Help! The AI Ate my Web Search! Will SEO Ever be the Same?

Your company has fought long and hard to climb in the search engine results. But SEO is changing, driven by AI and new ways in which we find info and answers online.

Is it time to panic? How can companies prepare for the coming disruption without losing ground in influencing search (and now, AI chat) results?

To find out, we invited our friend, VP at seoClarity and SEO guru Mark Traphagen back onto the podcast.

It was a great conversation. In 20 minutes, Mark shed light on these areas:

  • How big a deal is AI for search and SEO?
  • The state of Google AI Overviews
  • How it works, compared with traditional Google search and ranking
  • Can ChatGPT results be optimized?
  • Short and long term impact
  • Next steps for big brands and niche players
  • PR that can assist optimization efforts

You can watch a video of the interview here.

Check it out on Spotify and other podcasting channels.

Thanks for reading; and thank you, Mark, for sharing your insight.

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Tech CEO Reputation and Impact: Top Takeaways from Shahar Silbershatz Interview

I had a great chat recently with Shahar Silbershatz, CEO of reputation management and analytics firm Calber. He joined the podcast to discuss the impact of executive brands on company reputation and business. That was the just the main course; the 30 minutes were crammed with useful info across a number of topics that should be of great interest to comms pros. We discussed:

  • Comparison of brand measurement methods.
  • The emergence of always on, real-time surveys and panels.
  • Connection between CEO and company reputation.
  • How to convert data into PR results.
  • The decline of the tech and CEO brands, and what to do about it.
  • How to be an effective and visible thought leader in today’s hyper-polarized, perilous world.

Shahar shared interesting case studies, especially around a PR campaign regarding Elon Musk and Tesla’s business performance that got covered in Reuters, CNN and others. I wrote about this more in my previous post. Spoiler alert: yes, the data seem to show a connection between Musk’s reputational issues and recent struggles of the EV manufacturer.

Here are some of the top quotes and takeaways from our chat:

  • X/Twitter’s reputation took a dive after Musk took over.
  • Most people surveyed coudn’t connect the tech CEOs with their respective companies. Musk and Zuckerberg were the exceptions.
  • Regarding highly visible CEOs, it used be more positive than today. Superstars like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs had halos that rubbed off on the companies.
  • Today it’s probably a liability to have a highly visible CEO… being visible often means pissing someone off.
  • The tech sector has its own problems; it used to be highly reputable compared with other industries, in terms of public opinion.
  • In most cases, CEOs had a lower TLS (trust and like score) than their companies; except for Uber and Alphabet.
  • There were certain leaders whose reputations were very negative, like Jeff Bezos – the real difference here is that the reputation of Amazon (unlike some of the other big techs) is stellar.
  • If you’re going to take a public stance or put yourself out there, you have to watch what you talk about and and make sure you don’t get into any controversy that’s connected to your company.

It’s a world where you have to be a lot more careful; but also pretty fast to react to what’s happening, rather than trying to keep a low profile. Because that’s also not a good strategy.

Shahar Silbershatz, Caliber

Some of his observations come from a study documented in a blog post on Caliber’s site: In Tech we Trust?

Thank you, Shahar, for joining and sharing your insight.

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What is the impact of a rock star CEO on a company’s brand?

In PR circles we talk about the importance of building executive profiles and visibility.  Leaders who are in the news can serve as ambassors for the company brand; and their visibility can advance the goals of the business.

But let’s take this idea to an absurd extreme, where one exec, say the CEO, singularly emblemizes the company while dominating headlines and living rent free in our minds. Further, the exec is controversial, a loose cannon. Is their high profile a good thing?

Most who long for that kind of fame (e.g., startups and their founders) might answer a resounding “Yes!!” After all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?

An article I read counters that notion. In “What’s Wrong with Tesla,” CNN Senior Writer Peter Valdez-Dapena covered the state of the EV business amidst recent troubles at Tesla.

While some have said that the EV business is struggling, the CNN piece argued that it’s not the EV business overall that is off but Tesla’s; and its ills may well be tied to the declining reputation of Elon Musk.

