Rolling Stone’s Weak ‘Apology PR’ Won’t Heal Its Reputation

Rolling Stone’s explosive story about sexual assault on college campuses was horrifying, but from a PR and reputation point of view, it seemed like a journalistic milestone.  “A Rape on Campus” was the type of piece that produces headlines and drives traffic, but also sparks real change. The outrage it triggered echoed some of its most influential journalism, like Matt Taibbi’s takedown of Goldman Sachs, or the late Michael Hastings’ profile of General Stanley McChrystal.

Except for one thing. The central narrative, a stomach-turning first-person account of a brutal gang rape, was not accurate. It may not have even been true at all. Richard Bradley, the first journalist to weigh in on the story’s weaknesses, detailed the ways in which it failed to meet basic journalism standards on his blog just before Thanksgiving. His post is a must-read for anyone following the saga, or for those curious about media bias.

Bradley was followed by many others who questioned the story. As the discussion intensified, the issue became politicized, and ugly accusations flew back and forth. In the eyes of some, questioning the victim’s account was equivalent to being an apologist for “rape culture.”

When it all fell apart only 9 days later, Rolling Stone was left with a battered reputation. Worse, the mess has probably set back years of work to bring attention to campus rape and support its victims.

It shouldn’t have been this way. The entire situation was avoidable. The primary error was the one of running with a highly sensationalized story that wasn’t thoroughly vetted and fact-checked, of course. Those mistakes have been covered by journalism experts. But Rolling Stone compounded its errors in the way it communicated (or didn’t) with those who questioned and reported on the story. Here are some key points where it could have better handled the PR behind the rape story meltdown.

Preparedness. “Jackie”‘s account of her assault is so horrifying that the editors had to know it would make waves. Yet they appeared unprepared to respond to inevitable questions about the central anecdote. When writer Sabrina Erdely was asked by Slate about her efforts to seek comments from the alleged assailants, her answers were vague and even inconsistent. When the questions grew, editors tried to shut down the discussion.

Transparency.  Stonewalling rarely defuses controversy. In fact, it often makes the media more determined to get to the bottom of things. After Erdely’s uncomfortable podcast on Slate and a similar Washington Post interview, Rolling Stone refused to answer more questions and directed queries to its PR director. Bad move, particularly within the journalism community. It intensified questions about how the piece was vetted.

Responsibility. Instead of taking questions seriously or tackling the doubts head-on, Rolling Stone issued a statement in response. It was artfully worded, praising Jackie as “entirely credible and courageous” but taking little responsibility for proving the veracity of her account. Worse, it tried to shift the dialogue to the broader point of the story, the problem of campus rape.

Apology.  Once Jackie’s story was proven shaky, Rolling Stone publicly backpedaled from its earlier “credible and courageous” stance, as it had to do. But in doing so, it threw Jackie under the bus, explaining that due to “new information,” the magazine’s trust in her was “misplaced.” The second statement only further undermined the publication’s credibility and reputation. Why blame the source? Why not admit the failures that resulted in such a thinly sourced account making its way into the story in the first place?

Finally, the statement’s last line reads, “We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.” This is almost comical in its understatement, given the story’s impact, and it’s a weak, ineffectual non-apology.

There will be more ramifications as the reactions to the statement come in, but Rolling Stone is in a tough place. It will need to work much harder to publicly admit its mistakes, take responsibility, and figure out how to make sure this kind of journalistic lapse will never happen again under its banner.

12/7 Update: Rolling Stone has amended its apology, removing the reference to “misplaced” trust and taking responsibility for errors in editorial judgment.

Seven Ways To Safeguard Brand Reputation

Most companies will never experience a PR or reputation crisis on the order of a BP or Toyota. That’s the good news. But in the digital age, the drip-drip-drip of customer complaints, employee dissatisfaction, or competitive attacks can erode a brand’s good standing over time. That where the right blend of customer care, PR and reputation management, and SEO come in. Working together, they help safeguard brand reputation from minor problems that become major issues. Here are some tangible steps to advance that goal.

Shore up customer service

Today, customer service and public image are blurred, in part because it’s so easy to share gripes online. Note that United Airlines’ inadvertent use of a fill-in-the-blank letter in response to a complaint made the Twitter rounds instantly. Harmless, but a wasted opportunity to make a connection. Examples like the Comcast viral phone call can reinforce a negative reputation or erode a positive one. A robust and accessible customer service function, by contrast, can discourage disgruntled consumers from taking to Yelp.

