|April 23, 2010|
|Silent Dudeck of MySpace Is Eloquent|
|By Greg Hazley|
|Michael Arrington’s attempt to interview MySpace VP Dani Dudeck on camera last week, in which Dudeck did nothing but provide a Mona Lisa-like smile, provoked a lot of comments on several websites and deservedly so.|
The non-interview says a lot about the short string that corporate PR is on these days.
Dudeck, who is VP of global corporate communications for MySpace, which has about 125 million users, had come by Arrington’s TechCrunch office to pitch a new product.
His new rule is that anyone who so invades his territory must sit for a videotaped interview.
The comment by “Jussp” on businessinsider.com caught our attention:
“This is the epitome of corporate America—a bunch of losers with nothing to say, afraid of making ANY waves, whose #1 priority is protecting their backsides even if it means coming across as a total loser on video.”
It’s common for corporate PR people to be programmed to such an extent that they are literally speechless in any situation that is not scripted.
We don’t think giant enterprises like MySpace are going to crumble if one errant word is uttered by an employee.
Arrington took criticism for his approach. “Dan” said “That wasn’t funny--a grown man shoving a camera in a business woman’s face when she obviously does not want to be interviewed.”
Another responder thought more could have been expected from someone who “manages all external and internal PR strategy, media and analyst relations, and crisis communications…(and) oversees all PR strategy on MySpace’s consumer, technology, product and international initiatives as well as its corporate issues management.”
Critics Need Protection
What caught our attention in this dust-up was the number of web postings that were anonymous.
Dudeck’s fear of saying the wrong thing was well warranted.
The corporate axe swings fast and sure anyone who steps out of line. Even associating with the “wrong” types (such as newspeople) can be fatal. Loyalty to employers is the supreme value these days.
The most pungent postings are apt to come from those who hide behind the cloak of anonymity.
Said Oscar Wilde: “Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth.”
We were enraged last week when the New York Post named a Brooklyn teenager who criticized her school.
Paul Robeson HS, as portrayed by the teenager, is “a violent, drug and sex-filled hellhole” whose staff and security guards are “lazy and inept.”
Having “outed” a source, the NYP ran a 4/15 story with the headline “School Revenge,” telling how fellow students and staff are shunning the critic with one student saying she would be “beat up” if found.
"Official" Sources Are Drying Up
Faced with a dearth of official sources, reporters must rely more and more on anonymous sources and must work harder than ever.
The May Vanity Fair cover story on Lazard’s secretive Bruce Wasserstein is a case in point. It’s loaded with anonymous sources.
Neither Lazard nor any family member would even tell writer William Cohan what hospital Wasserstein was taken to when he suddenly became ill in a taxi last October.
Sister Georgette Levis is “offended” when Cohan asks where Wasserstein is buried. She won’t talk to him and neither will Pamela, Wasserstein’s oldest child.
No one on the Lazard board would talk including Lazard banker Vernon Jordan. Judi Mackey heads PR at Lazard and Howard Rubenstein is outside PR counsel.
Among those declining to talk was Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Kraft (pictured), which was a client of Lazard.
Kraft’s hostile takeover of Cadbury, described as a “bear hug” by Rosenfeld at the Arthur W. Page Society meeting April 8, is said to be one of the final deals engineered in part by Wasserstein.
A U.K. Parliamentary committee said Kraft “acted irresponsibly and unwisely” and had “damaged its U.K. reputation” in taking over Cadbury. U.K. unions are calling for a “Cadbury law” to block such acquisitions.
Wasserstein Worked on Kraft/Cadbury
Cohan notes that Lazard’s Philip Keevil told Bloomberg News that the Kraft/Cadbury deal “will be a monument to Bruce.” Bloomberg wrote that the deal “seals the legacy” of Wasserstein.
Wasserstein got press shy after a 1989 Forbes cover story called him “Bid ‘Em Up Bruce.”
The unflattering VF piece says Wasserstein was known for pushing clients to overpay for acquisitions and cites two Wasserstein clients that went bankrupt for doing that—Allied Stores Corp. and Federated Department Stores. Kraft paid $19 billion for Cadbury, about double its sales.
Lazard and other advisers got “as much as $58 million for their work on the deal,” said VF.
Wasserstein, who believed in paying himself well, in January 2008 “wrung from his hand picked board” a $900K salary, unspecified annual bonus, and 2.7 million Lazard shares worth nearly $100M. His 2007 pay was $41M.
Rosenfeld has been criticized for a 41% pay hike in 2009 to $26M. Kraft says the jump was three years of bonuses.
Details of Wasserstein’s “hectic romantic life,” including fathering a child in 2008 with a recent graduate of the Columbia Business School, are provided. This was after he split up with his third wife, Claude Becker. He was then married in January 2009 to Elaine Chao, Labor Secretary under President George W. Bush.
Much of the article will not sit well with family, friends and associates of Wasserstein. But we notice that VF is packed with ads every issue. Its many articles on the economic ills of the U.S. are among the best pieces anywhere on this subject.
Public Discussion Needs Encouraging
When we see corporate PR heads like Dani Dudeck freezing in front of a reporter, a Brooklyn teenager being savaged because she dared to criticize her school, and door after official door being slammed in the face of a Vanity Fair reporter, we can’t help but campaign for more openness and public debate.
Few media have the money and friends in high places that VF has. When doors get slammed in the faces reporters, many are apt to just slink away, defeated.
This lowers the content of whatever media they’re writing for and is no doubt a prime factor in the decline of media.
PR is “winning” a lot of these pitched battles.
What beleaguered newspapers and other media don’t need at this time is Scripps employee Gary McCormick preaching distrust and avoidance of the media to the 21,000 members of the PR Society of America.
Scripps Emphasizes Ethics
Scripps, a major newspaper/broadcasting chain, has the most extensive and chest-pounding ethics code (20 pages) that we have ever seen.
The Scripps J School at Ohio University “fosters the highest standards of journalism ethics” and says “The underpinning of good journalism is a strong ethical foundation.”
The press boycott supported by McCormick has zero ethical content.
Not only is McCormick folding, but so is the Society of Professional Journalists, which also has a soaring ethics code. We have yet to win any notice from Scripps, its Scripps Networks Interactive spinoff or the Scripps Howard Foundation.
The last is dedicated to “the cause of a free press through support of excellence in journalism.” A call to the Foundation did not win much interest in this story but we haven’t given up.
Foundation Lost $20M in Market
The Foundation is a big supporter of SPJ, funding the annual Ted Scripps Leadership Institute for 50 SPJ chapter heads.
Scripps in 2007 split into the profitable SNI ($1.54B sales, profit margin of 19.2%) and E. W. Scripps Co. (newspapers, TV stations, $802M sales and “profit” margin of -26%).
SNI houses HGTV, McCormick’s employer, and other cable properties.
The Foundation took a big hit in 2008, its assets falling 36% from $79M to $50M. It had about $47M in mutual funds.
It has yet to file for 2009. Associations are notorious for late filings. The Independent Sector, 800-member trade group for non-profits, pleads with associations to file their 990s early and put them and the audit on the first page of their websites. Almost none do this. There is no financial information at all on the Scripps Foundation website.
— Jack O'Dwyer
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