Public Relations and #MeToo Revisited: The Morgan Spurlock Statement

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Well, as of this Saturday afternoon, there’s been no new reports of an elected official, celebrity, business executive or other man of note being charged by women with improprieties in the workplace.

Who knows what tomorrow (or later today) will bring in the seemingly unbridled and growing national movement identified as #MeToo.

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Earlier this month I published a post seeking commentary from public relations professionals on strategies for counsel to clients who in confidence state that they are, indeed, guilty of sexual harassment of some kind.

One question I posed: Should this scenario unfold, would you advise the client to come forward as a way to mitigate the situation.  So far, I’ve not received any responses.  (Hey, this happens, but I’d welcome thoughts from the public relations community at any time on the #MeToo post and any PRDude post published over the past eight years.)

But on Thursday, a man well-known in the film making industry did announce in a statement from his production company that he was an abuser of women and a philanderer.

The man is Morgan Spurlock, noted for his documentaries like “Super Size Me” and even a reality television series, “Morgan Spurlock: Inside Man,” where he “tells compelling stories from an insider’s perspective.”

Mr. Spurlock’s statement is titled: “I am Part of the Problem,” and over 961 words he recounts quite a lot about a sexual encounter during his college years, verbal abuse to workers under his employment, his own childhood abuse, a life of alcohol abuse and more.  He tempers the narrative with statements of acknowledgement regarding his actions and recognition of sexual abuse against women as a pervasive national problem and embarrassment.

Six times during the statement he reiterates the message: “I am part of the problem.”

I won’t pass judgment on Mr. Spurlock’s decision in this space. But I will push out a few more questions to the public relations industry in regards to his action and statement.

  • If you were providing counsel to Mr. Spurlock, would you have advised him to come forward as he did?
  • Given his decision to make the announcement, would you have advised Mr. Spurlock to present the statement online (as he did) or at a live news conference?
  • What are your thoughts on the content, structure and tone of Mr. Spurlock’s statement?
  • What can Mr. Spurlock do to rebuild or resurrect his career now that he’s come forward?
  • Do you anticipate Mr. Spurlock’s action will prompt other men to come forward and confess past indiscretions?

One concluding thought: Further news regarding #MeToo allegations most assuredly will continue in the weeks and perhaps months to come. Ethical public relations practices should be at the forefront of the national conversation ahead.


Questions for PR Professionals Offering Counsel in Wake of #MeToo

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

One service performed by strategic public relations professionals centers on counsel mitigating a potential threat to the client or organization.

It’s better known as crisis communications preparation, and every senior practitioner today should have the skills needed to craft a strategic program and initiate tactics should a crisis arise in this era of digitally-driven, non-stop news.

Of course, the true value in managing a crisis lies in having the plan in place before it’s needed.

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Over the past several weeks, we’ve been in the wake of a seemingly ongoing cycle of men in high places being accused of abusive actions to girls and women, as well boys and young men.

You know where I’m going — the evolution of the #MeToo Movement. And, of course, the fallout it has created.

Movie moguls, actors, newsmen, elected officials and men from other industries have been charged with alleged misgivings and even crimes that took place recently and in the distant past.  By the time this post is published, there’s the strong possibility that a new story on this topic will surface.

This has prompted me to ponder what advice and counsel I would provide to a client who was the subject of allegations related to sexual and other abuse.  Frankly, the foundation of crisis mitigation centers on addressing the issue immediately, honestly and tactfully.  This is the general advice I would provide.

But what about a different scenario: The client informs you that he (or perhaps she) did, indeed, abuse an underling, employee or colleague.  The client charges you with preparing a strategy and plan.

What advice do you offer?  Do you advise the client to come forward and admit to conduct that may be career-ending or even criminal in nature? Or, do you develop a plan to execute should the charges surface?

Frankly, I’m at a quandary.

The PRSA Code of Ethics cites Provisions of Conduct that include open disclosure of information and a free flow of information; but from another perspective, ethical public relations professionals should safeguard confidences, avoid conflicts of interests and enhance the profession.

The national conversation on the sexual abuse topic, and its long-range implications, is just beginning to take hold in the nation’s consciousness. Earlier today, Time Magazine published its annual Person of the Year issue.  The subject: The Silence Breakers — The Voices That Launched a Movement.

There’s no question that in the days and weeks to com, more women — and assuredly men, too — will step forward and recount allegations of being abused by someone who held power.

The question I have: Are ethical public relations professionals prepared to render sound counsel?