PR Fiascoes

Managers who -- mostly -- failed to respond with grace under pressure

Through sheer stubbornness, greed, naivete, or misplaced self-confidence, these folks put their carefully groomed images in jeopardy. And only a few (O.K., make that one) came out still looking good.

Exhibit A: Rosie vs. Dan. Too proud to settle a contract dispute over the closing of Rosie magazine, Daniel B. Brewster Jr., CEO of publisher Gruner+Jahr USA, and celebrity Rosie O'Donnell wheeled their circus sideshow into a courtroom. The airing of dirty laundry, from accusations that Rosie was a relentlessly cruel boss to questions about G+J's circulation numbers, became glorious fodder for the tabloid press.

Exhibit B: The Pritzkers. The reclusive family normally prefers to keep the spotlight on the glitzy cornerstone of its $15 billion fortune, Hyatt Hotels Corp. But the Pritzkers were thrust into an unflattering light when Liesel Pritzker, a Columbia University undergrad who has been making a name for herself on Broadway, sued her father, Robert, and her many cousins, claiming her $1 billion fortune had been spirited away after her parents' sordid divorce. The lawsuit revealed an even deeper feud and, most unexpected, the family's plans for divvying up the fortune in coming years.

At least some executives were quick to own up to their fiascoes. When passengers learned that, in 2002, JetBlue (JBLU ) had given the travel records of 5 million customers to a private contractor working on security issues for the Defense Dept., in violation of its own privacy policy, CEO David Neeleman e-mailed a mea culpa to those customers and enlisted Deloitte & Touche to ensure such lapses wouldn't happen again.

Indeed, the one sure losing ploy seems to be to waffle once you come under attack. DaimlerChrysler flunked on that score. After signing up as sponsor of a pay-per-view TV stunt called the Dodge Lingerie Bowl for the upcoming Super Bowl, it first hedged on whether or not the models would be wearing lingerie (do lacy shoulder pads count as lingerie?) and on whether company brass had approved the initiative. Then it dropped its sponsorship altogether. Advice to DaimlerChrysler (DCX ) execs: Next time you're planning a controversial stunt, decide what pattern to run before you snap the ball.

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