it’s just what it is, so I can’t blame you for not reliving the tragedy, but more empathy would definitely help in this case.

As with all the anti-Israeli sentiment in the world, it’s nothing new. It happens every time there’s an armed conflict involving Israel… If you’re young, you might not have that perspective, but more empathy would definitely help in this case.

Yotam Gutman

Bob: Part of the challenge, though, is that the reports and the sentiment bring pressure on the Israeli government and on the US government, ties your hands a bit maybe. I don’t know, I mean it’s just frustrating to see the attempts at nuance and moral equivalence, which just really hurt. So I guess we’re all doing our part, that’s what this podcast is about, Shai, that’s what your effort is about: to try to in some way to help shape the narrative.

Yotam: I have to say, Bob, as an Israeli, and both Shai and myself, we have some military background; mine, specifically from the Navy; and, seeing the amount of forces, that the US has sent here to back Israel up, to help us against, you know future, conflicts; there are two carrier groups operating in the region; there’s a huge Marine force right next to southern Israel; there’re bombers all around; they’re sending more missiles, and anti-missile missiles to the region.

I mean, the US is putting genuine support for Israel and it is definitely unprecedented. There’s never been such massive actual military support and, I think in times like this, you can really tell who your friends are in the world. And there’s been an alliance between the United States and Israel going back decades, but we really feel it at this point, and we’re grateful

I hope the US doesn’t have to step in militarily, but the fact that it’s here to support us, that means that the Free World acknowledged that something has changed and the fact that the US is sending troops here to to assist means that we’re not alone, and it’s heartwarming. Again, I hope no one has to go into fight, and that we can end this on our own without further escalation, but if it does happen.we know we have your your back, so thank you for that.

Bob: Well, we have to do what we can to try to mitigate a wider regional conflict and be there as a friend.

Some have said even before the war, with the political conflict there, that there 1might be an exodus of Israeli executives and startups to other parts of the world, maybe the US. Have you seen any of that?

Shai: I think that we’re seeing the the other direction, lots of Israelis coming back from all over the world. I have five friends that have come back from the US and Europe.

I think a part of it is because they’re scared; like, we see what’s going on in Europe, we see the the global sentiment and people are worried.

But the main reason for for their comeback is feeling the need of being here, feeling the need of being with family feeling the need of being around, helping.

Bob: Any other thoughts to share?

Yotam: I have to say that I’ve gotten numerous messages, phone calls, on LinkedIn on Twitter, people have my number through WhatsApp from from many places, especially in the US.

And the first notion was always “how are you guys?” The second is, “we support you.” And you can’t really say a lot through text messages. I used to do this very laconic message saying “we’re safe but we’re not okay” and then “thank you,” something like that, but it really means a lot.

And I think that’s the strength of business and personal relationships. I have many acquaintances, colleagues, and ex-colleagues around the world, and the fact that the Israeli tech community has such a wide network, it really helps us. We know that people will want to continue to buy Israeli products, they will want to continue to cooperate as I mentioned. I mean, that move with Palo Alto and Israeli companies – this has been brewing for months now, but the fact that they’ve finalized it this week, it means a lot.

And I really appreciate the fact that such big companies have taken not a bet, but a bold step. They could have postponed it, no one would have said anything. I mean the future of the area is is under turmoil, okay but they went through with it.

It’s not business as usual but we try to keep it like that.

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Former Israeli PM to US Media: “Do Your Jobs, Show the Truth!”

The conflict stemming from Hamas’s attack on Israel has reopened wounds and laid bare raw emotions related to the unsettled state of affairs there. Many are voicing strong opinions and I am disheartened to see all the anti-Israel sentiment.

To me it is clear.  Israel was attacked by terrorists.  They have every right to fight back and try to neutralize the enemy, just like we did after 9/11.

Yes, I fully appreciate the complexity, the history; and yes, I agree that Israel should not punish all Gazans as a result.  Hamas makes no such distinctions  when it comes to attacking civilians, in fact that seems to be their go-to.

I understand not everyone agrees, and the topic has become a minefield, tying the media and brands up in knots about how to respond.

NY PRSA Bows to Pressure

E.g. I saw an email from the public relations association NY-PRSA with the subject line:

Statement and Pledge of Support for Israel, from PRSA-NY President Carmella Glover

PRSA-NY’s leadership is deeply saddened and troubled by the recent acts of terrorism in Israel and Gaza. We unequivocally condemn the murder, violence and abduction of innocent civilians and are deeply committed to supporting those in our community who have lost friends, family, equanimity, and stability

It seemed like a fine sentiment, but I was chagrined to see their follow-up note:

I am writing to offer a heartfelt apology on behalf of PRSA-NY for the recent email communication that has caused disappointment and hurt to some of our valued members. We deeply regret the insensitivity in our subject line, which was thoughtless, partial, and irresponsible.

