Is Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes Really Winning the PR War?

Out for blood? Yes, the media is. Well, most of them.

This is a question bemoaning the PRNewserverse lately.

Here’s a young woman — stress, young — who, at 19, created a company set to revolutionize health care. She dropped out of Stanford pre-med because she had an idea. The idea was in stealth mode for a decade. And today, at 31, she and the idea are worth billions. Nine, in fact.

The idea was Theranos, a medical incubator set out to transform blood testing and dramatically lower prices in the industry. The woman is Elizabeth Holmes, who Fortune once called “the youngest self-made billionaire ever.”

She’s under the gun now because of a serious and thorough investigation courtesy of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California.

Theranos, which is still in business, became the target of regulators and negative publicity after a Wall Street Journal article in October raised questions concerning the accuracy of its testing, and the degree to which the company was living up to its claims of new technology.

Holmes denied the report, questioning its unnamed sources and calling it “false” and “misleading.” (source)

That report has led to a serious harangue of hate mail and need for crisis communications, which is in full swing, complete with Holmes doing a Today Show interview with a Maria Shriver. In a dusky-hued room, Holmes said she felt “devastated [we] did not catch and fix these issues faster.”

She looked devastated too. Fidgety, nervous, blustering, and a few word stammers. Most media coaches would tell you that this was not a good interview to try to win back the trust of the public. But she gave it the college dropout try.

holmes-fortuneCome full circle to Fortune. We have a commentary of how Holmes is “winning the PR war.” How’s that again?

According to Mary Civiello, it started with her appearance during the interview:

“Even then she had that same intense, almost scary look: wearing black, hair pulled back, rarely smiling. That’s who she is. Holmes actually altered her appearance for this interview, wearing her hair down and dressed in softer colors. She was probably counseled to do so by yet another coach, but in my view it worked.”

This is a woman who may be banned — literally, kicked out and shunned — from the industry she sought to rescue because her blood testing method is being accused by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) of some confirmed false test results to patients.

In other words, those reports weren’t that misleading and the young CEO was up to taking shortcuts around healthcare, but we are concerned about how she’s dressed?

While her words were “authentic and honest and those of someone who had a heartfelt interest in getting it right,” they are a little reminiscent of the serial goof spouse who apologizes yet again, but just can’t control themselves from repeating the same ill-will.

Words matter most because that’s where the truth lies. And lying? Many think Holmes has done way too much of that already.

Winning? We have no words.