wait you’re a PR firm you are experts in PR lol @StrangeFruitPR
— Sarah Jeong (@sarahjeong) December 7, 2014
Do a search for Strange Fruit PR online and you’ll find nothing but blank pages. That’s because the firm has deleted its website and all of its social media accounts in order to come up with a new name after the backlash to the original moniker became a firestorm.
The Austin-based firm even got an unwanted shout out from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes over their name.
I mean… https://t.co/gdD5lVkXhP
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) December 7, 2014
Time and again, the PR industry talks about how it needs to diversify. Firms are also quick to talk up their efforts to tap into various resources to get the best and the brightest to offer insight and expertise from different races, nationalities, from women and those with experiences from both inside publicity and outside of it, in all sorts of other areas and backgrounds. Firms far and wide say they’re working hard to be inclusive.
The fact that this firm took this name shows just how far the industry still has to go.
Over and over, tweets were posted questioning whether the firm knew the Billie Holiday protest song for which the phrase “strange fruit” is best known. The song, painful and haunting, is talking about the lynching of Blacks in this country during Jim Crow. It was also sampled on Kanye West’s last album “Yeezus” in a song, “Blood on the Leaves.” It’s very clear.
People have advised the members of the firm to do a search for the next name they choose.
However, MTV managed to grab a few tweets before the firm deleted its account. Whoever was posting for the firm said they knew of the song, but they went with the name because, basically, the firm has nothing to do with the racial stuff.
Apparently, @strangefruitpr understands what their name means to everyone else, but they seem to be ok with it. pic.twitter.com/nv5FQUuasV
— Melissa Montgomery (@mmontgomery_) December 7, 2014
Shame on you now-nameless PR firm. Shame on you a dozen times.
The first step towards diversity is giving a damn. Actually, the first step toward being a good human being is giving a damn. If the PR industry wants to invite other people and cultures into the fold, you can’t alienate them with this careless, thoughtless nonsense.
“We extend our deepest and sincerest apologies for the offense caused by the name of our public relations firm,” the agency told the Austin American-Statesman in a written statement. “We thought the name would be perfect for a hospitality PR firm that specializes in food and drink…We of course Googled to ensure that it was not taken elsewhere and found the Billie Holiday song online. Thinking it would have nothing to do with our firm, and since it was written in 1939 it wouldn’t be top of mind in the public consciousness. We now know we were naïve to think that, and should have known better.”
The firm was founded in 2012 (what took so long?!), and received occasional notes about its name, but only now felt enough pressure to take action.
This Washington Post column does a good job of summing up why this firm’s willful ignorance is so ugly and hurtful. Moreover, the article and that statement demonstrate the seeming belief by some that this part of history doesn’t apply to everyone in this country; that it can be disregarded by some portion of the population. No. This very much needs to be a part of the “public consciousness” because it’s American history. To ignore the violence and death this song is speaking to because you thought it would be a cute way to talk up your publicity services is an insult to all of us.