The Two-headed Media Monster

It was am embarassing about-face for an association that should know a thing or two about communications. Worse still are the media that feel like both sides of the conflict deserve equal treatment.

Scott Galloway, who co-hosts the Pivot podcast with Kara Swisher, said this on the show last week:

There’s going to be an enormous humanitarian crisis in Gaza. I do think there is cause for concern… we should report on it.
But there is a right side here. And I find that the far left and media’s attempts to come across s balanced and nuanced… is demonstrating disturbing support for a terrorist organization.

Scott Galloway

Naftali Bennett Drops Mic on Anderson Cooper

The former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennete made the same point as Galloway, and unleashed on CNN’s Anderson Cooper yesterday, regarding reports that Israel may have been behind the bomb that hit a hospital in Gaza.

I was in Manhattan when 9/11 happened. If, a day later, Al Qaeda would have said: “It is America who perpetrated it,” no-one would have quoted El Qaeda.

And somehow there is a double standard here. You had 30 hours to validate, we have all the information. Everything is transparent. For Heaven’s sakes, to see a headline of the NY Times saying the Palestinians claim that Israel bombed a hospital. We don’t do that. You’ve had ample time. Do your job, show the truth. There is moral clarity in the world. Not everything has two sides to it.

Naftali Bennett
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PR During Wartime: an FAQ

I am Jewish, love Israel, and have friends, family and clients there.

But you don’t have to be Jewish or any of the above to be horrified by the attack on Israel.

The details can leave you speechless.  A client whose daughter was murdered.  Others who were kidnapped.  The horrific videos last week of bodies butchered, strewn, cars torched.

One of my daughters called, very upset because her friends did not seem to acknowledge or care about what’s been happening or respond to her distress. She commiserated with her sister, who was spearheading a fundrasing drive in support of Israelis.

Yes, it can feel lonely being Jewish, others may not react the same way. Worse still are the Jews who think it is a fine time to air anti-Israeli views.

Impact on Communications

It may not feel like a time to focus on business as usual – indeed it isn’t, for the many in Israel who are being called up for reserve duty, or families who have lost loved ones. Yesterday, Fortune’s Data Sheet newsletter wrote about the impact on tech workers there.

Those who stay to tend shop may wonder about the right approach regarding employees, customers, partners and their communities.

Part of this gets to communications, and I am reminded here of some of the challenges we faced in this profession following other disasters like 9/11 and the COVID pandemic

Assuming you are not in a hospital, in a battle or taking time to mourn you are likely working and trying to keep things going, building sales, and earning a salary for your family. To be frozen into inaction serves no one except the enemy. It is their mission to destroy and disrupt.

Some people I speak with are afraid of saying anything, or the wrong thing.  Clearly, priorities have shifted, and that is understandable.


So I thought I’d share this brief FAQ, to offer some guidance on what to do regarding PR and communications. It is intended primarily for Israeli companies, and their partners.

Please note that this is a rapidly developing situation, and the advice will change based on what happens from here. Right now it is white hot.

Should we issue press releases?

Context matters, e.g. some news needs to get out. In general it is not a good time to announce major news that is not time-sensitive. All eyes are on the situation. Even if you are targeting news for overseas markets, many others are hyper-focused on this too.

Should we post on social media?

For company social media channels: Yes. You want to let your partners and customers know you appreciate their concerns. Convey that your company will persist in the face of adversity.

You can go farther if you are up to it and agree – share your company’s position regarding the conflict and express solidarity with the effort.

Call out selfless acts of employees and partners. Thank them for their continued work and sacrifices. Recognize human losses.

There may be more routine posts in support of the business – life and work continues.

The media is reaching out to us – should we respond?

It is not the best time to beat their doors down regarding product news. But if your business services and/or products are relevant to the conflict – sure. Just be ready for it, and strike the right tone. The same can be said for newsjacking.

Not only is it good business – but you have a greater obligation to shine a light on offerings that can help.

What about other PR activities?

They should not stop. Just be respectful of the journalist’s time, strike the right tone, and do so recognizing that interviews and coverage may be pushed off or ignored for now.

It may seem like a low priority, and a lot of work. Your agency, if you have one, should be willing to help with a stepped up effort to compensate for staffing issues.

