25 February 2011

Woe is the PR guy

So the Boston Globe reports that a local nightclub has paid a fine and issued a public apology for turning away a group of black students from Harvard who reserved a party room there last November after the Harvard-Yale game.   Seems like the nightclub's owners finally admitted they did a stupid, racist thing.

But here's where things get weird to me:
Last fall, speaking on behalf of the nightclub, George K. Regan Jr. told the Globe "there were a lot of people in line known to police and police and security circles as bad people, OK? They probably couldn't spell the word `Harvard."
I could be wrong but I think that's THIS George K. Regan Jr. - chairman of one of the most prestigious communications firms in Boston history.  This guy is no dope.    But the story goes on, and quotes from the public apology:
"Cure Lounge further apologizes for the statements made on its behalf by its public relations group in the days following the event. Those statements were uninformed and in no way reflect the values or beliefs of the owners, managers, and employees of Cure Lounge."
So the lawyers throw the PR guy under the bus.  Not the first time this has happened.  But Regan is a big deal, especially in Boston.  This statement could make it seem like Regan was the "uninformed" racist, and not the nightclub.  Regan has a reputation to protect.  And protect it he does:
In a telephone interview today, Regan bristled at being blamed for the comments he made at the request of the club’s owners last fall when the issue gained media attention and the attention of Boston City At-Large Councilor Ayanna Pressley. 
“I apologize for nothing,’’ Regan said. “I personally don’t happen to frequent the Cure Lounge. The facts that were related to the media I was told by the owners, who happened to be there.’’ 
Regan added, “they’re obviously under a lot of pressure from the attorney general’s office. They have a (nightclub) license to protect. Good luck to them. I did nothing but repeat what I was told by the owners.’’
Before you openly question the value-add of a PR firm if all the flack is doing is repeating what he's told, give this situation some thought. I've been in a situation where my client isn't telling me the truth, and I'm giving advice and making public statements based on that untrue information. When you learn the truth, you feel awful.   I believe Regan was repeating what he was told - and you have to trust your client. It's not like he could talk with the people who were turned away from the club.  He's not going to run background checks on nightclub attendees.

The tough part is throwing your (perhaps former) client under the bus in response.  Clients are organizations with many people. Sometimes some of those people make stuff up to protect themselves.  Companies may see a PR guy retaliate like that and wonder if he'll do the same to them if the situation gets dicey.   So as the PR guy, you're really stuck - let people assume you're an "uninformed" racist, or be the guy who slams a client when you feel the heat yourself.  It's a tough call.  Maybe Regan didn't think so, but I do.

Generally PR flacks aren't people who engender a lot of empathy.  Regan is a big boy and I know he can take a shot or two.  But as a guy who's been there, I can feel for him.

(no, I'm not looking for a job.)

No comments: