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Dealing With Terror, Badly

AR PR Marketing, a Los Angeles-based PR firm that has handled campaigns for Miramax Films, the Tennessee Titans football team and Foot Action, among others, has a problem.

The trouble started last week when a press release hit PR Newswire on the day of the terrorist bombings in London.

“T.U.G./Sony Recording Artist Omarion was in London during the tragic bombings that struck this morning. He would like his fans to pray that he has a safe trip and a safe return home. He appreciates your support,” the release stated.

T.U.G./Sony, Omarion’s recording label, was attributed as the source of the release. Soon after the release hit the wires, Reuters ran a story recapping the release.

“[Omarion] was in London for Saturday’s Live 8 show, his publicist Shana Gilmore told Reuters from Los Angeles. Asked why anyone should pray for him, Gilmore said, ‘He wasn’t hurt or anything, but just the fact that he was there and all that,'” Reuters reported.

Gilmore works for AR PR Marketing, and the firm, according to its own website, handled the PR for an Omarion record release party just two months ago.

Not surprisingly, the Reuters story stirred up trouble for Omarion and AR PR Marketing, as weblogs and community websites lambasted the singer and his PR reps.

“Either the publicist is crazy plus incompetent, or this guy Owhatsit has the biggest ego in the entire world, ever, since the beginning of time,” a Fark.com reader with the username Pam EL wrote.

Omarion’s PR team – apparently excluding the folks at AR PR Marketing – zipped into action to do damage control.

“Statements and sentiments appearing in a Reuters-syndicated article (Thu Jul 7, 2005 9:22 PM BST) and attributed to the American R&B singer Omarion were never made by the performer. Contrary to statements made in the article, Omarion is in no way affiliated with the firm, AR PR Marketing, nor is ‘publicist Shana Gilmore’ a legitimate publicist acting on behalf of the artist. Omarion regrets any confusion and sends his thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims of this horrific tragedy,” a note on Omarion’s official website originally stated.

The note was later amended, removing the name of the PR firm and the individual.

“According to representatives at the artist’s record label, Sony Urban/Epic Records, statements and sentiments appearing in a Reuters-syndicated article (Thu Jul 7, 2005 9:22 PM BST) and attributed to the American R&B singer Omarion were never made by the performer. Contrary to statements made in the article, Omarion is in no way affiliated with the pr marketing firm mentioned in the piece. The ‘publicist’ quoted in the article is not a legitimate representative of the artist, is not known to the artist, and is not acting on the artist’s behalf. Omarion regrets any association with the article and hopes that fans will not be taken in by unfounded and unauthorized statements,” the amended note reads.

For her part, Gilmore told MTV News that she is not Omarion’s publicist and did not issue any release in his name. She also said that she told the Reuters reporter that she was not Omarion’s publicist, and “I didn’t make those quotes. This is sad and it hurts.”

A Reuters spokesman told MTV News that his company stands by its reporting. PR Newswire, meanwhile, says that Omarion’s label, T.U.G./Sony, paid for the release.

Taking a look at this situation from the outside, it appears that there are a bunch of amateurs at work here.

For example, anyone who has ever issued a release via an outfit like PR Newswire, eReleases, Business Wire or PrimeZone knows that you can’t just throw anything on the wire. My own company, for example, has to adhere to strict policies because we issue releases related to stocks. There have been some incidents of fake press releases being issued in the past, but these were stock manipulation schemes, and it’s doubtful that someone would maliciously target a R&B singer on the day of a tragic news event with global implications. Likewise, Reuters is one of the premier news organizations on the planets. Reporters, of course, do make mistakes sometimes, but the story was pretty cut and dry, and rather light fare compared to your typical Reuters piece.

AR PR Marketing, which by all appearances is a successful and growing firm, has made matters worse with some rather strange actions. The company disabled its website, redirecting its main URL to Yahoo.com. On a cached version of the website, links that are supposed to lead to internal webpages are redirected to Yahoo.com and Google.com. These are the actions of someone hiding, and considering the nature of the web, they’re not very smart actions.

Omarion’s own handlers haven’t done any better. They did not return calls by MTV News for that organization’s story, and by amending the original statement on the singer’s website, they leave the impression that the original statement angered or upset someone, thus making me wonder how accurate their information is.

If we assume that someone with legitimate ties to, at the very least, Omarion’s record label issued last week’s release, then someone needs a lesson. In times of tragedy, one of the worst things you can do in terms of PR is to try to glom off the tragedy to get some ink. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, I was mortified by some of the press releases I received in my inbox.

I understand issuing a release expressing condolences or concerns, or a release simply stating, “Our business has not been interrupted” (this is especially important for public companies whose stocks may swoon as a result of events), but to try to issue a release saying “Hey, I was there!” is just in poor taste. A simple posting on the person’s own website would have been sufficient. Remember the example of MBNA Corp. last month, which didn’t even issue a release when a helicopter crash almost killed the company’s entire management team. A note on the company’s website and a conference call with the media was all the company felt was necessary.

I had never heard of Omarion before last week, and this is despite the fact that he has a best-selling album, performed at Live 8, and had been in a successful music group previously. Now, however, the only thing I know about the man is that he, or someone connected to him, tried to get some ink out of an event that left more than fifty people dead, upwards of a thousand injured, and an entire nation shaken. Whoever came up with the Omarion release idea should be fired. A harsh lesson, but a necessary one.
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Worth Noting: Boston Herald journalist Brett Arends is tired of bad PR people, and he’s written an entire column on the subject.

“Good luck trying to get anything from them if their company does anything genuinely newsworthy, like firing its CEO or being prosecuted by regulators,” Arends writes. “They hide from the phone for weeks, or start shouting ‘No comment! No comment!’ down the line.”

“It’s the logic of a three-year-old child who tries to ‘hide’ by covering her eyes,” Arends continues. “The net result? The news story drags on for weeks instead of days, and the company’s credibility is left in ashes.”

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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