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Crisis Management Lessons from the Latest Influencer Scandals

I enjoyed chatting with Eric Yaverbaum for our podcast recently. If you don’t know the name, you probably should – especially if you run in NYC PR circles. He is CEO of Ericho Communications⁠ and author of Public Relations for Dummies and Leadership Secrets of the World’s Most Successful CEOs.

Eric used the latest influencer scandals (e.g., with Twitch star Kai Cenat and YouTuber Mr. Beast) as a lens to view the state and future of crisis management. He spoke at length about crisis strategy with newer social platforms such as TikTok and Twitch, and impications for crisis comms in the next six months to ten years and beyond.

It was a fun and interesting conversation. Eric shared examples, citing some famous names he has worked with (celebrities, influencers and brands). He shed light on these topics and others:

  • The new rules of crisis management
  • Unintended consequences of working with influencers
  • Advice on working with influencers
  • The importance of being prepared for a crisis, having a plan
  • Eric gets caught up in the Kai Cenat scrum in Union Square, NYC

Please check it out if you get the chance. And thanks, Eric, for sharing your insights.

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Looking forward to the next posts and podcasts

Things are a bit slow due to the summer schedule but please stay tuned!

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PR Gets Personal

Personal branding; some love it and some dismiss it as an exercise in narcissism and self promotion.

But promoting personalities vs. company brands is a key part of PR.  Whether you are old, young, building your own profile, or your CEO’s, it is key to understand why personal branding is important and how it works.

We discussed this at length in a Defining PR roundtable I participated in (see my blog wrap).  And in the last PR, Done & Doner episode, guest Stacey Ross Cohen dug deep into the topic.

She is an old friend – we have known each other since third grade, and coincidentally built careers in the same field. Stacey earned her stripes on Madison Avenue and at major TV networks before launching and growing her own PR agency, Co-Communications.  She is a frequent speaker at TedX and industry conferences.

On the podcast we discussed her new book, Brand Up (co-authored by Jason Shaffer and Alan Katzman), and the personal and company branding connection. We also explored the challenges and opportunities in personal branding, from the junior employee to the C-suite, covering these topics and others:

  • Why it’s important to get started early building your own brand
  • The CEO as a brand asset
  • Countering personal branding misperceptions
  • The 3Ds of personal branding: discovery, development, and delivery
  • Magnetic content: why you need to be your own communications channel
  • How to encourage employees to advocate for the company brand
  • Should brands get political?
  • Managing the tension between personal branding and your work

It was a great conversation, and always fun catching up with her, Thanks, Stacey, for sharing your insight!

Here is the YouTube video of the interview. Check it out, and hit Like and Subscribe if you enjoy the content.


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Defining PR: Top Tips, AI Tools and Takeaways

I enjoyed participating in the Defining PR roundtable on Twitter Spaces recently, which was organized and led by Stephen Karaolis, founder of Pear The Agency and AI startup PR Labs (more on this below).

It was a great panel and very lively conversation about the changes rocking the industry, and the growing role of AI. The roundtable included others in tech and B2B PR (my kind of people!) representing agency and client-side views.

This was my first time on Spaces (it took me a while to figure out how to just raise my hand). Although it was sometimes hard to get a word in, all had the chance to contribute. I was impressed with the insight, tools and tips shared, especially about AI.

Panelists (in addition to Stephen and me)

Innovation Imperative

We started out by discussing  the growing number of activities PR agencies and teams  support.  These can include SEO, video production, paid media, influencer relations, social media, and all kinds of content development. 

One or two from the client side expressed frustration with agencies, saying they need to mix up tactics and be more innovative. The agency folks brought up annoying little things like actually getting paid for the non-core-PR work we do.  It is great to go forth and innovate but how do you navigate the tricky world of budgets, client politics, and expectations about PR’s proper “lane”? 

We agreed it is important to have guardrails such as scopes of work and KPIs.  Defining processes can help, plus having a client side champion who can assist in navigating the internal politics.

Know who your champion is, make sure they get what you do. Make sure they understand how you’re driving value.

Sam Pereira

The Changing Nature of Media Demands New Approaches

We discussed the evolving, increasingly fragmented media landscape. To keep pace and continue to be effective, PR must update its media tactics.

Yuri pointed out that there are entirely new categories of media, such as podcasts.  Specialty blogs may reach a small but targeted and valued audience.  They have different publishing schedules and news appetites than established and more well-known media brands. Podcasts can explode into a full-fledged media property. To interest them, it helps if your spokesperson is well-known, with a strong personal brand.

Followings attract other followings. It requires a lot of owned media efforts.