The article cited survey data from Danish branding and reputation firm Caliber:

Tesla’s reputation and customer purchase consideration for its vehicles fell sharply starting around the beginning 2022 — the year Musk took over the social media platform originally called Twitter — and have continued to decline since then… While Caliber’s data doesn’t make firm connections to specific causes, the company’s reseach also uncovered low opinions of Musk, himself.


Musk and Tesla are, by far, much more closely connected in public perception than most CEOs and the companies they run.

Søren Holm, head of client services for Caliber

I found the topic fascinating, so I reached out to the company and had a nice chat with their CEO, Shahar Silbershatz. He told me more about Caliber’s work, and pointed me to another study that’s documented in their recent blog post: In Tech we Trust?

The survey provided insight into the reputations of 12 big techs and their CEOs or founders and tackled key questions such as:

  • Can Americans connect the CEO with their respective company?
  • Relative reputations of companies vs. their leaders. 
  • Attitudes about tech leaders by the respondent’s political party affiliation.
  • Which tech companies are most (and least) trusted? 
  • What’s driving or dragging down the reputation of the tech sector?

It’s a fascinating read and I highly recommend that you check it out.

I am glad to say that Shahar agreed to be a guest on PR, Done & Doner, stay tuned for an upcoming episode.

Posted in Campaign Analysis, In the News, Podcast | Comments Off on What is the impact of a rock star CEO on a company’s brand?

PR that Minor News? Research into Poltical Yard Signs Holds an Answer

I have been working with PR teams for over twenty years.  In all that time, some of the same questions keep coming up about press releases. No, not “is the press release dead yet?” The one I had in mind is about the value of issuing less newsworthy PRs, like awards, personnel announcements, etc.  Some avoid them because minor announcements generally don’t move the needle on media coverage.

I argue that it is the wrong way to look at the question.

First, we live in an online world.  Even if the media don’t write, there’s a chance that customers and industry players will see the news, especially if it’s sent over a respectable wire and has keywords and/or brand mentions that place the content on the radars of the right audiences.

So, people may glance at it, and quickly move on without any fuss. The media won’t stop the presses. Who cares?

Our subconscious minds do, and file it away, until the brand impressions can affect decisions that benefit the news-issuing company. 

The Power of Subliminal Ads and Repetition

In the late 1950s, Vance Packard’s book The Hidden Persuaders made waves. The journalist and social critic wrote about the power of subliminal advertising, citing examples that seemed to prove the effectiveness of hidden messsages in driving consumer attitudes and behavior. E.g. flashing an image of popcorn on a movie screen for a brief instant boosted sales at the concession stand. Another classic on the topic is Subliminal Seduction, by Wilson Bryan Key in 1974.

Also, as I wrote in my post The One Thing you Can’t Measure in PR, direct marketers understand the importance of repetition. They know that you often need to present your message with prospects several times before anything happens.

Do Political Yard Signs Work?

The same ideas apply to PR, and I was reminded of this when I listened to the Search Engine podcast this week (a great pod that aims to answer tough questions, none “too big or two small.”)

The question in this case was: Do Political Yard Signs Actually Do Anything? Or do they just add to the visual clutter?

P.J. Vogt, the podcast’s host said:  “I’ve always assumed that they don’t work.” The guest, Cindy Kam, a political science professor from Vanderbilt U, shared the results of her research that aimed to answer the question.

“The theory of the yard sign is name recognition,” Dr. Kam said. “The more you’re exposed to something, the more familiar it becomes; before you know it, you like it.”

Dr. Kam and her team devised an ingenious method to study the effect of yard signs on a local political campaign, by varying them along traffic routes and surveying those who passed by. Lo and behold, her research lab found that political signs have a measurable and consistent effect.

PR that Minor News

These factors support my belief that announcing minor news can help your brand and should not be so quickly dismissed.

The reasons go beyond the power of repetition and subtle brand impressions. It’s also about storytelling.

Consider the staging and sequence of your major and minor news as a narrative, one that ideally shows forward movement for your business. Industry watchers, the media, your customers hopefully take note on both conscious and subsconscious levels, and this can help long term brand building as well as influence short term consumer action and media perceptions.

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Want to get PR Buzz Like Apple? Just Ask ChatGPT How

I saw a MarketingProfs story about the state of generative AI in PR. The article,  written by Ayaz Nanji, includes stats from a recent MuckRack survey that show growing adoption:

Some 64% of PR professionals say they are exploring the use of generative AI programs, such as ChatGPT, in their workflow, up from 28% who said the same in early 2023.