Have a clear complaint escalation policy

It’s vital to determine in advance where to bend – or not –  when it comes to unhappy customers. In some cases, a brand may opt to stick to its guns to avoid setting an undesirable precedent; in others, complaints may be escalated for prompt resolution. Either way, a clear policy will maximize the benefit and minimize employee stress and customer uncertainty. A user may not get the answer they want, but a firm response is better than letting frustration simmer.

Either way, reply promptly to any complaints or problems

Even if you cannot make everyone happy, complaints should be answered, offline, if possible. The exception is an anonymous troublemaker or troll whose only goal appears to be spreading gossip or innuendo.

Conduct a reputation audit

Regularly. Make sure the tools and technology is in place for early-warning about complaints or criticisms. Don’t forget employee forums like Glassdoor and, and be sure to check industry-specific review sites, including those that are private. Those results may not come up in a search, but they’re bound to influence prospective customers, employees and partners. Many tools are free, so this one’s a no-brainer.

Take basic SEO steps

Claim all your corporate profiles. Make sure all logical variations on the company website are owned by the brand. Have a basic content marketing program in place to ensure that fresh, keyword-driven material supports the brand position in search results.

Build allies before you need them

Frequent customer reward programs, newsletters, or affinity groups offer many advantages for proactive relationship building. But they can also be strong defensive tools. In case of an attack or reputation threat on digital media, it’s enormously helpful to have advocates.

Study the past

Most reputation threats aren’t bolts from the blue. According to a study by the Institute for Crisis Management, sixty-five percent of business crises are “smoldering,” defined as a “slow burn” situation either ignored or covered up over time. Many so-called crisis situations are theoretically predictable, and they often recur.

Plan for the most likely reputation threats

Identify the top five most common threatening situations and devise a plan for each, with a clear chain of authority for response and management. A detailed crisis plan may be useful for a smoldering situation, but given the pace of change, it’s more important to designate a strong leader and identify basic steps for escalating and managing complaints or attacks.

Social Media Tips For Millennial PR Pros

By guest blogger Heather Scott

Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Tumblr? For at least 25 hours a week? Do you think you have phantom phone syndrome?

If so, you are probably a millennial, and if you can claim that you do at least some of this social sharing for work, then you are more likely a millennial at a PR firm! Members of this cohort seem to share more intimate details of their lives via social media than other generations, leading experts to advise caution in how and how much they express themselves.

In this time of high unemployment and an economy that is only slowly recovering, millennials must learn how to use social media to advance their careers. Here are some tips to keep in mind when it comes to smart social media activity.

Profanity. Sometimes you just want to let your anger and frustration out with a four-letter-word tirade. While the occasion “hell” or “damn” is okay, keep the others off the internet. There are more articulate ways to express yourself.

Pictures. As with profanity, keep the drunken antics off social media. And profile pictures should be of you in career wear, not a halter top or a bridesmaid gown. This is not to say pictures containing alcohol should be kept off social media entirely (college students, proceed with caution), just keep it professional. A picture of yourself and friends enjoying a glass of wine says you’re a social person and that there’s more to you than your work.

Networking. Use your social media accounts to help get your foot in the door. Follow companies, employers, experts, etc. on sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn. If you want to go a step further, try to actually connect with them. Respond to a discussion post on LinkedIn or comment on an article they tweeted. Engagement shows employers you’re not afraid to speak up and interact.

Expand your social media skill set. While it is presumed that all millennials know how to work every social media site in existence, it isn’t always the case. Take time to learn all the ins and outs of the social media sites you frequent. Know how to start a discussion post on LinkedIn or tailor trending topics on Twitter to a specific region. Know how to set up a Google+ chat. You never know when these skills may come in handy. More importantly, familiarize yourself with the most successful PR or marketing campaigns with social media at the core. That way, you can converse with prospective employers on the merits of “Dumb Ways To Die” vs Virgin’s #fitfoo campaign.

Politics and Religion. There’s an old saying: you should never discuss politics or religion at dinner parties. This also generally applies to social media. Until you’re the next Rachel Maddow or Ann Coulter, keep your personal feelings/stances on these topics to yourself. If your comments are too extreme, future employers could be hesitant to hire you.

