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Carpe Diem

Seize the Day

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August 14, 2014 Update: We apologize to anyone offended by this post. It was not our intent to capitalize on the passing of a great actor who contributed so much. 

As we mourn the loss of Robin Williams to depression, we must recognize it as an opportunity to engage in a national conversation. His death yesterday created a carpe diem moment for mental health professionals and those people who have suffered with depression and want to make a point about the condition and the system that treats it. There’s a very careful line they need to walk so as to not seem exploitive of a terrible situation but at the same time, it is a national teachable moment that shouldn’t be ignored. (We too are balancing that line with this post.)

This Washington Post blog post, published yesterday at 9:01 P.M., is tagged with the phone number (+1 800 273-8255) of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Stephanie Gallman, a CNN producer, wrote a heartfelt post about her own depression. CNN also reposted a piece by their Eatocracy (food blog) editor, Kat Kinsman, on her teenage depression experience. Local TV websites are posting resources on depression. This Forbes contributor (on health topics) had the added advantage of living in Marin County and having met Robin Williams, as well as being close to a suicide prevention group. There are hundreds and hundreds of Tweets discussing the very real problem of the diagnosis’ stigma to the trouble some people may have in paying for needed treatment and medication.

At Edelman, we are in the business of helping our clients create or join public conversations. We know that appropriate organizations can elevate a public conversation to help those in need. We and our clients can learn from this situation.

  • Some mental health organizations still have nothing on their websites or Twitter feeds regarding the situation and the need to seek out help. Perhaps they were trying to be non-exploitive or stay business as usual. While that approach may be the best for them, this event calls that strategy in to question. Since the issue of depression is clearly a continuing conversation, we would certainly want these organizations to consider another approach that is more visible and aggressive.
  • If your organization or client has relevant experts on specific topics, is there a system in place to identify them and reach them at any time of day? Do they live anywhere near a major city or even a town with network affiliates? Do they have web conferencing on their phone or laptop? Do the key cable and network bookers know who they are? Do they have something short and clear written to send out in real-time about their expertise/field of study? All these questions should be answered in advance of need.
  • Does your organization or client have a local aspect to a story (e.g., in this case, the Bay Area?) or do they have personal stories that could be shared (as the CNN and Forbes bloggers did within hours). Having an understanding of who your experts are expedites the process of local and personal communications.

Exploration of the mental health system, the issues around depression, suicide and substance abuse will be the day two, three and four stories. That’s a good thing. Watch carefully who is positioned as an expert, who bylines the op-eds and blog posts on the subject and see if you can tell how that NGO or university or hospital had a plan in place. A conversation of this importance deserves to be had and prepared for.

Lisa Kovitz is an executive vice president and media relations expert in Edelman’s New York office.

Image by Hot Gossip Italia.
  • http://about.me/poojasagar Pooja Sagar

    Hi Lisa, thanks for this post. You made some very valuable points and I do think too that this is an opportunity for organizations help break down the stigma associated with mental health. Not sure if you read another article by WSJ but it highlights how a viral image consciously or unconsciously celebrated Williams’ death (wapo.st/1BbPh8d).

  • clive tucker

    I’m left feeling that content like this serves to prove what a cold, consumption driven, empty world gutter-PR is complicit in creating – and that’s the root cause of so much depression.

    The premise of this blog is that a celebrity suicide validates a ‘national conversation’ (deep down you know that’s just convenient phraseology for ‘a tide of PR B.S.’) but really, the idea that a suicide validates other people talking about themselves and their agendas suits only the self, which has nothing to do with actual mourning of an other.

    So, Carpe Diem? no, wait a few days, it’s a human-respect thing. I love working in PR but I’m glad I haven’t had to sell my soul because if I ever found myself writing something like this, I really would get depressed.

    Be brave, challenge the procession of stupidity ‘the machine’ – don’t inanely feed it. Your Edelman, you have that clout, so quit bottom-feeding in the gutter, even if it’s where all the cash is.

    • Bridget Gillespie

      “I’m left feeling that content like this serves to prove what a cold, consumption driven, empty world gutter-PR is complicit in creating – and that’s the root cause of so much depression.”
      Brilliantly stated. Not Edelman’s star moment.

  • http://www.bsetc.com Erin Blaskie

    “As we mourn the loss of Robin Williams to depression, we must recognize it as an opportunity to engage in a national conversation… At Edelman, we are in the business of helping our clients create or join public conversations.”