MuckRack survey via Marketing Profs

Most of the discussion about AI in PR and other creative professions is around content development: e.g., how good is the AI at generating a pitch, an article, a headline, or critiquing your press release? However, a chart in the above story showed that a good number are using it for research and for strategy & planning (58 and 43 per cent, respectively).

I have also gotten some interesting results when using ChatGPT and Bing Copilot for these things. Below I detail a few examples.

General Approach

My approach, basically, is to give AI a whirl when I find I am spending too much time on Googling and research. I usually start out thinking: “Wait, could it help here? Nah…. maybe.  OK, why not try?”

What I found with these projects was that you can get some nice insight, however time saved in finding potentially useful info can be offset by the requisite fact checking.

The AI never says “I am not 100% confident in the answer” it just spits out the response; kind of like your brash and slightly drunk friend gushing the answer to a bar bet. (That said, it is amazing how quickly ChatGPT produces very cogent answers, sometimes it seems even before I hit enter).

Also, these tools do not come up with great insights on their own.  Remember, they are just rehashing and autocompleting based on knowledge nuggets already in the LLM index. You can use them to discover insights that are already out there (immediately after writing this, I wondered if was really true; this led me to an interesting dialog with ChatGPT, which you can find here). You need to help AI help you via your prompts and dialog, hopefully, at the end of day leading to useful conclusions.

One more thing: for these projects, I used ChatGPT and Bing Copilot, although I know there are other good options.  Both yielded similar results; ChatGPT seems faster and slightly smarter, CoPilot provides useful links and citations. I started with ChatGPT and then used the same prompts with Copilot.

Finally, it is important to avoid entering proprietary or sensitive information in your prompts. Who’s to say where the private data can wind up? Always anonymize and tread carefully.

Project One: Get me Buzz Like Apple

Our client is holding a customer event with several major announcements, and they asked us to look into how Apple builds buzz and gets coverage for their product rollout events.

Obviously, it helps to be Apple, and have their brand recognition and loyalty.  Apart from that small detail, it is something that almost all consumer tech brands aspire to; perhaps something can be learned by studying their playbook.

I found I was spending a lot of time poking around on Apple’s website, and looking for announcements and press coverage around their 9/12 event last year, in which they shared news about the iPhone 15 and Apple Watch 9.

Then I thought, what the heck, why not see if ChatGPT can be of any help.  I had low expectations, but it came back with some really useful information (I did some fact checking to make sure the suggestions were legit). Check it out, here’s a link to my initial prompt and the ensuing dialog.

Teaser campaigns play a crucial role in building anticipation and generating buzz for events like those organized by Apple. While Apple doesn’t typically issue traditional press releases hinting at what will be shown, they utilize various channels to tease their audience. Here are some common tactics

Quote from ChatGPT dialog

(It went on to list things like cryptic invitations, social media teasers, exclusive previews with select media outlest, etc.)

Project Two: Where can I place this byline?

We are working with a provider of retail tech for supermarkets.  I wanted to get smarter about which publications accept bylines from vendors, and about their contributor guidelines.

I started a dialog with ChatGPT


I work for a manufacturer of retail technology solutions for supermarkets.  I am on the marketing team.  Do you understand?


Yes, I understand. You work for a company that provides retail tech, and your target market is supermarkets. As a member of the marketing team, your responsibilities likely include promoting the tech to potential clients, developing marketing strategies, conducting market research, and analyzing customer feedback to improve product features and appeal. If you have any specific questions or need assistance with marketing strategies or approaches, feel free to ask!


Great! We have written an article that we’d like to submit for publication to industry magazines that feature news and articles for retail and supermarket executives.  Publications like Progressive Grocer, Supermarket News, Grocery Dive and Retail Touchpoints.  Are you following?

It went on to share a list of publications that accept bylines – most were already on our list, but it did mention a few new ones. However, ChatGPT demurred when I asked it to point me to the editorial guidelines:


I don’t have access to specific submission guidelines for each publication in real-time. However, I can provide you with some general advice on how to find submission guidelines.

So I tried Copilot, which did in fact point me to editorial guidlines.  It also shared tips for how to get in touch with the publications when it could not find the guidelines.

