Strange Fruit PR offers a bitter lesson

The Austin firm had to change its name and suspend all its social media accounts when people connected its name to a famous poem about lynchings.

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PR firms are familiar with the vagaries of popular media—both traditional media and the unfiltered voices of the masses expressed through social media platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

A PR firm in my hometown of Austin came under fire this past week on social media because its name was perceived as insensitive at a time when racial tensions are at new highs across America.

The firm, which was called Strange Fruit PR, shared the same name as a poem written in the 1930s and made famous by Billie Holiday about an epidemic of racially motivated lynchings in the Deep South. The song specifically referred to the brutalized bodies of black men and women left to swing after lynchings—like “strange fruit” in a tree.

Much like many controversies in the era of social media, this one went viral in a very short period of time, stoked in no small part by mounting racial tension in the aftermath of Ferguson and other cases of lethal use of force by police against young black men (including a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland shot holding an “airsoft” gun).

The controversy started on Twitter:

Why would a PUBLIC RELATIONS FIRM choose a name that represents black people being lynched/murdered? Have you no class? @StrangeFruitPR

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