Alan Hirsch, a now-retired PR pro and my former boss and partner, offers these thoughts from his years in the PR business. He calls them bad PR stories, although I'm sure similar cases of bad behavior can be found in any industry. Bad behavior isn't unique to the PR business.
PR people tell a lot of stories. Some of them are good and some of them are bad.
The following stories are bad. I wish they would be good, but they are not. If you are a PR veteran, which means you have worked in the PR industry for at least 5-8 years or more, then you will be able to add to these stories which only make you sick when you think about them.
1. This story hurts me every time I think about it. When I had my own PR agency in NYC for 18 years, two of my best employees got very friendly. They were both talented and hard workers who knew how to do the job needed.
After they both left my firm, they shared a few PR accounts. They were together for at least 10 years and did very good work for their clients. They were legit. You could call them good friends and associates.
One day friend A asked friend B if he could use his PR Newswire account. Of course, just pay me back whatever the cost is, friend B said. You can determine now what happened.
Friend A decided not to reimburse friend B. He also decided he would use friend B's PR Newswire account,this time without getting permission from friend B. He used $1,400 worth of services, which he didn’t pay for and stuck friend B with the bill, which friend B paid in order to keep his credit clean. Now, eight years later, friend A still hasn’t reimbursed friend B for the money he laid out for friend A.
Friend B knows he will never receive the money he laid out for friend A. He notes this experience not only as a loss of $1400, but as the loss of a supposed friend. Friend A today does not return phone calls from friend B. The only thing he does is not pay his debts. Friend A is a creep, who one day will be called upon to explain his bad behavior.
By the way, this pathetic, corrupt guy lives in a beautiful joint with his wife and son, belongs to a fancy club and sits on the board of his synagogue. No one knows this person A is a bum and thief, except for friend B.
2. Once I had a friend who was good friends with a PR guy from Baltimore, who rose to the highest ranks in the insurance industry. This guy was at the top of the pyramid.
He went from a PR industry job with a major player to the top job at a top U.S. insurance company. This guy was smart. This guy was clever. This guy was looked up to from everyone he met. He was king of the castle.
He only had one flaw. He collected autographs. That's not the flaw. The flaw was that some of the autographs were obtained from a blind autograph dealer. The PR honcho had a weakness in that he stole autographs from the blind dealers. No one ever discovered the thefts, so no one ever found out about this disturbing behavior, except for the thief and my friend, who saw the crook take the items.
3. Once my PR agency worked for a very big tobacco account. We did the job quite well for more than 15 years. Some problems occurred when the client advised me that they were unhappy with the AE assigned to their account.
I said it won’t be a problem if we have to change the AE on the account.
The client, with his arm around my shoulder, said not to do that. Don’t worry, the client said. If there is a problem, you will be the first to know and we will work it out. That was in 1982.
It was the last time I spoke to this client. We were fired a few months later and it was done by a minor player, who at least had the courtesy to do it in person in NY. The guy who had assured me, with his arm around my shoulder, never said peep.
4. When I was younger, the Carl Byoir agency (largest in the U.S. at the time) told me in December of 1965 they wanted to hire me to work on the Hallmark account. Or so I thought. I told them I would love to do that, as I had admired Hallmark for a long time and it would be a great assignment. And Kansas City, the location of Hallmark Cards is a great place. The Byoir honcho said he was glad I liked the assignment.
My first day at work at Carl Byoir at 800 2nd Ave. turned out to be quite a surprise. They didn’t say Hallmark; they said Omark. The difference was that Omark made the saw chain used on chain saws. A far cry from sentimental greeting cards.
5. The worst thing I had to do in business was fire a guy with four kids. I liked this guy a lot. That was in 1982. Now 30 years later, I still can’t get it out of my mind. It will be something I think about forever.
After about nine months, this guy went on to better things and got a good job with a major agency. Until then, though, he never told his wife he had been laid off. He kept coming to the office while he looked for a job. When he started his new job, he never said goodbye or thanks for the free space we provided for nine months. I didn’t want roses, but goodbye would have been enough.
I have a lot more bad stories, but I’ve said enough for now. The objective is to have more good stories than bad ones. I don’t know if I can say I achieved that in 40 years in the public relations industry. I don’t know if I achieved anything, other than to survive, which if you think about it is the true objective of this public relations game.
by Alan Hirsch, president of G+A Communications, 1982 to 1999