The Strange World of Public Relations

Not Everyone Can Be a Winner: Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5W Public Relations
The snubbing of “Dream Girls” in the Best Picture category of the Academy Awards turned a lot of heads. The snubbing of 5W Public Relations in PR Week’s Agency of the Year category turned at least one head, that of the firm’s founder, Torossian.

Upset by being left out of the mix, Torossian fired off a letter to PR Week to complain, writing, “This is the third year in a row we will be the fastest-growing firm in the US, and we have never made a new-business call. That doesn’t speak for itself? Are the judges our competitors?”

I like the fact that Torossian is defending his firm and its work. However, he comes off like a self-congratulatory whiner miffed that he wasn’t invited to the prom. If the firm doesn’t have to make new-business calls (i.e., his firm is so great, everyone knows about them), why is he so concerned about winning an award for work in “an industry with no leadership”?

So Big, Yet So Stupid: Public Storage, Inc.

The story is simple: A solider goes off to Iraq. While he’s away, by no fault of his own, payments on a self-storage facility containing his belongings lapse. The facility operator – Public Storage, Inc. – plays it by its own book and eventually auctions off the soldier’s belongings. Soldier returns, is mystified by what happened, tries to get the reimbursement money owed him under the self-storage facility contract and is denied. Soldier goes to the press, making big company look absolutely terrible. Big company apologizes and tries to explain, then settles. Still looks bad.

Public Storage rakes in over $1.2 billion in revenue each year, and the company is valued at more than $20 billion. The company ended up paying Army Reserve specialist Patrick Rogalin a grand total of $4,000 for disposing of his estimated $8,000 in possessions. The words “heartless” and “stupid” come to mind. What would I have done?

If I was in charge, Rogalin would have received: $15,000 in cash; free self-storage for a year; a year of college tuition (he’s currently in school); and, a phone call with a personal apology from the CEO. Had Public Storage done that, it would have cost the company about $23,000 (based on the company’s rates at the facility where Rogalin’s belongings were, and Missouri State University’s in-state tuition).

Instead, Public Storage saved $19,000 and probably lost ten times that – if not more – in business from people who now have a bad perception of the company. Nice job, folks.

Did I Really Just Read That?: The Jackson Sun

Every week I read stories in newspapers across America about how people, organizations and companies are utilizing public relations incorrectly. Newspaper editorials often howl about school boards and chambers of commerce “wasting” public funds by hiring PR firms. That’s why I was amazed to read a recent editorial in The Jackson Sun (TN).

“The Diamond Jaxx have made a smart move by bringing in a local public relations firm to help drum up excitement and public support for the team. The PR firm is filled with experts who know how to sell a product to the public, and the team certainly could use the help. Using a PR firm also makes sense because it represents a source of fresh ideas,” the newspaper wrote about the local minor league baseball team’s decision to hire a PR firm.

I’m speechless.

Among the innovative ideas the team’s new PR firm has come up with: a luncheon with players; a tailgate party; and autograph sessions with players. Aren’t you kicking yourself for not bidding on that contract?

You Are Scaring Me: Peter Shankman, CEO of Geek Factory

Shankman, who once briefly did PR for a company I worked for, apparently knows EVERYONE on earth.

“I’m inviting you to source my brain. Add me to your email list when you’re desperately seeking a quote at 11 minutes to deadline. Call me when something major breaks and you need a comment from an expert. Put me in your rolodex, and feel free to dial. Here’s why: I know a LOT of people. Like, more than you would ever think possible,” Shankman wrote in an email to journalists recently.

Shankman was not really pitching his clients (he did, however, smartly slip in some quick pitches at one point); he was pitching himself as a conduit to sources, everyone from “the guy who manufactures the laces that go in 75% of the world’s sneakers” to “adult-entertainment stars who also buy/fix/flip real estate in South America.” If there are any journalists reading this, I know a guy who once drank six carbombs (half-pint of Guinness, 1/2 shot of Jameson and 1/2 shot of Baileys – combined and chugged) in 30 minutes.

Shankman’s email was a fun read (he talks about how his sleep cycle is different from that of normal humans), but I’m not sure it’s the type of thing you want to be known for. Likewise, no journalist worth his salt would continually tap the same “source of sources.”

I’m still not sure whether to laugh or cry.

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

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