By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)
As of this writing, the afternoon of February 15, the story involving the reported attack here in Chicago on actor and vocalist Jussie Smolette has taken almost as many twists and turns as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
If you’re interested in following the story, this report from CNN chronicles what’s taken place to date.
Let’s let the media and Twittersphere follow the story and provide the next update. What I want to shed light to another aspect: The hiring by Mr. Smolette of public relations firm Sunshine Sachs.
(An aside: Sunshine Sachs has perhaps the most spare, unassuming and uncluttered website of any communications firm on the planet. Must say, the site certainly is easy to navigate.)
When I learned of this development, my initial reaction was straightforward and driven by my experience in public relations: Why does the victim of a crime — albeit a celebrity who told police he was attacked by two men who hurled racial slurs, put a noose around his neck and poured a substance on him — need public relations counsel?
Public relations support, as I comprehend the practice, helps take advantage of an opportunity or mitigate a threat.
One could argue that in the days following the reported attack, Mr. Smolette’s account of what took place that night in the Streeterville neighborhood was challenged and therefore he needed the advice and guidance of public relations professionals to help counter media inquiries and preserve his reputation.
And, from the other perspective, Mr. Smolette and his story was grabbing headlines and media coverage — especially here in Chicago — and he retained counsel to respond effectively to what assuredly was a deluge of interview requests.
A quick Google search of the decision to hire Sunshine Sachs revealed digital reports that shouted “Jussie Smolette Victim? He Hired Harvey Weinstein’s PR Firm” and “Best Drama: Jussie Smolette Hires Harvey Weinstein’s PR Team.”
Now, my perspective. Mr. Smolette certainly had the right and I trust the dollars to hire a national firm like Sunshine Sachs.
However, I remain concerned that news regarding the enlistment of public relations support was brought into the unfolding story may prove damaging to the profession and practice. Note the reference to alleged serial sexual abuser Weinstein in the examples noted above.
What I read into this: Public relations, which should be based on truth and adherence to established ethical standards, is becoming more equated with pop culture and tabloid headlines.
Would welcome your thoughts.