What's wrong with Bill Cosby's recent attempt to reach out to the public? The short answer is a lot. Over the last several weeks, the comedy icon has released several written statements to fans marked with the hashtag #farfromfinished, but on Monday, he posted his first video message since the barrage of sexual assault allegations hit.
Clad in fuchsia pajamas and perched on a vintage lounge chair, Cosby talks into a rotary phone in the clip. "Yes! I'm going to be in Wheeling, West Virgina, Capitol Music Hall, 8 o'clock show; that's right!" he chirps into the phone. "You know I'll be hilarious. Can't wait." He accompanied this video with a short written statement: "Dear fans: I hope you enjoy my wonderful video message that's filled with LAUGHTER. Hey, Hey, Hey! I'm far from finished."
It's safe to assume that the primary objective of the video is to promote his upcoming show dates, as virtually no reference is made to the wave of accusations against him, but we couldn't help but pause at some of the decisions Cosby and his team made regarding the video in terms of both presentation and content. (Pajamas? Really?)
We weren't the only ones thrown off by the jammies. "Perhaps someone thought pink pajamas, the rotary phone, and a '70s living room chair will evoke old memories of how America remembers the high times of Cosby's career," Ronn Torossian, the president and CEO of 5W PR, told Yahoo. "I just think it looks ridiculous." Torossian, who's worked with clients including Snoop Dogg and Pamela Anderson, was also quick to point out that the sleepwear was particularly troubling. "I don't understand releasing a video of someone… in his pajamas who has been accused of many sexual assaults." Other professionals agree.
Asked about the lighthearted video and the styling choices, Richard Rubenstein, president of the New York-based firm Rubenstein PR, said, "It's not the direction that I would probably have suggested since the accusations are so serious. Things simply cannot go back to normal, and the silk pajamas are, unfortunately, a little strange."
OK, so Cosby might not have passed muster in the styling department, but what about what he actually said in the vid? According to the PR experts we spoke to, it may have been too little, too late. And totally ignoring the fact that over two dozen women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault may not have been the best route for the comedian to take.
"If he wants to be found innocent in the court of public opinion, he can tape a statement which speaks to the seriousness of the allegations against him," Torossian suggested. "This video makes it seem as if Bill Cosby is living in a delusion."
Stacey Weschler-Manasco, president of Hired Gun Publicity & Consulting Inc., told Yahoo that the message makes Cosby appear "like he is out of touch with what is going on," adding that "he could be just in denial, which is an easier path to take instead of the alternative." Still, Weschler-Masasco — who has worked with stars from Snooki to The Real Housewives of Atlanta's Porsha Williams — admitted, "Cosby has people talking, so if that was his goal, he achieved it."
It's safe to say that probably wasn't his (only) goal, however, and for some, Cosby's message wasn't just weak and ineffective; it was downright damaging. "I find the video awkward and strange, and I don't think it moves him forward," noted Howard Bragman, the founder of Fifteen Minutes PR, who's repped high-profile clients such as former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and retired NBA player John Amaechi before his coming out in 2007. "It only reminds people of his alleged indiscretions."
And while Cosby described the video as "filled with laughter," he might be the only one who sees the humor. "Bill Cosby's most recent video message to fans came across as a Saturday Night Live skit gone bad. The only comedy people will see in this video message was how comically terrible it was," Torossian lamented. "I felt like I was watching a short train wreck," Weschler-Manasco echoed.
When it came to Cosby's insistence that he's "far from finished," Weschler-Manasco asserted that the comedian is simply fighting for his career. "I think he's trying to get across the message that his career isn't stalled, over, or that he's going to let these accusations stop him from performing. It sounds like a catchy hashtag he wants to get trending."
All aspects of the video post considered, the verdicts are in, and there seems to be far more wrong with this effort than right. "I believe you will not find any public relations expert who would see this video clip and give a thumbs up. It looks ridiculous and absurd," Torossian concluded. "The Bill Cosby legacy as we know it is over."