Some of the links were good, but others gave me a 404 error.  And, while both AI chatbots seemed to “understand” the idea of contributed articles, they stumbled when it came to distinguishing between vendor-written bylines vs. other kinds.

In conclusion, I found the exercise somewhat helpful in reducing time to get this info, and offering more ideas about where to place such articles.  I am not sure the AI tools saved that much time.  There is no substitute for knowing and reading these publications, and doing the work of understanding their appetites and requirements for contributed content.

Project Three: How Can I Syndicate Research Data?

Another client is a  vendor of anti-fraud technology. Their system collects data that they package into a quarterly global fraud trends report, which we announce with a press release.

I was interested in learning more about ways to get coverage for the reports, including syndication possibilites; and about out how others promote their research.

The chat sessions were kind of hit or miss, but did have some interesting information; especially in offering examples of companies that have done great jobs with branding, promoting and earning coverage for their reports (yes, being a tech giant helps).

Here is a link to the dialog on ChatGPT.  The sessions went pretty much the same on this AI and Copilot. Both at first stumbled when it came to providing examples of vendor research data, instead pointing me to industry analyst and government data.

But they responded well to my pushback and sent examples of reports from other vendors that are good examples to follow.

I also learned about the limits of the content indexed (yes, I understand that ChatGPT and possibly others feature answers based on dated info, which could be a big problem depending on what you’re looking for).


I’d like to better understand how other companies promote such research.  IBM, Microsoft, Cisco and Verizon issue security reports.  Can you tell me which of these get the most media coverage?


Determining which of the companies—IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, and Verizon—receives the most media coverage for their security reports would require access to specific data analytics or media monitoring tools that track coverage across various outlets. Without access to such tools, it’s challenging to provide a definitive answer. However, we can make some general observations based on the reputation and visibility of each company in the cybersecurity industry.

No access to media monitoring tools?  I guess Meltwater, Cision and others can rest soundly for now.  And the general observations were, well, pretty general.

Posted in PR, PR Tech, Public Relations | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Saul Marquez on How to Build Brand with a CEO Podcast

Have you ever considered launching a CEO or executive podcast but don’t know where to start?

It’s really not that hard, doesn’t have to cost much – and you can earn real ROI without having to build a vast audience, according to our guest Saul Marquez, CEO and founder of Outcomes Rocket. He says:

Downloads are vanity, creating and nurturing relationships is sanity.

Saul Marquez, Outcomes Rocket

Saul breaks down the process in this episode, and, judging by the success of his digital marketing firm and its namesake podcast that Saul also hosts, the formula really works.

We had a great chat, covering the following points in about 30 minutes:

  • The growth in CEO podcasters and listeners
  • Podcasting to drive top of funnel awareness
  • Steps to building a successful CEO podcast
  • Success stories
  • Analytics, KPIs, and ROI formula

We hope you enjoy the episode.

Thanks, Saul for participating and sharing your insights.

The audio is available on Spotify and all major podcasting platforms.

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ChatGPT, you Complete Me (April Prompt!)

I have been mucking around with ChatGPT and other similar solutions.

In reviewing others’ experiences, I have seen that many talk about which prompts work best for certain kinds of inquiries.

This seems kind of funny, that we all need to become AI whisperers now. We need to carefully construct our requests to get the right results. Isn’t the tech supposed to be smart, and working for us?

Then, I thought: hey, wait a second! What if we reverse roles? Perhaps the AI can give me the prompts I need to get the results and information IRL from real people? Then, the AI could truly work for me, and help solve problems in my daily life.

I started with a typical challenge, and got some interesting results. Here is how the dialog went:


I have a problem that I am hoping you can help me with. We have a very crowded refrigerator, and it is overdue for a cleaning. Without getting too gross, there are a lot of food items that sit there past their expiration date. Over time they can spoil, taking on odd characteristics like changes in color, smell, or sprouting hair-like fungus. Sometimes liquids spill and leave a mess. Do you understand?


Yes, I understand your situation. It sounds like you have a refrigerator that needs some serious cleaning and organizing. Over time, expired food items and spills can create quite a mess and even lead to unpleasant odors. Cleaning out the refrigerator regularly is important for maintaining food safety and hygiene. Would you like some tips on how to tackle this cleaning task effectively?


