Can A Top 10 List Be Life Threatening?

Every year media and PR folk get hit in the face with a swarm of top 10 lists. We’ve been covering some of them here at PRNewser, and this one proved to be somewhat interesting – FinemanPR’s 13th Annual Top 10 PR Blunders.

What’s almost more interesting than the actual list is FinemanPR CEO Michael Fineman’s email to PRNewser about what an uproar the list causes. From irate PR people calling him, to actual death threats, Michael lays out what to expect when you start throwing stones at the big boys.

I could write a book just on how people have responded, and I am continually being advised to do so.

I’ve had plenty of calls from attorneys trying to intimidate me on behalf of their corporate clients who were included. However, we are always careful not to provide editorial comment beyond what has already been covered in the news media, so these calls never go anywhere.

An AMA PR guy in the ’90s called me to rant about how I was a nobody with no legitimacy to comment on anything that the AMA could possibly have done (sold their stamp of approval, essentially, to Sunbeam). Then the AMA PR guy wrote an incensed letter to the UPI reporter who reported on the Blunders that year featuring the AMA situation. The UPI reporter did the story again, providing the AMA point of view on me, but repeating the whole story about the beating the AMA took over the issue.

Then I wrote the UPI reporter a rejoinder which was reported in an ensuing piece and which, once again, repeated the whole ugly story about what the AMA did that year. Talk about a Blunder Nightmare.

I’ve had death threats from Texas; emails calling me a stinking, pinko San Francisco leftist (when I included anything the “right” might have been responsible for) as well as emails accusing me of being a right wing hate monger (for any blunders I included about left-of-center mistakes). A high ranking government officer wrote me, mis-understanding and unhappy about my inclusion of the Abu Ghraib
Blunder. He later became much more reasonable when I responded and further explained the communications point I was making (dribbling out the news for a slow and painful PR “death”). That officer and I are now actually friends and correspond regularly, including a visit he paid to the agency during which he provided all of us here with a frank, eye witness account of what is going on in Iraq.

The most important thing I have tried to do with the Blunders List is help provide a better awareness of why people and organizations need to pay closer attention to their various (and sometimes forgotten)
audiences, to more considered responses, to their own credibility, and, generally, to demonstrating more respect for the marketplace in which they operate. Many Blunders over the years have been committed more as a result of the organization’s response to their originally, easy-to-forgive mistakes with lies, denials, arrogance and petulance, making their original mistake so much worse.

It’s also a matter of elevating the understanding of the general public regarding public relations: it’s not advertising, it’s not just the dissemination of news releases, and it’s not (or shouldn’t be) the flackery as accused so often by many in the media. As long as organizations are honest and demonstrate responsibility, they have the right and, even, the duty to put their best foot forward…they don’t necessarily have to subscribe to a reporter’s agenda or “spin.”

Overall, the Blunders is something of a “reverse marketing” device for the cause of good public relations. We all know the media is not attracted, necessarily, to good news, i.e., the truly great things that have been done in the name of good faith, charity and for the purpose of public benefit; too much cynicism for that. So, instead, we use the Blunders to pitch entertaining and provocative examples of what is done when public relations is ignored or badly misunderstood.

We all know there are some in our own industry who really don’t get it. At the same time, there are many great and dedicated PR professionals out there, and I can only hope we are doing our part at increasing the level of respect they deserve for their expertise.

I really appreciate the opportunity to provide some added background. Our Blunders List is not a frivolous exercise. As long as we’ve been doing this, I still get anxious during its development; I am highly
concerned about it being misunderstood.