PR 911

From Deen to Weiner, Grading the Year’s Toughest Cases

Celebs don’t call 911 in an emergency; they ring their PR people. In the old days, a well-placed item could defuse a crisis. But in a universe of voracious gossip blogs, omnipresent iPhones and truthiness, managing mishaps is much messier. How did PR pros handle the year’s most high-profile gaffes?

Paula Deen: PR Power List's PR 911Paula Deen 

Southern cooking ambassadress

Crisis: Former manager of Ms. Deen’s Savannah, Ga., seafood restaurant accuses her of using racial slurs

Rabbi: Eric Rose, The Rose Group

Face-saving action: “Grammatically twisted, biblically allusive, weepy appearance on Today” (USA Today); mawkish self-posted videos

Result: Pariahdom. “Paula actually has her PR team to thank for getting the boot from the Food Network because it was apparently everything after the N word usage that led to her dismissal.” (Perez Hilton)

Grade: D

Kevin ClashKevin Clash: PR Power List's PR 911

voice-of-Elmo Muppeteer

Crisis: Now-dismissed sex-abuse lawsuits by then-underage boys

Rabbi: Spin-meisters CommCore Consulting Group

Face-saving action: Refuse all interviews; unleash lawyers to parse favorable court rulings for media

Result: Sympathy. “He is still very much an innocent man … legally. For the sake of Elmo, I sincerely hope this nasty business is finished for good.” (PinkIsTheNewBlog)

Grade:  A

Amanda Bynes:  PR Power List's PR 911Amanda Bynes 

onetime actress

Crisis: Public antics involving wigs and flip-flops; getting fired by entire management team.

Rabbi: Hollywood publicist and “friend” Jonathan Jaxson

Face-saving action: “Leaks” texts from Ms. Bynes claiming “all this has been an act… The world loves me!”

Result: Nervous laughter from media, friends, relatives—until Ms. Bynes was hospitalized with “severe mental health issues” last month.

Grade:  D

Lance Armstrong: PR Power List's PR 911Livestrong Foundation

Lance Armstrong-founded charity

Crisis: Founder Mr. Armstrong admits doping, gets stripped of Tour de France titles, banned from pro cycling for life

Rabbi: Katherine McLane, in-house communications vp and external affairs director

Face-saving action: “Lance? Lance who?”

Result: PRSA award for “highly disciplined communications strategy…to separate the Foundation from its founder and insulate its work from the controversy surrounding Armstrong’s cycling career.” As if.

Grade:  B

Manti Te'o: PR Power List's 911Manti Te’o

San Diego Chargers linebacker

Crisis: Burgeoning career almost hits skids when it emerges that Mr. Te’o’s girlfriend, who had allegedly died from leukemia, never actually existed.

Rabbi: Matthew Hiltzik of Hiltzik Strategies

Face-saving action: Interview with fellow Hiltzik client Katie Couric, in which Mr. Te’o claimed he was as duped by a friend who later confessed to concocting “girlfriend” and luring Mr. Te’o into an online relationship.

Result: Skepticism. The public found it hard to believe Mr. Te’o was in the dark about the scam. “Te’oing” was briefly popular on social media. What’s that? Posting photos of yourself kissing an imaginary person.

Grade:  A for imagination, C for results.

Anthony Weiner: PR Power List's 911Anthony Weiner

doomed Mayoral candidate

Crisis:  As “Carlos Danger”, sexted with 22-year-old woman—a year after another sexting scandal forced his resignation from Congress

Rabbi: Campaign communications director Barbara Morgan

Face-saving action: With wife Huma Abedin at his side, Mr. Weiner holds “weird press conference” (Gawker), admits peccadilloes

Result: Freefall poll results from likely voters; punch line status worldwide. Situation not aided by Ms. Morgan’s calling former Weiner intern Olivia Nuzzi a “fucking slutbag”—on the record.

Grade: F-


Images via Getty PR 911