Steve Karaolis

If it is Broke, Agency and Client Teams Must Fix It!

Ironically, this brought us back to the first topic.  Namely, that you can’t look at “traditional PR” in isolation – it is part of an x-legged stool.

E.g. media will not take you seriously if your website is a mess, or the brand has a paltry following on social media, and owned content is junky.  Up-and-coming podcasts, and other kinds of media prefer well-known names, and those with big followings as guests to help drive their own growth.

What people really forget is that building personal brands is a PR function –
if you’re not doing that, things just aren’t going to happen.

Sam Pereira

Top AI Use Cases and Tools

You can’t discuss innovation in PR without acknowledging the growing role of AI. We discussed the many use cases that ChatGPT and other solutions can support.

Steve pointed out AI can help drive awareness and visibility. E.g. if you’re trying to build an executive’s personal brand, you can easily use ChatGPT to develop a video script, blog content, and tweets. “It’s the perfect complement here,” Steve said.

AI is the hack, but it’s tough because it’s new and not necessarily the most baked

Steve Karaolis

What other tools does Steve use? He said he has been tinkering with Anthropic’s and Google’s Bard, in addition to his own tool (PR Labs).

Liliana uses AI to generate text, landing pages, decks, presentations and social media ads. She moderates a Subreddit called ChatGPT Pro and has posted about resources for advanced prompt engineering and AI tools.

It is essential to understand how the language processing happens to give the right commands, because the output depends on the input.

Liliana Pertenava

Yuri said ChatGPT is a like a quick intern that is well-versed in English, without the greatest writing style. It helps solve that “blank page curse” and you can use it as an editor. ChatGPT can help create contributed content and byline ideas. He also has used it to find media targets and write a bio (but said that you should always double check for accuracy).

Steve likes to use ChatGPT in the first and last 10% of a project.

Candice encourages her team members to learn as much as they can about ChatGPT. It can help if you have writer’s block. When she used recently to generate a video script, it told her what sources it pulled from.

Sam has been using for years. She prefers Bard for research. Sam also likes:

  • Otter (transcribes meetings)
  • Gong (generative AI for revenue teams)
  • Tango (creates “how to” guides)
  • (documents processes)

Steve has been on the Otter train too, and mentioned Duet, a writing tool for Google Workspace. He also uses AI to clean up client head shots.

Liliana thinks ChatGPT is “over pumped” now and likes:

Steve encouraged everyone to Check out PR labs (currently free), which is connected to a reporter database. You can chat with it too. The articles train the LLM and inform prompt generation, helping the user to craft pitches that are likely to appeal to the reporter.

ChatGPT Power Tips and More

We covered many more topics than can be covered in a blog wrap – e.g. on prompt engineering, avoiding ChatGPT pitfalls, and on what the technology means for the future of PR.

I encourage you to check out the recording for more great info on AI and PR.

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Greg Hartley on How to Increase the Power of your Message with Body Language

I am constantly searching for podcast and YouTube content to enjoy while I am out running or driving.  The ones I like most are about music and true crime. Through the latter interest I discovered the Behavior Panel, a YouTube channel that analyzes the behavior and responses of people (often serial killers or other criminals), to interviews and interrogations.

I found the videos fascinating and informative, especially when the four panelists set their sites on people from business and government.  While watching them analyze videos of Elizabeth Holmes, the former Theranos CEO and current convict, it occurred to me that the techniques they teach should be of great interest to our podcast and blogging audiences.

So, I reached out to Gregory Hartley, one of the more business-focused Behavior Panelists, to come on our PR, Done and Doner  podcast, and he graciously accepted.

Gregory is a renowned body language expert who has written ten books on the topic, and is often a commentator on TV. Gregory got his start as an army interrogator and instructor and brought the expertise to the business world, where he has been advising execs about the art of mastering and reading body language.

It was a wide ranging discussion which covered these topics:

  • Myths and misperceptions (spoiler alert, there is no foolproof liar’s “tell”)
  • How to increase the power of your message
  • 5 kinds of body language to watch and improve
  • Why Trump’s behavior is weird (and why Bill Clinton adapted his “illustrator” gestures)

Body language is an incredibly important and perhaps underappreciated component of communications.  Mastering it can you help you build trust and credibility, whether you are giving a presentation or are under the glare of an intense media interview.  Ignore it and you can come off looking and sounding weak and unconvincing.

I encourage you to check out the podcast and contact Gregory (here he is on LinkedIn) if you’d like to learn more

Thanks for reading. And thank you, Gregory, for sharing your insights

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