Edelman to Clients: “Sleaze the Day”

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Lauren Parker.

sleazyguyRobin Williams passing this week caught all of us off-guard. Oddly enough, I was in line to see a comedy show in New York when I heard the news. Enjoying improv actually seems like the most fitting thing to do while dealing with the fact that we lost one of the world’s greatest funnymen.

While thousands of tweets and tributes swept the net, Lisa Kovitz, an executive vice president from Edelman, took the opportunity to triumphantly “seize the day.” Her blog post, “Carpe Diem” offered advice to brands on how they could “engage in a national conversation” about suicide and depression. In her words, “There’s a very careful line [brands] need to walk so as to not seem exploitive of a terrible situation but at the same time, it is a national teachable moment that shouldn’t be ignored.”

This is so off-base, she’s not even in Yankee Stadium.

There is just no place for a brand to capitalize from this scenario or any other like it in the future. Depression is an incredibly real epidemic that warrants national attention, thoughtful discourse and dedicated resources – not pandering commentary from a corporate executive looking for publicity.

Sadly, it sometimes does take a high-profile tragedy to spark discussion about challenging and uncomfortable topics like this. Though we’ve had several recent celebrity-driven instances that have brought the issue to the forefront, the thought of a brand latching on to such a news cycle for promotional purposes is sleazy, despicable, and wrong.

It’s bad enough that, in the digital age of 24/7 news, we have to deal with news outlets broadcasting aerial shots of the Williams’ home while simultaneously reading excerpts from his wife asking for privacy during this difficult time. Kovitz’ advice is not only bad news for the clients she advises, it’s damaging to Edelman’s reputation and the PR industry as a whole.

The fact that it’s even possible for me to report on this dose of bad PR advice is both baffling and saddening. Fortunately, I think there’s more humanity and compassion among those PR professionals I know. I hope Kovitz’ perspective is an anomaly.


16 thoughts on “Edelman to Clients: “Sleaze the Day”

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  2. I struggle with depression and I think you’re all over-reacting. What’s raising hackles, it seems to me, are the idiotic babble words like “thought leadership,” “teaching moment” and “brands” that are too prevalent at places like Edelman. “Carpe Diem,” which was the advice Williams’ character gave to his students in “Dead Poet’s Society,” was also a bad title choice.

    I’ve known Lisa Kovitz and her work for years and she is a first-rate professional. While I’d say her post was poorly-timed and worded, it wasn’t insensitive. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Are semantics from a blog post really that important compared to depression and suicide?

    I know what Williams felt. I’ve visited too many friends and family in psychiatric wards. I’ve gone to way too many funerals from suicides. I find it hard to care that much about a blog post that was, to me at least, simply a bit tone-deaf but well-intentioned.

    • I hear your point, Peter. Thanks for sharing.I do think that we as a country need to elevate discussion about suicide and depression so it doesn’t take celebrity deaths to spark meaningful conversation and, more importantly, action. However, brands using high-profile tragedies such as this to gain publicity just seems categorically wrong. And I’m not in favor of the route this PR pro took in promoting that idea.

      • Thanks Lauren. Over the last few days, HARO has had several queries about depression and suicide experts in the wake of Williams’ death. Kovitz’ post unfortunately acknowledges an unpleasant reality. For Edelman, the problem is tone-deafness. For now, that means throwing Mark Hass to the wolves.

  3. I think Edelman made a very practical point, and I see nothing wrong with contributing something useful to the current national conversation about suicide and depression that has been generated by his death.

  4. Everything about this post is spot on. “Sleaze the Day” captures the fear a “communications person” has when they hire an agency; that back of the mind worry that they will trivialize issues and seek to artificially tie your company to an issue. As a person who hires (and fires) agencies as part of their job, a post like Edelman’s damages me. Personally. In real, actual conversations in a business setting. Someone will come up to me this week or next and say, “Another spin doctor, like you, puts their foot in it.” What people in my position in a multinational company are left saying is that every discipline has its experts and its hacks, but with PR/PA/Comms, the hacks often have the same or a better bullhorn than the experts.

    • The PR industry is constantly combating external perception that we are “spin doctors” and, to your point, careless “thought leadership” like Edelman’s blog post is incredibly damaging. Thanks for your comment – I’m so glad we agree!

  5. Pingback: Edelman Apologizes for Robin Williams Post - PRNewser

  6. Edelman unwittingly just created a whole new news cycle with today’s poorly worded Twitter apology. This could serve as a Harvard Business School case study as a worst practice in social media.

  7. WOW. In what alternate universe would it be appropriate for brands to “engage in a national discussion” about this? Just curious if there’s another world where maybe this behavior is acceptable…