What other social media practices would you recommend to millennials? Leave a comment below.

The PR Verdict On Paula Deen’s Apology (Again)

From the frying pan to….yesterday Paula Deen, the queen of comfort cooking, faced Matt Lauer, and the outcome was not so comfortable for either one.

Some have criticized Lauer for his brusque grilling of Deen. My view is that he took a no-nonsense approach, cutting to the business issues and her motive for finally living up to her original commitment to a live interview.

The real story here is Paula’s apology, if you can call it that. It was all over the place. Things started out okay, with Deen describing herself as “overwhelmed” – an honest, but not loaded, word. Then she thanked the partners who have stood by her and declined to blame The Food Network for dropping her. All good.

Then things really got overwhelming. First, she insisted she had used the n-word only once, after being robbed at gunpoint by a black person “a world ago.” This contradicted her deposition and her original excuse that she grew up in the days of Jim Crow. Her demeanor became indulgently sorrowful. The drama peaked when she tearfully challenged anyone watching who has never said something they regret to “please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me.” Whoa, Paula. It was both a not-so-coded biblical reference and an overemotional response.

As the interview wrapped, defiant Paula emerged, proclaiming “I is what I is,” and referring darkly to “someone evil out there” who sabotaged her out of envy, presumably the former restaurant manager who filed the suit that set up the media feast. Lauer, rather than following up on her reference to enemies and “horrible lies”, ended the interview. For Deen, this was probably a good thing.

Is Paula cooked? It does look that way. Her handling of the interview lacked the key ingredients for an effective public apology and her inconsistent and overemotional responses stirred things up instead of calming them down. It’s best to take responsibility, express sincere remorse, then make amends if possible. Deen would have done well to admit the truth, talk about what she has learned, ask for forgiveness, and pledge her time and/or money to a cause or program that promotes tolerance.

Also, an effective mea culpa doesn’t focus on the one apologizing. It should be about those offended or harmed by the situation, – in this case, sponsors, staff, viewers, and fans. It would have been impossible to deflect all the questions about her business and her brand, but she didn’t even try to take herself out of it. Ironically, her apology video, though stilted and inadequate, did a better job on that score.

Deen’s fumbles may also be tied to a lack of good PR counsel. Her original publicist, a 36-year veteran of the biz, resigned after Deen disclosed her diabetic condition and announced a partnership with Novo Nordisk. I’ve no idea who’s been advising her now, but she should consider a change. There’s a rumor that she’s hired Judy Smith, the D.C.-based crisis guru known as the model for Kerry Washington’s character on “Scandal.” I hope it’s true, because Paula needs professional help.

Summer Work Wear In A PR Office

Summer is in full swing, which means that the fashionable PR pro has officially switched over her (or his) closet from warm and cozy to cool and comfortable.

And with the warmer weather comes a slight shift in PR workplace dress code.  As a general rule of thumb, summer dress code is more casual, but there is a fine line between workplace appropriate and too casual.  Follow the tips below to be comfortable – yet polished – this summer.

When in doubt, rethink. First and foremost, if you’re questioning whether what you’re wearing is appropriate for the office, your colleagues (and your boss) will, too.  Bag the outfit and save it for a weekend trip to Central Park.

Use the fingertip rule. Dresses and skirts should reach the bottom of your fingertips when your arms are placed down at your side.  At the risk of sounding like my high school principal, THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS.

Wear flip flops with discretion. In some offices they’re allowed, and in others, they’re considered way too casual.  Typically, women can get away with flip flops if the rest of their outfit is a bit dressier (a sundress or a skirt and blouse), while wearing flip flops with jeans can look sloppy.  The same rule applies for Sperry’s boat shoes.

Shorts are okay if they are the appropriate length (see rule #2 above) and if they’re dressed up with a blouse and pumps. Short shorts and/or shorts with a t-shirt and flip flops are never okay.

Brightly colored pants are a good way to switch it up, if done right!  A colleague of mine rocked a pair of hot pink cropped pants yesterday and paired them with a button-up to give the outfit a classy edge.  When making a statement with a bold piece, the rest of your outfit should be more toned down (no crazy animal prints, funky jewelry, etc.).  The only exception is neon pants, which aren’t appropriate for the office in my view.  To get your neon fix during your 9 – 5, try dressing up a boat necked dress with neon accessories.

