The Week in PR

  1. 1pizzaPeyton’s Place: By now you’ve likely heard of Al Jazeera’s report about an Indianapolis clinic that allegedly distributed performance-enhancing human growth hormone (HGH) to NFL players, including Denver Broncos ’ quarterback Peyton Manning. Anti-aging clinic, the Guyer Institute, allegedly sent HGH to Manning’s home in packages addressed to his wife Ashley. The NFL banned HGH in 2011; it began testing players in 2014. Al Jazeera’s report alleged Manning was shipped HGH in 2011, as he recovered from neck surgery. Heard less loudly was that a main source of the story, former Guyer employee Charlie Sly, took back his statements to Al Jazeera and now disputes the veracity of the network’s report. The NFL is investigating. The PR angles? Mr. Manning issued a strongly worded denial Saturday, ahead of the Sunday-night Al Jazeera broadcast. On Sunday morning he appeared on ESPN and again strongly denounced the allegations. Fairly early in the game Manning enlisted former White House spokesman Ari Fleisher to represent him. Fleisher appeared with Manning on ESPN. Manning’s current team sided with him as did his former team, the Indianapolis Colts, whose property he was in 2011. Later in the week one of the many brands the quarterback endorses joined the chorus. “ Papa John’s is aware of the speculation,” the pizza maker said in a statement. “During the course of our relationship, Peyton has represented himself, the game of football and Papa John’s with the utmost honor and integrity. Furthermore he has been a trusted friend. It is a shame [that] for all his hard work…he has to deal with these allegations.” In addition to his being a spokesperson, Manning owns 22 Papa John’s outlets. Here’s hoping Papa John’s has no need to backtrack on these remarks.
  2. 2.autoDas Honest Guy: Besides ousting the CEO and seeing sales fall and share prices decline, there’s yet another casualty of the Volkswagen emissions scandal. “Das Auto,” the carmaker’s tagline in ads since 2007, apparently is kaput. Ironically, or maybe not, the slogan was launched under Martin Winterkorn, the VW boss who resigned five days after the emission story hit the media September 18. Apparently VW’s new leaders, meeting last month in Dresden, felt Das Auto was an elitist relic and inappropriate for a company now wishing to show humility in the face of probable multi-billion dollar penalties and lawsuits. In a sign of communicators gaining traction, the company held its first press conference on the scandal, nearly three months after the story broke. Haste indeed makes waste and the hiatus allowed VW time to formulate a plan to avoid future emissions scandals, which is good PR. But three months? Held Dec 10, that first presser left lingering questions. For example, VW communications chief Hans-Gerd Bode told reporters, “We certainly did not, at any point, knowingly lie to you….” Really? When asked in late September about chief Winterkorn being replaced, VW replied “nonsense.” He was gone the next day. In November, VW’s Audi unit said it was false that certain of its cars contained illegal software. Three weeks later it had to admit they did. -- Family Affair: In a related note, our September 28 edition quoted Gene Grabowski, partner, kglobal, urging VW to make sure dealers stay informed. “They are your best ambassadors to the public,” Grabowski, whose dad sold cars for some 20 years, told us then. What VW should avoid, he added, is for dealers to “commiserate” with the public, saying things like ‘We are as confused as you are...we don’t know what went on or what’s happening next.’ We thought of Grabowski when we saw a story in the Wall St Journal Dec. 19. It quotes VW dealer Alan Brown saying, “We really don’t know what’s going on…I really don’t have a feel if we’re close or not to a fix for the customer.” He was referring to the status of a VW plan submitted to CA and the EPA to recall and fix the offending cars. The article mentions Brown is sitting on 60 diesel VWs he can no longer sell. What it fails to mention is whether Brown is upset with VW, the EPA or both. A VW spokesperson says in the piece that since the scandal erupted dealers and customers are its “top priority,” although she refused to address specific dealer concerns. Making matters worse, the WSJ identifies Brown as chairman of VW’s national dealer advisory council. Oops.
  3. 3bluebellBell Tolls: We thought Blue Bell Creameries was on an upswing since its ice cream’s staged return to shelves began late last summer (PRN, Aug 24). Maybe not. Owing to a Listeria outbreak that killed three people, Blue Bell closed three plants and recalled its ice cream in April (PRN, April 20). CBS News last week reported the Department of Justice is probing Blue Bell, alleging the company was told of issues with its plants in 2013, two years before the Listeria outbreak. Neither DoJ, Blue Bell nor its popular Twitter site, which has chronicled the ice cream’s re-emergence, commented.

This article originally appeared in the January 4, 2016 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.