When in doubt, fire the PR guy

Fireddd It comes as no surprise that, in the aftermath of what most considered a balanced article about the Oakland Raiders in Sports Illustrated, team owner Mark Davis fired the team's public relations director.

According to reports in The San Francisco Chronicle, Davis didn't like the way S.I. '…painted him or the job done by his father, late owner Al Davis, in the previous 10 years.' So, PR Director Zak Gilbert was cut from the squad.

The move actually makes sense since:

– Like many other CEOs, Davis is reluctant to shoulder the blame for his personal mistakes (Think: Messrs. Dimon, Kozlowski, Lay and Skilling as a starting point).

– Like many other CEOs, Davis really doesn't understand the role of strategic public relations or the concept of a free press (Think: “C'mon, Steve, you must have something on this reporter. Call in a chit, and get him to write a puff piece.”).

– When it is thought of at all by many CEOs, PR is seen as either stunts or crisis messaging. Period.

– Finally, when the going gets tough, the PR and human resources functions are almost always the first to go.

The Raiders story reminds me of two, similar personal experiences. One is recent; the other occurred during the War of the Roses:

– Not too long ago, a major retailer told us that, despite demonstrable success in turning around their image and reputation on social media channels, our budget was being re-allocated to fund an upgrade in the organization's IT infrastructure. Oh. Well, that sure demonstrated the CEO's respect for PR, didn't it?

– Long ago and far away (and while at H&K), we represented a global consulting firm who paid us a large retainer AND spent $1mm in print advertising in The Wall Street Journal (a not inconsiderable sum for a professional services firm in those days). Well, we pitched the Journal on a feature and, lo and behold, scored a front page story. But, alas, the piece was well-researched and balanced and, as a result, contained both positive and negative quotes about the CEO and his organization.

The CEO's first call was to me. He screamed at me and said if I didn't get a full retraction he'd fire us. When I told him a full retraction would never, ever occur, he promptly fired H&K (and me). He then proceeded to yank his advertising from the Journal (and Forbes Magazine, for good measure).

Needless to say, the Journal, Forbes and H&K are still very much alive, if not well. Meanwhile, the consulting firm has stayed under the radar ever since.

As I've noted in previous blogs, PR can help build credibility and enhance consideration, but if the basic business model is flawed (Read: the Raiders and the consulting firm), nothing will help.

That said, firing the PR guy always makes the CEO feel good. And, that's the bottom-line.

So, how about you? Have any good 'Fire the PR guy' stories worth sharing? I promise we won't cancel your subscription.

2 thoughts on “When in doubt, fire the PR guy

  1. Yup. I do think we kid ourselves that the profession has made great strides and earned acceptance in the C-suite. It’s still very hit-or-miss when it comes to a CEO and his/her respect for PR.

  2. It really saddens me that I chose a profession that, as the late great Rodney Dangerfield once said, gets no respect. I’m not encouraged that this attitude will ever change. Until it does, PR will continue to be the scapegoat for the shortcomings of other departments. For example: Not enough ad sales? It’s because we don’t have enough “buzz.” Did it ever occur to them that maybe they have crappy salespeople?