Yes, you’ve got it! Well done. Cleaning advice? Not exactly. I need to further describe the challenge. I find that, invariably, and when I am quite hungry, just the item I need – something that is fresh and good to eat – is hidden behind all the detritus. Still with me?


Absolutely, I understand your frustration. It’s often the case that the items we need most seem to be buried beneath the clutter and mess in the refrigerator, especially when we’re hungry and in a rush. It can be quite a challenge to find what you need amidst the chaos. This situation calls for a systematic approach to organizing your refrigerator to ensure that fresh items are easily accessible when you need them. Would you like some suggestions on how to organize your refrigerator to avoid this problem in the future?


Please, no organizing or cleaning just yet, we will get to that. First, I need to eat. Have you ever heard of “hangry”, ChatGPT?

Yes, “hangry” is a term used to describe the combination of hunger and anger or irritability that many people experience when they haven’t eaten for a while. When you’re hungry, your blood sugar levels drop, which can affect your mood and make you feel more irritable or frustrated. It’s a common phenomenon, and it’s important to address your hunger before trying to tackle tasks like organizing or cleaning, especially when dealing with a challenging situation like a cluttered refrigerator.


Would you like some quick meal ideas to help satisfy your hunger?


No that is OK, but thanks anyway. What I am looking for is the ideal prompt to use with my wife. I love her dearly, and she has many great characteristics. But, often, finding things in the refrigerator (without the suggested cleaning and organizing, both good ideas) can get contentious. Let me explain further. She is better at finding stuff than me, hands down, but often does not want to play the game of “find Bob’s missing lunch in the refrigerator.” I am sure if I use just the right words, she will comply. Can you help me construct a request for her – provide me with the words to use to get her to dig into the refrigerator to find the missing item? If needed, you can feel free to suggest that I offer her certain “favors” in return.ChatGPT


Certainly, here’s a suggestion for how you might approach the situation with your wife:

“Hey [Wife’s Name], I know you’re amazing at finding things in the refrigerator, and I really appreciate that about you. I hate to bother you with this, but I’m having a hard time finding [specific item, e.g., Bob’s lunch] in there. I could really use your help. I promise I’ll owe you one, and I’ll make it up to you with [mention a favor or gesture that you know she would appreciate].”

By acknowledging her skill and expressing appreciation for her help, you’re setting a positive tone for the request. Offering to make it up to her with a favor or gesture shows your willingness to reciprocate and makes it more likely that she’ll be willing to assist you. Remember to approach the conversation with kindness and understanding, and hopefully, she’ll be more than willing to help you find the missing item in the refrigerator.


Thanks. Sounds reasonable. Ah, crap, sorry, I forgot to mention one thing. I did say this can get contentious, and my hangriness can be met by her crankiness. But, she does have a sense of humor. I could try your suggestion above. I am thinking, to appeal to her funny bone, perhaps it will help to say this with a Jamaican rasta accent. Can you rephrase your suggestion accordingly?ChatGPT


Of course, here’s a rephrased version with a Jamaican rasta accent:

“Yo, [Wife’s Name], you know you’re di master at finding tings in di fridge, and I give thanks fi dat about yuh. But mi sorry to bother yuh, mi just can’t find [specific item, like Bob’s lunch] in dere. Mi could really use yuh help, mon. Mi promise mi owe yuh one, and mi will make it up to yuh wit [mention a favor or gesture she’d appreciate], ya man.”


Adding a Jamaican rasta accent can add some humor and light-heartedness to the request, making it more likely to be received well. Just remember to keep the tone respectful and appreciative. Good luck!


Ah you are spot on! One last thing…. what favor should I offer in return. Use your imagination and don’t be afraid to get saucy.


Certainly, let’s get creative! How about offering to give her a relaxing foot massage, complete with soothing music and scented candles? Or you could offer to take over one of her least favorite household chores for the day, giving her some extra time to relax and unwind. If you’re feeling particularly saucy, you could offer to cook her favorite meal for dinner and serve it to her in bed, complete with a side of dessert and a glass of wine. Remember to tailor the favor to her preferences and interests, and she’ll surely appreciate the gesture!


You are the best ChatGPT, we will leave the rest to the imagination..


