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Interview with Barbara Lippert

Aired June 9, 2003 - 20:35   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You see some awfully odd things in the newspapers these days. Maybe we should call them open letter papers. Today's A section in the "New York Times" has a letter from Boeing assuring one in all to its "Commitment to the values integrity and fairness. A few pages before that "An urgent letter to the 535 members of Congress from the 35 million members of the AARP." It's about Medicare drug coverage. In the "Times," as well, as "USA Today," Martha Stewart's company stirs up yet another full page letter, "Reaffirming our commitment to you, our valued customers and business partners."
It isn't traditional advertising and it seems like more than damage control. Call it image maintenance. Someone else who's noticed is Barbara Lippert, "Adweek," advertising critic.

Barbara thanks for being with us.


COOPER: What is going on with all these full-page ads?

LIPPERT: I think it is part of our confessional culture and sort of the recovery movement has reached corporate America. "New York Times" got down on its knees, saying I hear you, you think I am arrogant? I hear you, don't think I can hear your ideas. So now all these corporations are it. Martha is a little different, Martha has never gotten down on her knees. And the letter today from Omni -- her company sort of doesn't say anything either. It came out and said she has 600 invisible craft people working there. But again, she is not saying, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And the others definitely were, like the Boeing.

COOPER: She had, Martha Stewart, had came out last week with a full-page ad, as well as a web site.

LIPPERT: Yes, and it had a beautiful paper clip on the top. I really loved the paper clip, and her writing is just perfect.

COOPER: And that one last week she insisted...

LIPPERT: She signed that personally, she announced the website, Martha Talks. And all these people have gotten on and said, Martha, we love you. We had our Martha moment. Our electricity went out and we made perfect picnics in front of the fire and that sort of thing. COOPER: There is more to it than just confessional culture. I mean, from a public relations standpoint, these people, in some cases, you can argue in Martha Stewart's case, trying to get ahead of -- trying to get their message to viewers.

LIPPERT: For example, Boeing is a clearer case today than Martha. Nobody can understand how from a PR point of view or legal point of view it has gotten to this point with Martha. But there is very little she can do at this point. But with Boeing, nobody had heard about this but apparently a watch dog group took out an ad in a Washington paper saying Boeing was not ethical and they had gotten a contract based on information from another company. Boeing got ahead of it with clear, you know, explained exactly. Pointed to the little part in the company that they're going to fix. Martha hasn't pointed to any little problem area in the company at all. So, it's a different kind of ad.

COOPER: And I guess, it's a way of circumventing reporters.

LIPPERT: Right. For Boeing, like any corporations, the "New York Times" or "Wall Street Journal" is not going to write a letter or a press release. So if you want it out there you have to pay for it. It's a way of establishing your own spin and getting ahead of it. The constituency of these letters are "Wall Street" and Washington. More like political lobbying and more like, image control.

COOPER: It's also a way to have your message without anybody taking anything away from them. No one can challenge what Martha Stewart is saying because it's just in print, she's not there to answer any questions.

LIPPERT: Absolutly, and I think her advisors are telling her now that she has to get out there and speak to her (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Who knows, if on the jury she gets people who grow rhubarbs and want to rewire their own chandlers, you know, they might...

COOPER: But now there is also -- I mean, Sean Penn took out a full-page ad in which, very tiny lettering in which he stated his opinion on...

LIPPERT: Sean Penn Clearly doesn't have a future as an advertising copywriter. It just went on and on and made no sense. It was really sad. It was like the ravings of a mad man and very self justifying and didn't add up to anything.

COOPER: But do you think the audience in Hollywood, for instance, reads it differently than the audience in New York.

LIPPERT: Actually, no he was published in the "New York Times" so many that's it. But I think it is sort of this mono-mania thinking people want to hear your political thoughts, and that you have to share it with them in that many words.

COOPER: This seems like a more recent trend.

LIPPERT: I think it happened in the last 20 years. You know, the gold standard in damage control is Tylenol that happened in '82.

That was the Bo Paul (ph) inccident.

LIPPERT: No. The Tylenol.

COOPER: Right.

LIPPERT: People were killed. Somebody put stuff inside and Johnson & Johnson got way ahead. They took everything off the shelves which they didn't have to do. You know, they wrote letters, met with people, they were honest and responsible.

COOPER: That was the first time public relations said that's the way to do it, get out and...

LIPPERT: And then it came out with tamper-free packaging, so something good came out of it. But other things like the Perrier scandal, you know with the BeZine, and Three Mile Island, they did more damage than the original incident. So the thing is, post-Nixon, no one wants a stonewall. No peer person will tell you to stonewall, because it's the worst thing. Because everybody, you know, they can forgive, they're used to these things happening, but to stonewall, you come out looking like you're sweating.

COOPER: I think we'll see more of these ads in the future. It seems like a trend of things to come.

Barbara Lippert, thanks for being with us.

LIPPERT: Thank you.


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