Go conservative for evening. For an after-5:00 affair (whether a PR industry event, client dinner, etc.) always err on the side of caution.  Other companies might have a different office dress code than yours, and you want to reflect well on your agency.  A black dress is always a safe option; you will never be critiqued for being too polished.

When in doubt, a good test is to ask yourself, Would I wear this to meet my significant other’s  parents for the first time? If the answer is no,  you need to revisit your closet and pick out something else to wear.

Paula Deen’s PR Crisis: Is She Done?

It pains me to be dishing up another post about Paula Deen’s PR crisis. Deen’s rags-to-riches story and Southern-fried charm has won her many fans, including members of my own family. But her most recent controversy makes me wonder if Paula can recover.

It was bad enough that she hid her diabetes diagnosis for a full three years before cashing in with a Novo Nordisk endorsement. But this week, choice bits of  Paula’s deposition in a discrimination lawsuit brought by a former manager of the restaurant owned by Deen and her brother were the topic of a media feeding frenzy. When deposed by the plaintiff’s counsel and asked if she’d ever used the “n-word”, Paula’s response was, “Yes, of course.”

“Yes, of course?” Really? Yet, Forbes contributor Jonathan Baskin calls this a non-event. He writes, “The idea that anybody would be surprised by this is hard to fathom.”

I beg to differ. Yes, I’m younger than Paula. And I was born and raised in Atlanta, which is far larger and more cosmopolitan than Albany, Georgia, Paula’s hometown. But the first time I heard the “n-word” used in casual conversation was when I visited a college friend from Connecticut at the age of 19, and her brother told an offensive joke. I was speechless.

Today, it’s hard to blame your upbringing for casual racism. But my personal perspective isn’t as relevant as Deen’s response to her reputation melting like a stick of butter. The real question is whether she can recover from the grilling, however deserved. So far, despite well-publicized objections by hardcore fans, it’s not looking good.

A bland and weak apology

After days of silence, Paula canceled her interview with Matt Lauer at the last minute and instead served up a weak apology PR response on YouTube. After an initial video that apparently didn’t pass muster (it was deleted) she posted a second video apology that was stilted and inadequate. Shortly afterward, The Food Network announced that it would not renew her contract.

If I were Paula Deen’s PR counsel, I’d urge her to dig more deeply. Though not perfectly analogous, actor Jason Alexander’s apology after he made gay jokes about cricket are an excellent model.

Deen was also the object of unexpected support from Bill Maher, who publicly wondered “if everyone who makes a mistake has to go away.” Maher was shouted down by his guest panel, but the point is that Deen could serve as a role model for others.  If she can convey in a heartfelt and authentic way that she’s come to understand why her earlier attitudes and language are not only tasteless, but toxic, it just might be worth her public sauteeing.

Deen stands to lose millions in TV and endorsement fees, and it may be a case of just desserts. But every mistake is a lesson. Before her deposition, she was controversial because of her high-fat cooking, and she became a symbol of just-plain-folks, down-home indulgence vs elitist bicoastal attitudes about food and health. Now, she has a chance to tackle something more important.

Celebrity is powerful, and I’d like to think that Paula Deen’s crisis can somehow be a recipe not just for her recovery, but for a larger-than-life personality to use her notoriety to educate others. Paula should face the media, make an honest apology, and commit herself to changing not just her own attitude, but those of her contemporaries and their elected representatives. There’s still plenty of work to be done. What she offers over the next weeks and months will be more significant, and potentially healthier, than anything cooked up in her Food Network career. We’ll be watching.

Can Bad PR Be Good Marketing?

Lifestyle clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch ran into some nasty PR recently when comments by CEO Mike Jeffries were reposted from a 2006 interview and blew up the Internet.  In the piece, Jeffries boasts about the brand’s “exclusionary” marketing practices. He explains, in his typical unapologetic style, that Abercrombie won’t carry larger women’s because it simply doesn’t want frumpy old ladies to wear its clothes.

Jeffries’ comments weren’t shocking; this, after all, is the same A&F that paid Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino not to wear its garments (a naked PR ploy, but one that worked).

