Yesterday, USA Today had to put out a correction for an article from the prior day on Hat Trick Beverages. Well, it was more than a correction, but a coming-clean that both the newspaper and the PR firm that represented a company had been misled about the founder and executives background.
As noted in the article,
A spokesman for Larry Twombly, the CEO of a company profiled this week by USA TODAY, said Wednesday he had been misled by his client about the man’s academic and athletic achievements.
Twombly, CEO of Hat Trick Beverage (HKBV), told his publicist and USA TODAY that he had attended Harvard, was a Boston Bruin draft pick and had played hockey for three different minor league hockey teams.
I had written about a similar situation when Reggie Fowler was trying to buy an NFL team … and it turned out his bio was fake. While Joel takes the angle that the newspaper should fact check, I took the angle that the PR firm has some responsibility in vetting its clients.
Another theory that I have is that in this era of blogs and lower budgets, newspapers are getting a little fast and loose with fact checking because of the pressures to deliver more content with less staff.
Back in the day, I would get calls on 60 percent of the articles being written on client from the newspaper or magazine’s fact checker. In fact, I have worked in the past with the reporter from USA Today, and she did call to fact check on this story, to make sure she had the right information on me.
Just like the client has an obligation to be upfront and truthful with the PR agency, the PR firm does have an obligation to vet clients. For the PR firm, it is our name on the line when we call the press. Yes, we are calling for a client, but at the end of the day, clients come and go, but our name is our name. If we mess up wiht a reporter, that is going to hurt the name more than the fallout from the client’s reputation.
In the next go around, how likely is it that USA Today is going to take a call from Emerson Gerard Associates, the PR firm representing Hat Trick for another client? It depends on how good the relationship is with USA Today, but it is not likely.
And, while it was brought up that not all firms – rarely any firms – vet clients, I noted that I do do a quick Factiva and Google search on the principles and the company. For PR, it’s our job to know what skeletons are in the closet for both the company and its executives, and find a way to dress them up.
That is the responsibility of both the company and the PR firm: to be upfront, to let each other know what issues might be brought up. Was the PR firm culpable for the story in USA Today? Totally, as they pitched the client to the paper. Should USA Today been a little bit more diligent in fact checking – absolutely, but the press relies on PR firms to provide factual information.