    Actually, no Edelman. Robin Williams’ death does NOT translate into an opportunity for your firm or for the clients you’re directing to “join the conversation.” (Which, let’s be honest – all that means is how can we get into the mix and raise funds/dollars/awareness for our own cause.)

    Using someone’s death as an opportunity to position yourself as THE PR company to walk potential clients through the best way to benefit from this “conversation” is callous. Instructing potential clients to pay your firm money to help them take advantage of this situation is gross.

    This isn’t a PR opportunity. This is someone’s life lost.

  • Duri alajrami

    You CANNOT use a beloved celebrities death as a CSR stunt and get away with it Edelman. Not in this day in age. Not 24 hours after his death.

    Own your mistake, apologize for this insensitive post, otherwise you will have successfully recruited all his fans as detractors.

    101 influencer engagement. Not rocket science.

  • Alan Stamm

    “That someone would stop so low to use the misfortune of others is a sad commentary on your own moral fabric or lack thereof.” — Gerard Corbett, APR
    http://linkd.in/1rrV5DI

  • AJ

    I wouldn’t say you’re balancing at all. I’d say you’ve crossed over into pretty tacky territory here. As a blogger and publicist, when I get any pitch in my inbox aiming to exploit a tragedy like this, I find it repugnant, delete it, and sometimes reply with words best left off this page.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    Clive, well said. What a nasty, self-seeking piece. Shameful.

  • bobledrew

    I am finding it difficult to reconcile what I assume were the positive motives in writing this post with the crassness of its messaging, beginning with using a phrase memorably uttered by Williams in Dead Poets’ Society as the headline and the frame to suggest that businesses “must recognize” the suicide of a celebrity “as an opportunity.” You’ve misstepped here, Ms. Kovitz; it would be best to apologize for this post or take it down.

    • Lisa Formerly-clarkson Armstro

      you can’t reconcile self absorbed insensitivity to positive motives.

  • Marc Meyer

    I have to be honest. I’m struck by the incredibly poor timing of this. The opening line in the 3rd paragraph, “At Edelman, we are in the business of helping our clients create or join public conversations.” had me mumbling “Seriously?”

    Perhaps a suggestion would be to re-read your last paragraph? Or better yet, maybe to pull this post? Too late for that as you now know, pulling it would cause even more attention, so now you have to deal with it. As my mom used to say to me as a child:

    “There is tact and then there is poor timing and you have none of the former and plenty of the latter.” Then she would say, “sooner or later you will learn…”

    It’s sad that THIS is a teachable moment for your guys….A PR Firm…

  • Jenivieve Elly

    this is disgusting. this is not an opportunity. its a bad move on your behalf.

  • Lynda Bowyer

    What a “below the belt” punch, Edelman. Tasteless in the extreme.

    • http://hellhappiness.wordpress.com Peter Engel

      I struggle with depression, and I believe that you are all over-reacting with a chance to pile on Edelman. I know what Williams felt. I’ve visited too many friends and family in psychiatric wards. I’ve gone to way too many funerals from suicides. I find it hard to care that much about a blog post that was, to me at least, simply a bit tone-deaf but well-intentioned.

      It seems to me that what is raising hackles are semantics: the prevalence of idiotic babble words like “thought leadership,” “teaching moment” and “brands” and the bad title choice of “Carpe Diem.” How important is that compared to depression and suicide, and what we can do to help friends & loved ones?

      I’ve known Lisa Kovitz’s work for years. She is a first-rate professional. I’d say her post was poorly-timed and worded, but it wasn’t insensitive. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Over the last few days, HARO has had
      several queries about depression and suicide experts. Kovitz’ post unfortunately acknowledges an unpleasant reality.

      • disqus_LbeZD4rAVX

        “Poorly-timed and worded” is the very DEFINITION of insensitive!!! A thoughtful essay about how knowledgeable people can further the discussion of a sensitive and important topic would have been a good thing. But the moment the author wrote that her firm just happens to be here to “help,” the post lurched from being potentially valuable to being entirely self serving. It’s the worst kind of “positioning” — to use a grossly overused PR word — and speaks volumes to those would consider hiring this firm. Those who read it have the sudden urge to bathe! Yuk.

  • http://www.wtflungcancer.com/ Jennifer Windrum

    What is wrong with you guys? Seriously? This is absolutely disgusting and inappropriate.

