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There are probably as many “first rules” of public relations and bad publicity damage-control as there are consultants and pundits who create such lists of rules. But one thing on which most of them agree is some version of this axiom: Understand the situation and decide on your bottom-line position before you open your fool mouth.

In other words, once you’ve offered an explanation for an action you’ve taken of which people disapprove, or something you’ve said that people didn’t like, suddenly changing course and serving up a completely different explanation isn’t going to work out well for you.

This is, one hopes, a lesson now being learned by the executives who run the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the company that operates the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), with respect to its treatment of Lora DiCarlo and the company’s Osé personal massager.

Let’s be clear: Whether the CTA’s decision to revoke the Innovations Awards honor previously granted to Lora DiCarlo truly was based on gender bias is beside the point here. When it comes to public relations, spin and damage-control, we’re not talking about reality, we’re talking about perception. And it’s safe to say that right now, many people perceive CTA’s actions as unfair, even unacceptable.

As I see it, the CTA’s current public relations headache stems every bit as much from its botched attempts to explain its decision as it does from the decision itself.

When Lora DiCarlo founder Lora Haddock was first informed of the CTA’s decision, the rationale she was given for the honor being revoked was akin to a social media platform pointing to a very selectively-enforced acceptable use or content policy.

This is the snippet of Innovation Awards policy the CTA cited in its explanation to Haddock: “Entries deemed by CTA in their sole discretion to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image will be disqualified. CTA reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any entry at any time which, in CTA’s opinion, endangers the safety or well being of any person, or fails to comply with these Official Rules.”

It seems the CTA has decided only now to keep its mouth shut, leaving the contrary explanations to be further skewered and scrutinized, rather than try to issue a better mea culpa. This may be for the best, though; if recent evidence is any indication, it’s an organization which in trying to dig out of a hole would merely dig the pit deeper.


Gene Zorkin has been covering legal and political issues for various adult publications (and under a variety of different pen names) since 2002.

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