CarPe diem Rebuked

      4 Comments on CarPe diem Rebuked
Robin Williams

Robin Williams

“As we mourn the loss of Robin Williams to depression, we must recognize it as an opportunity to engage in a national conversation. His death yesterday created a carpe diem moment for mental health professionals and those people who have suffered with depression and want to make a point about the condition and the system that treats it,” Lisa Kovitz, an executive vice president at Edelman, wrote to her clients this week.  Kovitz added that most mental health organizations haven’t commented because they’re “trying to be non-exploitative or stay business as usual” but implies that they shouldn’t pass on the opportunity– and that Edelman will encourage its own relevant clients to “consider another approach that is more visible and aggressive.”

It’s a standard PR technique: advise clients to seek exposure in light of current events. Yet this blog created a firestorm within the industry and was roundly criticized by others.  The problem: its timing and wording seemed cold at a time when a lot of people are mourning and in shock.  Talking Points Memo’s Hunter Walker tweeted that Kovitz “actually wrote a how to guide for clients who want to use Robin Williams’ suicide for publicity.” Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan wrote, “Suicide: only a bad thing if you don’t have a communications strategy prepared,” calling Edelman “soulless.”

Lisa Kovitz

Lisa Kovitz

“I must believe that at the largest independent PR agency in the world, someone must have raised their hand and said, ‘This is not OK.’ If more than one set of eyes looked at the post and thought it was appropriate, then my faith in this profession might just be lost,” wrote PRSA Vice President Stephanie Cegielski.” This screams of ambulance chasing.  Ms. Kovitz’s blog post did nothing more than disgrace and embarrass (the PR) profession…'”

Two days later, Kovitz added: “We apologize to anyone offended by this post. It was not our intent to capitalize on the passing of a great actor who contributed so much.”  But why wasn’t the offensive post removed, which would’ve been more meaningful–and appropriate?  Your thoughts?

4 thoughts on “CarPe diem Rebuked

  1. Bert Cunningham

    As an internal message to Edelman staff the Kovits memo was a call to action at a time when important issues about depression and suicide were being discussed publicly as a result of Robin Williams’ tragic death.

    As an external blog it was tone deaf and lacked empathy for Robin Williams’ immediate family, friends, and fans worldwide who were trying to cope with an unfathonable loss, and even those in the profession of attempting to deal with those who suffer from depression.

    The PR lesson: One size does not fit all. PR pros, no matter how experienced, must remember to write for the audience to whom the message is directed.

    Frank Luntz’s 2007 book “Words That Work” hit the nail on the head with its subtitle “It’s not what you say. It’s what people hear.”

    Check it out for lots of great information on how to effectively connect with the correct words at the correct time.

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  2. David Salomon

    The post had the right idea and good intentions, but the wrong approach. Posting a blog like that was much too soon, as mourners are still trying to cope with the fact that someone, who had an impact on their lives, is now gone. Word choice plays a big part on how people receive the information. “Opportunity” is a poor choice of word to associate with the passing of ones life.

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  3. Samantha

    The post was offensive but the bulk of the problem was really the timing. Releasing that type or article within 48 hours of William’s passing was insensitive and did attempt to capitalize on the actor’s death. It seems that in an error where people are chasing the next buzz worthy post people really are loosing touch with the human element.

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  4. Mr. Long Island

    Ms. Kovitz was doing her job as a PR Professional and she is 100 percent correct in her assessment. A lot of lessons could have been learned (and lives saved) with timely / healthy discussions about Mr. Williams’ actions.

    P.S. Oddly enough, the two people I most closely associate with the expression “Carpe Diem,” a former employer and Robin Williams, both died prematurely and essentially at their own hands.

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