PR Experts Debate Mark Zuckerberg's $100 Million Gift to Newark Schools

Mark Zuckerberg's $100 Million GiftFacebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to Newark's public school system has drawn praise -- but also questions about its timing: He'll announce the gift on Oprah tomorrow, the same day as the premiere of a new film that critics say portrays the 26-year-old billionaire in a negative light.

DailyFinance reached out to a couple of branding experts to get their take on whether the timing of Zuckerberg's epic gift is just a coincidence -- and what it means for his image.

"This goes back to the early 1900s," says brand expert Rob Frankel. "John D. Rockefeller's PR company used to get photo ops of him giving dimes to orphans. Was it a coincidence when Rockefeller (pictured below) did it? Please. This is so blatant and so transparent it's pathetic."

Facebook declined to comment.

The Next Bill Gates?

Frankel said Zuckerberg may aspire to become this generation's Bill Gates, whom he is known to respect and admire. But there's a difference between the founder of Microsoft (MSFT) and the founder of Facebook according to Frankel.

"While Bill Gates could be domineering and ruthless, he was never petulant, he was never a child, and Zuckerberg clearly is a childish, immature kid who was given way too much control and power at way too early an age. Maybe when he's in his forties, he might temper some of his success with wisdom."

Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, a marketing strategy firm in Atlanta, also noted the timing of Zuckerberg's gift, but was more sympathetic to the young CEO.

"Nothing is ever a coincidence!" Ries said by email. "But what could be so bad in the movie? Did he torture cats? He is a nerd that made a TON of money. Why be embarrassed by that! Facebook is free for the people and we all use it and LOVE it! I don't see any downside of that."

"As far as I know he isn't blowing his money on cocaine and hookers," Ries added. "So what if they make a movie?"

"Like It or Not, He Is a Celebrity"

But Zuckerberg, who has reportedly seen the movie despite saying he had no plans to, has made it clear that it he thinks the film is fiction. And at AllThingsD this year, he told Kara Swisher: "I wish that no one made a movie about me when I was alive." Critics who've seen the film (I haven't) say it portrays Zuckerberg in a negative light.

Ries said Zuckerberg, as the billionaire CEO of one of the world's biggest websites, should accept his role as a public figure.

"Like it or not, he is a celebrity," Ries said. "He has to deal with interest in him. Certainly it is great to give away money. Just ask Bill Gates. Newark is a surprise since he didn't grow up there and has no connection. The best way to give money is when you have a personal connection or passion. Then you have a story to tell. What is he going to say on Oprah?"

Keeping the Focus on Newark

"From a brand image standpoint, this is phenomenal for both Zuckerberg and Corey Booker," said John Barker, president of Manhattan-based advertising and branding agency Barker/DZP and a resident of nearby Westfield, N.J. "And the generosity of the gift is astonishing. But the timing is suspect, given the upcoming movie plus Zuckerberg's lack of any connection to the city."

"And ironically, Newark already spends 42% more per student than the New Jersey average -- over $4000 per student more than districts like Millburn and Tenafly, which are the best in the state," Barker said. "For those of us who live in New Jersey and applaud what Booker is doing, that money might be much better spent creating an entrepreneurial enterprise zone around the fabulous new Prudential Center."

"Throwing money at the schools hasn't worked yet, but rebuilding the economy of the city would mean lasting change," Barker said.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Advice for Recent College Grads

Prepare yourself for the "real world".

View Course »

Understanding Credit Scores

Credit scores matter -- learn how to improve your score.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

51 Comments

Filter by:
Arlene Marcella

Keep the good teachers and boot the bad ones that would rather be home sleeping.

September 30 2010 at 8:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Arlene Marcella

What ever we can do, no matter where in America, to strengthen our childrens learning skills will be the best thing we can do to keep our country free and our children intelligent and in control. The parents contribution to their childrens education is mostly important. Arlene

September 30 2010 at 8:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bruce

You Mr. Gustin are DIS-GUSTIN....jealous, small minded, probably five foot tall bitch....get a life.

September 25 2010 at 6:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cheryl Rodekopf

Oh Dear God! It is his money. Let him do whatever the hell he wants to wth it. He earned it! I say butt-out and mind your own business!

September 25 2010 at 5:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tryone4me

Is he any different than Oprah, or others that give and get publicity in return? He is just doing it on a much bigger scale. The true gift of charity is done anonymously, but I don't think those that benifit will care.

September 25 2010 at 5:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sandra Kelemen

He sucks = big time... he needs to get somde good advice from Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet instead of being a loudmouth hoarder.

September 25 2010 at 3:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sandra Kelemen's comment
Cheryl Rodekopf

Are you jealous?

September 25 2010 at 5:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JOY

Our schools are in such a mess today. Therefore, all the criticizm toward this youg man is strictly RIDICULOUS. So What as to how much he gives & to who. This school & many more are in need. I am so sick & tired of all the things that come up in print today. A good read by Bill Maher might help everyone to understand these critical statements. Let's start thanking these celebriies which he is now & quit the stupid rhetoric especially in news print.

September 25 2010 at 2:00 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Mr. B.T.

Publicity stunt or not, he gave Newark NJ some money to help them transform the schools. So it made the OPRAH show. Good for Oprah for highlighting gthis effort. If the so-called experts who are the know it all critics, my comment to them is, go take a flying leap. They sound a bunch of tea baggers. The mayor of Newark and the governor are not complaining. I spent many days recruiting students for college in the Newark area. I saw the systems regress. I have faith the system will rise from the ashes.

September 25 2010 at 1:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mr. B.T.

Publicity stunt or not, he gave Newark NJ some money to help them transform the schools. So it made the OPRAH show. Good for Oprah for highlighting gthis effort. If the so-called experts who are the know it all critics, my comment to them is, go take a flying leap. They sound a bunch of tea baggers. The mayor of Newark and the governor are not complaining. I spent many days recruiting students for college in the Newark area. I saw the systems regress. I have faith the system will rise from the ashes.

September 25 2010 at 1:16 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
wilmawagler

Why do the "drive bys" hate zuckerberg?Depending who gave this money they would praise him to the sky...I know a lot of Christians on FB ,we discuss Christianity all the time & he has never ever done anything to us!Thank you for trying to help a public school, we all know the gov. is losing the battle!

September 24 2010 at 11:56 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply