PR suspected in Facebook founder’s $100 million donation

Posted September 28th, 2010 in Uncategorized by Jeff Bentoff

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that he was giving $100 million to the Newark public schools was noteworthy to the media for its timing as much as its generosity.

The Wall Street Journal, in a story titled “For Facebook, Movie Damage Control,“ joins cynics who see the gift as simply part of a PR strategy to combat the unflattering portrait of Zuckerberg in the new film “The Social Network.”

But the New York Times gives Zuckerberg more of a pass, saying the gift was in the works apart from the film. They quote the Newark mayor saying “the movie becomes a complication” because of the film.

Timing in PR, as in everything else, is everything. I don’t think we’ll ever know whether the announcement was made last week  because of, or in spite of, the release of the movie.

From a PR perspective, trying to bolster one’s image at the last minute will backfire. Look at the questions Zuckerberg is raising by making his first sizable charitable donation now. And this pre-release publicity over the grant is just making me want to see the movie more, not less. The timing is doing more than improving Zuckerberg’s image.

If his goal was to be seen as a generous businessman, that effort should have begun long ago, and should be ongoing. And, it shouldn’t be done for PR stake. I’d hope that someone this wealthy wants to give money away for the right reasons, not just to enhance his image.

Whatever the reason, I agree with a columnist who wrote today: “Give the guy some credit, he just gave $100 million to a needy school system.”

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