  • Gus Ferguson

    Wow! “As we mourn the loss of Robin Williams to depression, we must recognize it as an opportunity to engage in a national conversation.” The insensitivity of the language, which is frankly completely inexcusable for a PR business, completely devalues the valid point this guy is making… The fact that this tragedy happened should absolutely shake people into looking at why it happened and what we can learn from it to try and help the millions of others who are suffering from depression… what it emphatically is not, is an “opportunity”. If Edelman were my PR agency and I read that I’d be seriously questioning their lack of empathy with the general public…

  • http://www.parentopia.com Devra S. Gordon Renner, MSW

    Seize the day? Seriously? A family lost a beloved family member and you think this is the time to seize the day? I don’t give a rat’s ass about Robin Williams’ fame, you are capitalizing on the death of a human being and it demonstrates a gross lack of humanity. I have worked with your company on campaigns in the past, and this is NOT the Edelman with whom I was willing to engage. I am a mental health expert and I can tell you that not all mental health agencies need to have something relating to this “situation” (way to sanitize the death of a human being, by the way). In fact, doing so might not only take away from the focus of that organization’s mission, but could also be viewed as highly unethical if they go out of their lane. Assuming that all mental health agencies should be posting or tweeting about all mental health issues demonstrates a lack of understanding your agency has about what it is mental health agencies do, and the fact that different agencies may address specific mental health needs, not all mental health needs. Do better now that you know better.

    • http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/big_lebowski/ Jackie Treehorn

      Regarding “Seize the Day” – Apparently you truly don’t give a rat’s ass about Robin Williams. Otherwise you would realize that “Carpe Diem” was clearly a respectful reference to the inspirational opening lines of ‘Dead Poet’s Society.” Not the most original blog title, perhaps, but a million miles from an insult. If you search “Carpe Diem” in Google under news, it comes up with 13,500 hits- all for the reference to the movie. All links to articles and blogs that used the same line to lead into their writing. Are you mad at them, too?

      I work in the communications field for a national nonprofit and many, many, many agencies and organizations used Williams’ death as an opportunity to bring up the topics of depression and suicide. Again, everyone is opportunistic in their own way. Are you angry at Netflix for featuring more Robin Williams movies now? How about newspapers for writing story after story about the details of his death? Re-read this post. You don’t even get the reference in the title- how can you claim to know much about the intent of the author?

  • Jonathan Markoff

    I happened to be on a call with a client yesterday in that space, the center for addiction and mental health in Toronto. I mentioned something similar to my contact there and that they should capitalize on this being a hot topic. This is a daily occurrence for their staff and thousands of other clinics and specialists, when it occurs in the celebrity world it allows those facing a similar affliction to step forth with their own issues which can then inspire discourse.

    Aside from the self serving aspect in their statement I would advise people to calm down in their assessment of what Edelman has offered. Most of us are aware of the power of social media for self promotional purposes, it would be fairly easy to state that those flagging this message as inappropriate have equally benefitted from the attention.

    • http://www.parentopia.com Devra S. Gordon Renner, MSW

      I am definitely not opposed to discussing mental health issues, nor making them public. I want these issues and resources out in the open as much as possible with attention drawn to those organizations and agencies who support mental health issues, prevention and treatment. In fact, the reduction of stigma is vital for others who may be experiencing mental health issues to know where to access help and normalize doing so. However, that is not the message being delivered in this blog post in my opinion.

      • http://www.parentopia.com Devra S. Gordon Renner, MSW

        Additionally, I don’t know any mental health experts, myself included, who would refer to a death of a human being as an “event,” “situation,” or “opportunity.” While the intent of the post may have been to shed light on the need to destigmatize and get the word out there about organizations and experts who are available to address mental health issues (and that Edelman feels this is important and can make it happen) the words in this post do not match the intent of it.

    • bobledrew

      Mr. Markoff, I would agree with you discourse can be inspired in these situations. However, there are two things here. First, such “inspiration” must be done with care so as not to “inspire” others to attempt suicide themselves; second, this attempt to “inspire discourse” could have been carried out without a headline and language that I (and I suspect others) found crass and opportunistic.

      Finally, let’s assume that you are correct and that I, like others, have “equally benefited from the attention” for calling out this post. What, then, are the appropriate ways to respond when an organization posts something this offensive on its corporate blog? What should those commenting here have done?

    • Robert de Quelen

      Oh please Jonathan, people are not THAT stupid, they can make the difference between crass commercialism and a sincere, heart-felt reaction.

