—— Forwarded Message From: dan [at] prophecycom [dot] com Date: 27 Sep 2001 10:22:00 -0700 To: me [at] ianbell [dot] com, vlads [at] ringcentral [dot] com Subject: Indecent acts of PR – funny
Hey guys, thought we could use a little humor during our pitching efforts this week… check out what some of the shameless PR firms are doing…
In Attacks’ Wake, PR Firms Find Their Pitches Fall Flat By JENNIFER ORDONEZ and MATTHEW ROSE Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Shortly after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, public-relations executive Nicole Wolfe pitched two reporters on a story about Upromise, a company that helps people save for their children’s college education.
“Unfortunately, today’s crisis in DC and New York is not the only crisis to hit American families,” Ms. Wolfe wrote in an e-mail. “There is also a HUGE debt crisis in America, which is only augmented by parents’ lack of saving for college.”
Ms. Wolfe’s former boss, Philip A. Nardone, the president of PAN Communications in Andover, Mass., says the company had given explicit instructions to hold off on all pitches after the attacks to avoid offending anyone. She apologized to the reporters but pitched the story again, says Mr. Nardone, who asked her to resign. Ms. Wolfe couldn’t be reached for comment.
As public-relations executives get back to the business of pitching stories about their clients to the media, they’re finding how tough it can be to relate to the news without going too far.
DeLyon-Hunt & Associates, a PR agency based in Redondo Beach, Calif., says it was hoping to ease the nation’s post-attack doldrums when it sent out a media alert about the Kit-Cat Klock, a wall clock in the shape of a cat.
“Through America’s toughest time the Kit-Cat Klock has brightened our days for 70 years, through the Great Depression, World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, Desert Storm and several recessions. Å We thought you might be interested in a historical profile of the clock in light of current events.”
On Sept. 13, Quantum Tech of Memphis, Tenn., issued a press release under the headline: “WTC Collapse Highlights Need for Quantum Tech’s Remote Backup.” The release described how one of the company’s customers “was able to function the very next day” even though it had offices in the World Trade Center because it “used an off-site remote backup facility that stored its data safely.”
Just five minutes later, the company retracted the release. “Almost everybody called me and accused me of cashing in on the disaster,” says the release’s author, Rob Cosgrove, chief executive of Quantum in Memphis, Tenn. “They were really nasty and we were dumbfounded. But in hindsight I can see why people were upset.”
Meredith Coleman, an account supervisor at New York PR agency Bliss, Gouverneur & Associates Inc., says the firm waited until this week before sending “Branding in Troubled Times,” an e-mail pitch to promote the branding agency Sterling Group. “I suppose it could be self-serving,” she says. “But I saw it as helping companies to revitalize their brand.”
It isn’t easy to know what to say in the face of an unprecedented tragedy like the World Trade Center disaster. Complicating things is the amount of space and time media outlets are devoting to the recent attacks. In some cases, firms are evaluating whether it’s even worth the time, effort and risk of offending someone to pitch anything new.
“I wouldn’t want to try to fit a new Frito Lay [product] introduction into a tragedy,” says David Drobis, chairman of Ketchum Inc., a unit of Omnicom Group Inc. “But I’m sure I could.”
The Council of Public Relations Firms, which represents 80% of the top 50 firms, held an emergency meeting on Monday to help companies figure out how to maneuver through this difficult landscape. The PR industry, which grew 30% in each of the past two years, was suffering from a slowdown even before the attacks because of the slumping economy.
Jack Bergen, president of the council, says if PR firms don’t get back to business quickly, industry revenue could fall an additional 5% to 10%. “Clients are very apprehensive,” he says. “There’s no precedent for what we’re engaging in right now.”
Some companies are trying to get their names out there tastefully by offering their executives as experts, or promoting the insights their businesses can offer. Among the recent headlines on the press-release wires: “PRIMEDIA Experts Available To Discuss Terrorist Attacks’ Impact On Major U.S. Economic Sectors” from Primedia Inc., a magazine publisher; and “American Fire Retardant Corp. Favors Steps to ‘Harden’ Buildings Against Terrorists.”
Michael W. Kempner, chief executive of MWW Group, has told his employees to hold off, mostly, on putting out press releases. Still, he was eager to help underscore the good deeds of clients like the New York-area operators of McDonald’s restaurants, who gave out free food to New York relief workers. “The publicity happened — we didn’t manufacture it,” Mr. Kempner says. “Not only was the food hot, but there was something comforting about it.”
At least one PR firm used the down time to pitch itself. “How do we deal with our clients and business?” wrote Shannon Vander Hook, a public-relations assistant at New York-based Adam Friedman Associates, in an e-mail pitch. “I am wondering if you are interested in a story on or related to this topic, as I feel that it taps into many of the issues surrounding this terrible time.”
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