The New York Times reported on the recent fuck-ups from PR shithole Edelman. The story—written by the typically polite advertising columnist Stuart Elliott—was hardly flattering. Makes one wonder who the hell is handling PR for the alleged public relations experts. Maybe Edelman should create a multimedia campaign to promote itself—like what bp did to counter the hate ignited by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Or even like the propaganda Edelman shat out during the Rupert Murdoch scandal. Then again, maybe not. The problem is, the Edelman wonks in the NY Times story came off as if they were trying to be contrite; however, they didn’t sound sincere. Even worse, they didn’t appear to realize the full depth of their own ignorance. Edelman executives should be instructed to assume a fetal position under their desks and keep their fucking mouths shut—plus, please step away from the keyboard and stop publishing blog posts!
Edelman P.R. Firm Acts to Correct Faux Pas
By Stuart Elliott
A GIANT public relations agency that has been under fire for a couple of gaffes in the last couple of weeks says it is taking steps to try to make sure such blunders do not recur — the kinds of steps it would recommend to clients in the same predicaments.
“What the leadership team decided,” Ben Boyd, president for practices, sectors and offerings at Edelman in New York, said in an interview on Friday, is that “we will treat ourselves like we treat a client.”
“Lesson learned,” he added.
“Just because you advise clients on the complexities of today’s world, that doesn’t mean they’re easier to manage,” Mr. Boyd said, adding that “it would have been smart” to have had in place at Edelman some of the internal protocols and processes that the agency’s 5,000 employees suggest that clients adopt.
Edelman, the largest independent public relations firm in the world by revenue, found itself having to re-examine its procedures after two episodes that generated unwelcome media attention. The first involved the agency’s response to a survey of large public relations agencies, conducted by The Guardian and an organization called the Climate Investigations Center, about representing clients that deny climate change. The second incident, less fraught than the first, was centered on a blog post suggesting that the suicide of Robin Williams represented “an opportunity” for a national conversation about depression.
The Guardian, in an article on Aug. 4, reported that Edelman, unlike many of its competitors, “did not explicitly rule out taking on climate deniers as clients,” and included a sentence that read, “An initial response to C.I.C. from Edelman inadvertently included an internal email which said: ‘I don’t believe we are obligated in any way to respond. There are only wrong answers for this guy.’” The article was illustrated with what was described as a screen grab of the conversation inside Edelman showing that the email had been written by Mark Hass, who was at the time United States president and chief executive of Edelman. He left the agency last month.
The Guardian published a follow-up article on Aug. 7 reporting on a subsequent statement on the Edelman website in which the agency said it “fully recognizes the reality of and science behind climate change” and does not “accept client assignments that aim to deny climate change.”
Two related articles by Brian Merchant were on the Motherboard channel of Vice, one on Aug. 5 castigating Edelman and one on Tuesday about a telephone call from Richard Edelman, president and chief executive of Edelman, to Mr. Merchant, during which, Mr. Merchant wrote, Mr. Edelman told him that Edelman had “fired” Mr. Hass “in part because of that stupid note he wrote” and describing Mr. Hass as “the ham-head who filled out the questionnaire to be a little, uh, slick.” (Earlier, in a blog post, Mr. Edelman said that the agency “did a poor job of filling out” the questionnaire.)
That, in turn, brought online articles questioning Edelman from publications like O’Dwyer’s and PR Week because, when it was reported in April that Mr. Hass would leave the agency, his departure was described by Edelman as his stepping down rather than as a dismissal. “It wasn’t the best interview I’ve ever seen,” said Steve Barrett, editor in chief of PR Week, referring to Mr. Edelman’s conversation with Mr. Merchant. “It certainly wouldn’t be in line with the media training they give their clients.”
In an email statement on Friday, Mr. Edelman, who took issue with the first Motherboard article in his blog post, wrote this about the second article: “In a recent interview my intention was to simply clarify Edelman does not accept client assignments that deny climate change. I regret several of the remarks I made beyond that.” Mr. Hass could not be reached for comment.
“I don’t feel sorry for Edelman for mishandling” the questionnaire, said Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center in Washington, because inquiries about climate-change policies “have been posed multiple times for 20 years” to other companies in fields like energy, transportation and consumer products.
Although how Edelman handled the matter was “a bit of shooting one’s own feet,” Mr. Davies said, and cast shadows “on a firm that handles crisis communications” for others, “I’m not gloating.” He said, however, that he remained skeptical about Edelman’s eschewing of climate denial when the agency works for clients like the American Petroleum Institute. Mr. Barrett of PR Week estimated that 10 to 15 percent of “the business in the P.R. industry comes from energy companies.”
As for the blog post after Mr. Williams’s death, Mr. Barrett said he believed it “was written in good faith,” adding, “Personally, I don’t think it was a crass attempt to cash in on a tragedy.” The post described “a very careful line” that mental health professionals and people with depression “need to walk so as to not seem exploitive of a terrible situation” and added, in parentheses, “We too are balancing that line with this post.”
Mr. Boyd of Edelman said, “We should have been more thoughtful about the headline” — it read, “Carpe Diem,” quoting a line from the Williams film “Dead Poets Society” — “and about the timing of the post.”
The agency apologized in a post on its Twitter account. “We talk to clients about being nimble, about being engaged in real time,” Mr. Boyd said, but there ought to be “checks and balances in place” to address problems as they arise or prevent them from intensifying.
“We’ve already asked a team” inside Edelman “to look at issues, reputation management issues, that we as a firm have,” he added, and that examination will be “global in nature and across all our areas.”