  • cantsi

    This is akin to starting a conversation on the utility of having a boat when floods drown an entire town, or even maybe talking about starting a conversation on using a certain soap to prevent the spread of Ebola or maybe even talking about selling off road shoes to the Yazidis so they can escape faster. Does Edelman also know that there is a time for grief and mourning and that time is sacred and should not be invaded by vultures and opportunists?

  • C. Kim Brechin

    Karma! This is a sad state when you need to leverage the death of a icon. As I coach my clients “think-twice” before you post.

  • Jeff Sheehan

    “There’s a very careful line they need to walk so as to not seem exploitive of a terrible situation.”

    And this post undoubtedly crosses that line. In fact, it doesn’t just cross it. The post is worse that than that. Much worse. It takes a big, steaming dump on the line before doing an Olympic-sized long jump straight over it. Carpe diem? Seize the day? Seek to profit from any and every situation, no matter how terrible?

    This extraordinarily inappropriate post in a serious PR misstep by a company that should have known better.

  • Guest

    Wow, and they’re deleting certain comments too, which will simply stir the pot even more (what would have been said here will instead be said on social media for all to see). C’mon guys. Deal with this properly.

  • Vail Beach

    One thing most of these comments have in common: They didn’t read the post. It’s as sensitive as all you narcissists think you are.

    • bobledrew

      I read the post in some depth, Mr. Beach. And before it came out, I blogged about not doing this sort of thing in the wake of tragedies.

  • Lawrence Getto

    Maybe just a little to soon for this much needed but very bad timing

  • Lawrence Getto

    Here’s the problem tell people you suffer sever depression ..you might as well tell them you have Ebola ..that is one people will hide from you to avoid most want nothing to do with it

  • Dave Chlastosz
  • Authentication News

    No apology necessary or needed Edelman. Thank you for your courage to make the post. You saved lives, and that was clearly the intent. This was not a Justin Sacco moment, it was a MADD moment, and we need to force the dialog you encouraged. Suicide is 100% preventable, just as fear and ignorance are too.

  • Tim Hart

    Honestly. To say you’re not trying to capitalize on this tragedy is disingenuous in the extreme. As a longtime PR consultant I can tell you that sometimes the best comms strategy is to show restraint and respect — and keep it zipped.

    • Jeff Sheehan

      Well said.

    • http://www.8x10designs.com Duchess Robinson

      Well said Tim Hart!

  • ellen odonohue

    This is so wrong. I am speechless.

  • David246

    Well, the opportunities for “newsjacking” on top of Robin Williams suicide is distasteful, unless you seriously have a client that is an expert on treating depression. Otherwise, take Billy Crystal’s sage advice, “No words.”

  • Sam Smithonian

    It’s fun to see jealous, narcissistic PR flacks flogging the industry goliath. They’re trampling over each other in a desperate effort to toot their own horns and declare a higher level of professional ethics. Don’t you folks have anything better to do — any clients to serve perhaps? Egads. – Signed, an actual c-level executive

    • bobledrew

      Thanks, “Sam Smithonian”, a/k/a Sue d’Onym.

    • http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/big_lebowski/ Jackie Treehorn

      My thoughts exactly. Watching other PR pros slam Edelman while self-promoting their own crisis management skills is kind of amusing.

  • http://www.referralcandy.com/ Visakan @ ReferralCandy

    I thought this was tastefully done, when I saw it:

  • Robert de Quelen

    Lisa, while it is perfectly OK to make it clear for everyone that depression is not a topic one should be afraid to talk about, I would never have talked about an “opportunity to join a conversation”. I have had multiple conversations with people who suffer from depression or with friends who have lost relatives to suicide, and they would have welcome a personal statement, but they would be shocked by the obvious attempt to position yourself as an “expert” instead of just being… a human being. Be authentic and people will believe you.

  • Rachael Parkman

    There has been more media coverage on the serious impact and risks of depression in the last week than I can remember in the last year. Plus, it is now part of the public consciousness that depression can happen to anyone, however funny or successful you are. I for one think that has done a massive service to charities and people dealing with mental illness generally. I think the post is badly worded perhaps, and I agree it is tasteless in parts (with regard to client opportunity) but however much we don’t like it, a celebrity being affected by an illness brings it out of the shadows. There’s not much positive about the death of Robin Wiliams, but if it helps one person to reach out to someone who suffers depression, or one sufferer to seek help, or more people to think how serious it is and it’s not just about ‘get over it and see the positive side’, or reduces the stigma associated with mental illness, then that has to be a silver lining, right?

