Wednesday, April 30, 2008
In the past few weeks, Cyrus has gone from having a “squeaky-clean” reputation and the full support of parents to finding herself in the midst of a controversy involving a number of provocative pictures on the Internet as well as a “racy” photograph taken by Vanity Fair.
In some of the photographs circulating on the Web, the 15-year-old singer/actress appears with then-boyfriend showing her midriff and in others exposing a green bra to the camera.
The Vanity Fair edition in question has yet to be released, but photographs are already up on the Web. A spokesperson for the magazine said Cyrus had family with her all during the photo shoot who had all seen and approved the digital version of the photograph. However, a Disney representative accused Vanity Fair of deliberately creating a situation to manipulate a 15-year-old.
On Sunday, April 27, the Disney “Hannah Montana” star issued an exclusive statement to PEOPLE apologizing for a series of photographs circulating on the Internet as well as for the Vanity Fair shoot.
“My goal in my music and my acting is always to make people happy. For Vanity Fair, I was so honored and thrilled to work with Annie [Leibovitz]. I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be 'artistic' and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed,” Cyrus said.
Prior to the magazine controversy, Cyrus was already getting complaints and commentary from parents and the conservative TV host Bill O’Reilly about the photos on the Web.
In the statement issued Sunday, she also went on to say that she was sorry for taking the other photos and appreciates the support she has gotten from her fans.
“The pictures of me on the Internet were silly, inappropriate shots. I appreciate all the support of my fans, and hope they understand that along the way I am going to make mistakes and I am not perfect. I never intended for any of this to happen and I am truly sorry if I have disappointed anyone.”
With her transition from young teen sensation to a young woman, many critics have drawn parallels to Britney Spears and urge her parents to make sure she doesn’t go down the same path, according to a CNN article.
However, other critics have wondered if this is just a ploy to see past her current market into the future and start looking to transition away from the pre-school children audience to capture a niche with the older crowd.
While I think the photos could be a step toward making inroads with an older group, I don’t think Cyrus has enough to gain at her present state that she would risk alienating her current multi-million dollar market.
From a PR perspective, Cyrus made the best decision possible in appealing to her fans’ and critics’ sympathy and directly addressing her mistake and apologizing for it. In her statement, Cyrus appeared sincere and honest, which makes it much easier for fans and parents to oversee her misjudgment.
While the Vanity Fair shoot was not that controversial alone, unfortunately for Cyrus it happened only days after news of her other images surfaced. I actually find the Vanity Fair situation understandable and easier to overlook than the other photos. I do not see how anyone, much less an actress with the number 1 cable show for children, could take provocative photos of herself and put them online for the world to see. My advice for Cyrus and other people in the media spotlight: Enjoy time with your significant other if that is your decision, but don’t document it with photos and post them online for all the parents of your 5-year-old fans to see. Have a little common sense.
Given what has happened, I think Cyrus has handled the situation well. I think if she avoids other scandals in the near future, her reputation will recover and she will be able to stay in parents’ good graces.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Billboards, television commercials, radio spots and magazine advertisements have lately been shouting startling autism statistics thanks to the organization Autism Speaks. April is Autism Awareness Month, and Barnes & Noble is spotlighting books on autism in its stores nationwide. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus even got involved in the Autism Speaks’ World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, 2008. There is certainly a marked push for understanding and recognizing the disorder driven by the startlingly high numbers of those affected.
Autism affects every one in 150 people. There are currently 1.5 million Americans affected by autism. The disorder ranges in severity and “impairs a person's ability to communicate and relate to others. It is also associated with rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines,” states Autism Speaks. As of now, there is no method of prevention, treatment or cure of autism, though early intervention to develop communication skills is helpful.
With autism gaining recognition as a widespread disorder, the virtual world Second Life has a unique PR opportunity, thanks to David Savill, if it chooses to act on it. Second Life is a Web site that allows users to create and customize human figures known as avatars to live in a realistic online world. As of March 2008, the Web site boasted about 13 million accounts. One of these 13 million users is Savill, or Dave Sparrow as his avatar is known in Second Life.
Savill, 22, of England has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, an autistic disorder characterized by clumsiness and difficulty in social situations, including trouble recognizing and understanding facial indications, like a smile or frown. In response, Savill has created Naughty Auties, an online area in Second Life designed specifically for those affected by autism, including support for friends and family members.
