When PR firms and departments pitch the media, they often look for a way to tie their product or service to a current event.
The Wisconsin recall elections are this week? Well there’s a terrific resort just outside the capital where vacationers—and journalists—can get some rest and relaxation.
A Canadian company working with Fleishman-Hillard Canada took this approach to a far more macabre level. It found a news hook to the “body parts killer,” the male porn star accused of killing and dismembering a man in Canada, and to a man in British Columbia, who shot and killed two people before being shot himself.
The company, Backcheck, which conducts background checks, released a press release on Friday with the headline: “Canadians who don’t think tenant background checks are important may think twice.” The gist of the release: If the landlords who leased apartments to these alleged killers had used Backcheck, they would have detected some “red flags.”
John Blythe, the president and partner of Fleishman-Hillard Canada, issued an apology on the company's website
"Today our firm experienced first-hand, the type of public criticism and threat to our reputation that we are often called upon to counsel our clients through. Good public relations starts with transparency, honesty and a willingness to address a problem head-on. Our firm made an inappropriate decision – leveraging recent headlines in an attempt to gain coverage for a client. Using such tragic events in this context was a clear mistake in judgment on the part of our firm.
"The reaction from the media and general public aligns with our own feelings of regret and we apologize to anyone who was offended.
"We feel it is important to address this error in judgment, and are counseling ourselves as we would counsel any client in a similar situation.
"This is an isolated incident. We do great work for our clients in Canada and around the globe each and every day. Shocking headlines and the need to break through the content clutter should never come at the sacrifice of common sense and good taste."
Dave Dinesen, president and chief executive of Backcheck, told the Ottawa Citizen
that he was aware of the backlash, but stuck to the press release’s claims.
“I apologize if anyone thought it was in poor taste,” Dinesen said, “but if I was renting out my basement, I’d want to know who I was renting it to.”
The press release can’t be found on Canada Newswire, the wire service through which it was distributed, nor on Backcheck’s website.
A PR Daily
reader who tipped us off to the story wondered whether the idea for the press release was, in fact, the tackiest ever or a stroke of macabre genius.