  • Mike Breslin

    Lisa – Ignore the over-the-top hand-wringing. This is a perfectly valid and well-thought-out post, regardless of what some oversensitive PR pros below and elsewhere are saying.

    It would be one thing if you were seeking to sell some vapid product. But alerting mental health professionals as to the ways that this tragedy could serve some good – vis a vis the opportunity to raise badly needed awareness on depression, suicide and other mental health issues – exemplifies the sort of “public interest” that the best communicators seek to serve.

    As for the criticisms about your timing: I would ask your critics when would have been a more “appropriate” time for your message? One week from now, when the media have moved on and the chance has passed to raise awareness on critical mental health issues? PR 101 teaches that in today’s mediascape, speed is paramount in getting a message out. Yes, going “radio silent” as PRSA put it is the safe path for avoiding criticism. But what is more important in a case like this – protecting our own interests or communicating in a timely manner on an issue of critical importance.

    Again, your message was valid and timely. Kudos to you and Edelman for having the courage to get it out there promptly despite the potential for criticism from certain circles.

  • Kimberly Rotter

    Actually, all current events are opportunities for conversation. And brands need to establish and maintain a voice. I don’t see anything inappropriate in this post. People die every day. Business goes on. I think Robin Williams’ death was a teachable moment to many people. To me, this post would be well presented in a college PR classroom discussing how and when it’s okay to talk about this kind of tragedy. It most certainly is a moment for mental health professionals to seize. I guess I’m a jerk.

  • Jose Mallabo

    This was not your Oreo moment during the SuperBowl but that’s how you played it, Edelman. You’ve taken PR to a low we’ve been working to climb out of for decades. I have many personal friends within Edelman but today and for sometime to come let’s keep some distance because this is unacceptable.

  • Courtney

    “As we mourn the loss of Robin Williams to depression, we must recognize
    it as an opportunity to engage in a national conversation.” NO. It is NOT an “opportunity.” I am so sickened by the immediacy of this article – shame on you, Edelman.

    What gets me even more, is the fact that the author was none other than an EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT of Edelman. Really? You even stated it was a fine line…did you really think it wouldn’t strike people as a completely insincere article?

    Rather than posting an apology, you should’ve just deleted this article from your website. Better yet, use better judgement next time.

  • http://www.leighfazzina.com/ Leigh Fazzina

    I was shocked reading that first line. I read it three times in disbelief before I even continued. How did something like this get approved and go out your door? As a healthcare communications professional, I am absolutely shocked with this post. Yes, we can probably all agree that a lot more needs to be done in the area of mental health, but this is no way for a PR agency to go about it. Wow.

  • Sailboat Scotty

    And we wonder why the public has a negative view of our profession? We have to stop the let’s make money at any cost mentality or no one will ever respect what we do as PR professionals. If you disagree, think about replacing the Williams death with 9/11, and then tell me that you think. This was beyond bad taste.

  • SKN

    I’m a great admirer of Edelman but this is out of line. If they really wanted to create a public conversation tastefully, they should have used their PR prowess / platforms pro-bono and incognito to highlight the outstanding organisations and experts who provide mental health services.

  • DL

    Your post would have been suitable and no different than the hundreds of other conversations on mental health following Robin Williams’ suicide, except that the line “At Edelman, we are in the business of helping our clients…” together with the final paragraph of the article portray Edelman as a self-serving and opportunistic PR company.

    Also, although the phrase ‘carpe diem’ was used in Dead Poets’ Society, I don’t
    think it was an appropriate subject header for this post. While your intentions for choosing it may have been sincere, when taken out of context (especially for those who haven’t seen the movie), you and your company appear insensitive.

  • Alison Foster

    As a PR professional, and one personally impacted by suicide, I applaud Edelman’s efforts. Yes, this is the time to shed light on mental health issues, and direct the conversation to those in need. Of course not all people are able to see this opportunity, which is expected, and unfortunate.

  • John Peloza

    Hypocrisy. How many posters here have ever clicked to see the pictures of the latest celebrity baby. It’s a business. Deal with it.

  • joanmcarthur

    I applaud the post, “Carpe Diem” – and the suggestion that Robin William’s tragic and shocking death can help to shine a light on mental illnesses like depression, suicide and substance abuse…all of which are still monumentally misunderstood. These are insidious silent killers, and without open discussion will stay in the lonely, despairing darkness. Thank you, Lisa Kovitz and Edelman, for lighting a candle.

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