Naughty Auties is modeled after a relaxing beach scene, a design that in addition to the comfort and privacy of personal computers, hopes to draw autistic users in with enough ease that they feel secure enough to communicate with one another. However, the Second Life area is not touted as a cure for autism, but simply a place for communication, free from face-to-face pressure. Savill has big plans for Naughty Auties’ future including virtual conferences given by psychologists about autism, uniting users simply by accessing Second Life, without the need of long-distance travel.
With the high numbers of those affected by autism, not only those with the disorder, but friends and family, Second Life can help this growing group as well as its own PR. Savill has written to Second Life and circulated a petition in hopes of any kind of donation to help Naughty Auties as well as publicity on the main Web site for Second Life. But it has thus far done no good. Savill’s first letter was answered two weeks later with a generic reply letter. His response to the generic letter wasn’t even answered.
Second Life is allowing an innovative PR chance pass it by, especially after negative publicity from child pornography scandals and virtual land lawsuits on its Web site. Second Life also needs to act fast before one of its virtual competitors, like Active World or There, seizes the opportunity. This situation can leave the Web site looking either callous and apathetic or innovative and accommodating, a decision so seemingly simple that an avatar could make it.
Mary Elizabeth Roberson and Caitlin Graham
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
One of the United States’ most widely recognized airlines has recently had to do some major image rebuilding and company restructuring. Delta Air Lines’ brand identity was quickly “grounded” when the company filed for bankruptcy in 2005. Not only did stockholders lose all benefits, but passengers also lost trust in the company. It was then up to public relations and marketing practitioners to salvage the relationship between passenger and airline and ultimately create a new identity for the airline.
Following the first crucial step in a public relations campaign, Delta did extensive research on what passengers were looking for in an airline and ultimately, how Delta could rebuild their trust. According to Lisa Bennett of Leo Burnett U.S.A., “The campaign is about doing a better job of listening, responding, and finally rediscovering the Delta passenger-focused heritage. It is not designed to be apologetic or to be a declaration of overnight change,” stated Bennett, who heads up the global creative team. “It’s a promise. To listen. To respond.” Delta’s focus or purpose concentrates on financial stability and improving the customer experience.
So has Delta succeeded in building consumer loyalty by improving the customer experience? Delta has supposedly made an effort to revamp everything from the check-in to the in-flight experience. Delta has even produced a new in-flight safety video. From the viewpoint of a frequent flyer, Delta has successfully rebuilt its image, but has failed to improve customer relations.
Although Delta has made it a point to release new advertisements, a new and improved logo and Web site, passengers are still dissatisfied with the way they are treated on Delta Air Lines. Delta has increased its profitability since bankruptcy in 2005, still being named one of the top 100 Fortune 500 companies, but really it had nowhere to go but up. I will give the marketing and media team kudos for embracing the financial problem and making themselves transparent during the crisis. While I was amused by the modern style of the new safety video, logo and advertisements, I was not amused when Delta lost my luggage on a recent trip. Delta must learn to follow through with its message of customer satisfaction, especially considering its financial circumstances.
A little over 10 years ago, I had my first flying experience aboard a Delta flight from Tampa to Atlanta. Without exaggeration, I’ll say that it was an absolute nightmare. The service was bad, it took forever to get through security and the flight itself was uncomfortable and far from pleasant. The experience completely turned me off to flying; I wouldn’t board another plane after that for eight years, another Delta experience that was, sadly, a letdown like the first. What I assumed would be a satisfying customer experience turned out to be a huge hassle. First, there’s the baggage issue—always a pleasure the lugging and lifting, then those security lines—endless waiting followed by more waiting and finally, the strategic wedging of one’s self in seats far too narrow, sometimes between two complete strangers, for a period of time exceeding five minutes that will feel like an absolute eternity.
I believe it’s possible that experiences similar to my own shared by thousands of customers became a major factor leading to Delta’s 2005 bankruptcy filing and motivated them to restructure their corporation. And hopefully, with Delta giving a little more focus to enhancing customer experience, my next flight will be an enjoyable travel experience. Bottom line is that Delta really needs to start proving itself to avoid having to file Chapter 11 again.
Anna Katherine Owen and Chelsea Worley
See the new Delta advertisement and safety video here:
Advertisement – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhNW_3AIek0
Safety Video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgpzUo_kbFY