The most infamous hunter in the world, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, has become a public relations hot potato.
Dr. Palmer was clearly feeling the heat after it became known to the world he had hunted and killed beloved African lion Cecil and paid $55,000 for the privilege. With social media as the conduit, the public’s outrage has been fierce, and the dentist has since gone into hiding.
After J. Austin & Associates, a Minnesota-based PR firm, was hired by Palmer it issued a statement on his behalf which included an apology: “I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.” But a couple of days later Jon Austin tweeted, “Yesterday another PR firm asked to help distribute Dr. Palmer’s statement. Having completed that task, we’ve ended our work on this issue.” Meanwhile, someone at Palmer’s office posted a sign on the door referring all related queries to Minneapolis agency Spong PR, but Spong tweeted that the dentist was not its client: “To confirm, Spong does not represent Walter Palmer. Please direct all media inquiries to Jon Austin at email@example.com.” With that, no one seems to know whether Palmer currently has PR representation at all.
An important maxim in the PR profession is that you have to believe in–or at least be comfortable supporting–your client. If you’re not convinced of the message’s truth or value, you shouldn’t expect others to be. Dr. Palmer may yet find another PR firm to help him repair his reputation and restore his dentistry practice. But public relations agencies and consultants would be wise to stay away so as not to be tainted by the hatred people are feeling for this killer. There’s so much toxic anger in the court of public opinion that any PR firm issuing statements on behalf of this client will be likely be vilified, boycotted and suffer consequences by its association. He’s a rotten potato who’s much too hot to handle. Your thoughts?