But this time the brand’s disdain for the “uncool” masses, i.e., anyone who isn’t young, slim, and sexy, caught up with it.  (Mind you, Jeffries is 68 years old…not exactly young.) His attitude offended plenty of people, among them, an unknown videographer and aspiring author named Greg Karber. Karber decided to channel his anger into action. He scoured thrift shops for donated A&F garments, then persuaded homeless people in L.A.’s skid row to wear them and videotaped the results, urging others to follow suit.  #Fitchthehomeless went viral almost instantly. A PR coup. Yet few would argue that this is good PR for the Abercrombie brand.

Still, despite Jeffries’ arrogant attitude, the brand’s turnaround has been based in part on one thing—its “exclusionary” marketing.  Since he became CEO, in fact, company profits have soared. Former analyst Robert Buchanan calls his record “the most amazing record that exists in U.S. retailing, period.

What Jeffries knew is that marketing exclusivity is a time-tested way to differentiate.  Often it’s based on price, product scarcity, ties to boldfaced names, or all three. But exclusivity can also turn on brand values. Even when it risks alienating other market segments, it’s powerful.  One pundit points out that the Abercrombie strategy takes a leaf from the Steve Jobs handbook. Roger Dooley posits that Apple’s early campaigns did something similar by reinforcing its appeal to creative hipster types while casting PC users as soulless corporate drones.

For me, the Apple comparison is a stretch, but a more analogous example may be Chick-fil-A. When its CEO, Dan Cathy, spoke out against marriage equality last summer, his words triggered a cascade of negative buzz in social media communities. The comments sparked boycotts and even talk of zoning prohibitions on new Chick-fil-A stores.

Yet, the squawking probably didn’t damage the brand. Chick-fil-A makes no bones about its Christian roots and values, and many loyal patrons are either Christians, or they’re agnostic—about its brand values, that is. They care about the chicken sandwich. So, although Cathy’s stand was almost certainly not a planned or proactive marketing move, you can make the argument that it appealed to a certain segment of loyal customers and possibly attracted new ones.

This type of values-based marketing is risky, because runaway controversy is hard to control and it can definitely damage a brand’s reputation. In fact, Abercrombie’s CEO has apologized for his remarks, just as Chick-fil-A’s Dan Cathy decided to leave his personal views out of the company business. But the communication of clear brand values, backed by a passionate following and marketed exclusively to that core, can be a potent and defensible marketing strategy. Even when it amounts to bad PR.

A version of this post was originally published on MENGBlend.

For Bad PR, Blame The Lawyers?

Was Shakespeare right after all?

When legal strategy contradicts PR or communications strategy, PR usually loses. Typically, it’s in high-stakes liability suits or congressional investigations where avoiding stiff legal or financial penalties is considered more important than brand or personal reputation.

But the Nutella PR mess shows that legal protocol can gum up the works even in far more trivial situations. Which is nuts. It’s enough to evoke the famous Shakespeare quote about lawyers, which, though widely misinterpreted, remains the classic complaint of many for whom legal procedure is an obstacle, including PR pros.

For those on a media starvation diet, the heartburn started when Sara Rosso, an engaged Nutella enthusiast the likes of which most brands can only dream of, launched a campaign to celebrate World Nutella Day. Rosso created a Facebook page that has attracted a community of 40,000.

Instead of thanking their #1 fan, Nutella sent her a cease-and-desist letter. Naturally, the letter prompted a backlash against the brand and its heavy-handed tactics.

To its credit, Ferrero SpA, which owns Nutella, realized its error and retracted the cease-and-desist. It explains the unfortunate letter as “routine procedure in defense of trademarks, activated following improper use of the Nutella trademark within the fan page.”

Well, whatever. The sticky situation just reinforces the importance of bringing together the  communications and legal functions when it comes to brand impact and social media. Why can’t we all just get along? Or at least be present at the table?

Nutella fans are still miffed, so the brand has some more sweet-talking to do to win back their affections.

But as Shakespeare also said, “All’s well that ends well.”

How To Protect Your Digital Reputation

A while back, I was startled to see myself criticized harshly on an online IT forum. One poster called me “clearly incompetent” and demanded that I be fired. It was a chilling feeling, especially since I didn’t know any of my antagonists.

