PR Exec Resigns Over Pitch in Poor Taste
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

PR Exec Resigns Over Pitch in Poor Taste

While many public relations professionals continue to consider when they should resume their normal activity, some are rushing ahead with press releases and media pitches that—intentionally or otherwise—give the impression they are taking advantage of the

Paul Holmes

ANDOVER—While many public relations professionals continue to consider when they should resume their normal activity, some are rushing ahead with press releases and media pitches that—intentionally or otherwise—give the impression they are taking advantage of the tragedy.
 
This newsletter has received more than a dozen e-mails from people forwarding a pitch made by PAN Communications on behalf of a service that helps families save for their children’s college education.
 
The original pitch begins with a reference to the World Trade Center attack: “Unfortunately, today's crisis in DC and New York is not the only crisis to hit American families. There is also a HUGE debt crisis in America, which is only augmented by parents [sic] lack of savings for college.”
 
One reporter, Edward Mason of bizjournals.com, responded to the e-mail by telling its author, “You win the bad taste award.”
 
The author of the original e-mail, PAN’s Nicole Wolfe, replied, “My sincerest apologies. It’s got to be one of those e-mail things, where you can’t sense the emotion in text. Were you here, you’d know that our office is as sorrowful a place as any office in the city. We all have friends and families in Manhattan and are very concerned for our loved ones and those of others. We don’t in any way mean to ‘profit’ by the tragedy.
 
“What I meant to say (and clearly expressed very poorly), was that [this] is a happy story. Unlike today’s crisis where there is absolutely no upside, the college debt crisis is one that can be avoided. [This] is a happy story, as the company’s mission is to help children save for college who might otherwise be unable to attend.”
 
That response didn’t appease Mason, or Boston Business Journal special sections editor Chris Mahoney, who described the pitch as “the nadir of bad taste.”
 
It didn't satsify agency president Phil Nardone either. He says he only found out about the pitch 24 hours after the original e-mail went out, and that when he did he acted immediately. Confronted over her poor judgment, Wolfe—who had been with the firm for two years—resigned.
 
"When we heard about the World Trade Center disaster we had a firm-wide meeting and I told everyone to hold off on any kind of pitch to the media," says Nardone. "For some reason, because she had a professional relationship with the reporter involved, she went ahead with this, and unfortunately I didn't find out about until it was too late. It was very poor judgment, and even the 'apology' was inappropriate."
 
Nardone says he contacted both the client and the publication immediately to apologize and to explain that the pitch had not been sanctioned by the agency or its client. He says the editors were very understanding, and promised not to forward the e-mail, but by that point it had already taken on a life of its own and it was too late to contain it.
 
As the e-mail made the rounds in the technology public relations community, many added their own observations: “What a bunch of jerks,” said one. “This is one of the worst PR moves I have ever seen,” said another. Yet another forwarded the e-mail to all staff, warning, “As we move forward through this tragedy, we have to be very careful what we pitch and how we pitch it.”
 
The reaction from another PR exec was more blunt: “This is why all PR people are going to hell.”
View Style:

Load 3 More
comments powered by Disqus