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PR Industry Misses Chance to Take a Stand

February 23, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Last week the PR industry suffered yet another black eye when a dust up between a PR firm and a journalist cost the reporter his job, but the real damage may have been inflicted by the industry’s silence.
    
The short version of the story is that a PR guy aggressively pitched a journalist and the journalist – Chris Dovi – wrote an email (using the F-word) to his editor and accidently sent the email to PR guy. The PR guy published the email in an attempt to further promote his client – a blind motivational speaker. The PR firm published a blog about the incident, but removed the post after it received a steady stream of negative comments targeted toward the agency and the PR industry. Apparently ‘Page Not Found’ is the PR industry’s new ‘No Comment.’


The unfortunate (and edited) quote from Dovi’s email:

“This guy is trying to kill me. He may be the most tenacious flack of all time. He’s been calling me about this blind fu@#er for four weeks. …He’s making me want to claw my own eyes out in the hopes that if he won’t just get lost, I at least won’t have to look at his press release anymore!”


This blog post isn’t about assessing blame or re-hashing the facts of the case, but if you want to read more, you can see the original report from The Richmond Times-Dispatch; a blog by Jon Newman (partner of a PR firm), who is familiar with event’s participants; and a good overview by John Sarvay, which includes lots of helpful links including to the now defunct blog post.


This blog post is about asking why the PR industry refused to defend itself. The second I read the original story I knew I wanted to blog about it, but was worried that the story would be old news by the time I has a chance. So, I figured I’d just wait a couple of days to blog about the PR industry’s reaction to the story. So, I started tracking for commentary from the PR industry….and I searched…and I waited…and I searched some more.

 

Public’s reaction: Loud and clear the general public defends Dovi and is highly critical of the entire PR industry characterizing us as a bunch of relentless hacks, that will stop at nothing for a couple of words in print and and completely unable to accurately predict the public’s reaction. There is even a Rehire Chris Dovi page on Facebook.

PR industry reaction: Crickets. Nothing. It is understandable if PR folks don’t want to pile one its fellow practitioners, but even without placing blame this should have been a teaching moment. The incident touches on topics such as PR’s relationship with media; aggressive media relations; email confidentiality; crises communications; and how to predict the public’s reaction just to name a few.

Silence isn’t golden: This story got lots of media attention most of which made the PR industry look bad. It would have been nice find more PR defending or at least talking about the incident. I can’t help but think the general public takes our silence as sign that this is just
business as usual for PR.


Irony: News of Dovi’s firing broke during the inaugural HAPPO event, a much publicized event created (by PR folks) to help the industry’s under-employed PR brothers and sisters. HAPPO proves that the PR industry can be united force working to better the industry. But, we missed the opportunity in the Dovi case.

And a final piece of irony, I couldn’t help but notice that in order to leave a comment on the PR firm’s blog you are required to enter your email address, but have no fear the firm promises: “Your email is never shared.” Had Chris Dovi only been so fortunate.

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  1. February 25, 2010 at 1:07 am

    Paul,

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Even though I’m familiar with the folks involved, I tried sticking up for the profession (to a point) in my original post that you linked to above.

    I think there was shared blame here, but for Chris to totally blame the event on the fact that he was “hounded” by a PR person was ridiculous on his part.

    Jon

  2. February 25, 2010 at 1:41 am

    Before sticking up for this agency, I’d ask a few questions:
    1) was the client’s news a legitimate news story?
    2) was the reporter the correct reporter to cover the news.

    If it was a legitimate news story, then get the editor involved. I’ve done that in the past, when needed. Reporters do have a job to do, and if they have a pattern of not covering real news they should cover, the agency has a legitimate gripe.

    If the news wasn’t really worthy of a news story, I’d suspect the agency was guilty of burning hours pitching a lame story to anyone with a phone number and email address.

    That kind of pitching gives us all a bad name and just runs up the client bill.

    One of the hardest parts of PR is being honest with clients when a news story is really going to get coverage or when a news story is just a waste of pitching time.

    KLK

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