Of course, it wasn’t about me. I share a name with a former public information officer for a Midwest school system. From what I pieced together, an IT security breach of some kind triggered some fallout for which my namesake was blamed. (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t her fault.)

Given our different geographies and occupations, my reputation risk from the nasty comments was minimal.  But, it was an unpleasant and creepy taste of what it must be like to experience an online attack or mistaken identity. (For an account of a much harsher lesson, pick up James Lasdun’s memoir of being a victim of a horrifying Internet vendetta, Give Me Everything You Have.)

Everyone in the PR or reputation business knows that online reputation damage – deserved or not – is the underbelly of the anonymous web – both for critics and their targets. Google isn’t just a search engine, it’s a reputation engine, and anyone who’s checked out a prospective blind date will agree. What’s more, according to at least one source, 78% of recruiters do reputation searches for job candidates, and 63% check social media sites.

Of course, e-reputation concerns have spawned an entire industry, and the major social media sites have stepped up privacy and verification procedures under pressure, but people can be sloppy, rushed, and ignorant when it comes to social media usage. They’re also careless about anonymous handles, and as we all know, anonymity brings out the worst in just about everyone.

Yet having no digital footprint is also risky, at least in many relevant professions and business circles. So, how do you manage your e-reputation in a proactive way?

Monitor. Yes, we all monitor for online mentions of our name, but remember to watch the social media accounts of your closest contacts, including friends and family. They’re the ones most likely to be posting silly photos or worse.

Protect your online identity. Reputation starts with your  name. Find out who has the same or highly similar name to yours; consider adopting an initial or using your full name if there’s a risk of confusion.

Sign up for every social network. You don’t need to be active on all sites or communities; in fact you can point everything to your Facebook page if that’s your identity hub, but claiming your name will deter squatters or namealikes.

Deal with any problems quickly. The sooner you ask your brother-in-law to delete the New Year’s party pictures or the blogger to correct the inaccurate quote, the better.

Secure your accounts. Obvious, but easy to forget or overlook at privacy settings and policies change. Switch off tagging, opt out of lists, and share your privacy preferences or concerns with close contacts who have access to information and images. A good way to do that is by asking about and respecting their wishes when it comes to sharing personal photos and content.

Don’t reveal personal information. Identity thieves can use key dates, children’s names or ages, or mutual friends to hijack your page.

Create content. Obviously this is the best way to build a positive digital identity and the first advice reputation professionals often give to clients. If a blog is too much, become an active commenter on other blogs or online communities.

Even a casual social media user has to exercise common sense, and a little vigilance, to protect their good name.

AIG Avoids PR Disaster, But Barely

It seemed like a joke. AIG, the poster child for the greed, profligacy, and fiscal incompetence that helped trigger the 2008 financial meltdown, announced it would consider suing the U.S. government over the terms of its $182 billion rescue.

This, just a week after the company launched a pricey ad campaign trumpeting its turnaround and thanking America for the controversial bailout. The tagline, “Thank you, America,” was the creative flourish for the unveiling of the “new” AIG – if not kinder and gentler, then at least more restrained, fiscally healthier, and more professional.

The truth is a little more complicated than the optics. AIG’s Board was obligated to weigh the merits of joining ex-Chairman Hank Greenberg’s suit, which complains that the bailout cost shareholders billions of dollars and constituted a violation of 5th Amendment, which prohibits the taking of private property for public use “without just compensation.” The Board’s duty was to consider the move as a possible benefit to shareholders, but this is a clear case of corporate governance clashing with sensible reputation management.

AIG tried to explain its position through behind-the-scenes experts in a nuanced article in the New York Times. In other accounts, Chief Executive Robert H. Benmosche pointed out the board’s “fiduciary and legal obligations” to weigh the merits of joining the suit and signaled that it would decide by month’s end.

But the mere suggestion that AIG might turn around and slap American taxpayers with a fat lawsuit for saving its bacon sparked a furious backlash. PR and reputation experts excoriated the statement. Some shareholders publicly threatened to dump the stock. In a letter, legislators advised the board Chairman on Tuesday against the move in very blunt terms. “Don’t even think about it,” it said.

AIG did think about it, but not for very long. The outrage was so vehement that it quickly announced its decision not to join the suit. It took a little over 24 hours for millions of dollars of reputation advertising and public outreach to be undone by bad timing, a clumsy strategy and underwritten statement.