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Bad Decision Leads to Death Threats for PR Firm

Give the Killeen Furtney Group some credit. The Los Angeles-based public relations firm eliminated the name of its clients from its website, which is the second smartest thing it did last week. The smartest thing the firm did was drop Nadya Suleman as a client.

Suleman is the California woman who gave birth to octuplets in January. Thankfully, all of the children survived and they each appear to be on the path to living healthy lives. Unfortunately, their mother became the subject of controversy when it was learned that she had been impregnated via in vitro fertilization (“IVF”), already has six young children born through IVF, and is living off  disability payments and food stamps.

Killeen Furtney Group represented Suleman until last week, when the firm stepped aside, citing death threats it had received. It turns out that Americans don’t look too kindly on a woman having 14 children in what has been portrayed as some odd psychological quest to fulfill the need for a family and to do so without any means to provide for them. And they don’t look too kindly on such a person in the midst of the worst economy in decades.

Joan Killeen, president of the firm, explained the decision to CNN’s Larry King.

“I just can’t run my business and continue to do the things that I need to do for my clients with constant death threats and phone calls and interruptions. You know, I took on this account because I’m a mom and a grandma, and I wanted to help someone who needs help with the media. I did this pro bono. I’ve made no money. I have no intention of getting any money. And I think people need to realize I just did this out of the goodness of my heart to help a woman who didn’t know how to work with the media,” Killeen said.

As Killeen pointed out later in the interview, Suleman didn’t go into her most recent IVF treatment wanting to give birth to eight children. She was as surprised as anyone by the outcome. The public, however, sees the end result and isn’t happy.

Public relations firms make crucial decisions every day and sometimes those decisions involve what clients to work with and when to reach out to someone and offer pro bono assistance. Suleman looked like a deserving recipient of the latter at first blush, but within a few days of her story hitting the news, there were doubts about whether she was worthy of sympathy, charity or any positive attention.

The Killeen Furtney Group could have and should have sniffed out how fishy Suleman’s story was. The fact that she already had six children and virtually no means to support them should have been cause for concern.

Several years ago I passed up an opportunity to consult for and join the board of directors of a company. I didn’t trust the founder and I thought the company’s choice for chief executive officer was a bad one. The company turned out to be a scam, one I was very fortunate to avoid being involved with. Even if the company turned out to be legitimate and successful, I would have never regretted the decision because I just didn’t trust some of the people involved.

The people at the Killeen Furtney Group obviously know what they’re doing because they took their clients’ names down from their website in an effort to protect their brands. The last thing you want is your own bad decision to spill over to your clients.

The case of Nadya Suleman and the Killeen Furtney Group should serve as a cautionary tale and a reminder that all that glitters is not gold. Do your homework on prospective clients and beneficiaries of your largesse and go with your gut when you have your doubts.

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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