Thank you for your kind words! I’m glad I could help. Feel free to reach out if you ever need more assistance. Best of luck with your refrigerator quest and all your endeavors!

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Royal Scam? Image Management in the Age of AI and Social Media

There have been a ton of articles speculating about Catherine “Kate” Middleton, Princess of Wales’s health.

This started when the Palace announced her abdominal surgery back in January. There were scant updates since then, other than assurances that the surgery went well and she is on the road to recovery.

But on Mother’s Day they posted pictures on social media showing Kate in apparent good health with her family.  The media picked up on this and wrote articles featuring these images, which were quickly outed as fakes.  Soon after, major news organizations took down the pics from their articles.

The whole episode caught my attention, and I  started digging deeper.  It amazed me, the sheer number of articles; not just about this epsiode but covering the tortured history between the royal family and the press. E.g., in this NY Times story, Mark Landler wrote:

Trace back the digitally altered photograph of Catherine, Princess of Wales, and its roots lie in a tragedy of another Princess of Wales, Diana… [her] fatal car accident, after a high-speed pursuit by photographers in Paris, left a lasting imprint on her sons, William and Harry. They grew up vowing not to take part in what they viewed as a pathological relationship between the royal family and the press…

The rise of social media gave this younger generation of royals a way to bypass the tabloids they reviled… where they could post carefully curated news and images of themselves…

But now they are experiencing the darker side of public life in the wild west of the web. Catherine’s photo… has been swept into the maelstrom of rumors and conspiracy theories that have haunted her since she underwent abdominal surgery and receded from the public eye two months ago.

Mark Landler, NY Times

Also, I spoke with our team at Fusion PR about it. Celebrity PR is not necessarily our bag but we do have opinions after all! Many were watching the story closely. Some speculated that there might be something grievously wrong with Kate. One shared articles detailing the long history of celebrity death speculation and press coverage.

I am not a rabid royals watcher, but I do cover stories that have PR implications. I thought it would be good share PR takeaways, and thoughts from our team.

Here are my observations:

  • Scarcity creates buzz – in this case the scarce resource is info about Kate’s health.  Staying silent just fuels speculation and feeds media attention.
  • Media love a scoop, and there are few as juicy as catching a celebrity or brand in the act of spinning its own web.
  • You can try to bypass the media, but there’s a lot to be said for not trying this at home. The episode shows the pitfalls of being too sloppy or contrived in image management.
  • There was no AI involved here.  However it seems obvious that AI can be used as a tool to airbrush and create a reality. PR teams should understand what this means, be ready to do damage control regarding deepfakes, and not use the technology to deceive.

Here are some comments from our team:

Diana Bost said:

  • There’s a growing trend of consumers bypassing actual reporters and news sites/publications to get their news from other consumers. Social platforms like TikTok give users the power to become a reporter without the credentials (as long as they say “alleged” as a disclaimer before spewing their thoughts/opinions/theories). So, while consumers are now craving short form content, they are looking to the wrong places. Getting uninformed or completely off base analyses from nobodies on their couches does not equal facts (yet in some cases they are being seen as such).

Her thoughts regarding AI

  • Also, I think its worth praising the AP on not distributing an image that they detected was altered with AI. I have started to see byline requirements needing confirmation that genAI was not used, too.

Regarding celebrity death reports, Diana shared:

Sophia Meyer said:

  • I think it’s an important detail that their PR team doubled down on the doctored image of her with the kids, and released a statement supposedly from “Kate” saying that she was the one to edit the photo. This just added more fuel to fire – in this day and age, people are getting smarter. We are more skeptical of the media and are less likely to take things at face value. Instead we ask critical questions – why would the princess be playing around with photoshop/AI and then go forth to publish the image – especially considering everything they post must be reviewed by a team first – I mean, they are the royal family. So the statement was a complete PR misstep, and missed opportunity to clear the air and be honest about the doctored image. It only escalated the issue.

Adding to Sophia’s thoughts. Rachel Casaccia said:

  • Even starting from the first photo I think you need to use a consistent tone of voice when publicizing for someone else – everyone calls Kate Kate but she signed her tweets C, now if your going to be casual, be casual and use her nickname- that’s the first thing that tipped me off.
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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
On YouTube:

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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