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AOL CEO Tim Armstrong Failed PR 101

Today in CEOs Behaving Badly: We understand why AOL chief Tim Armstrong was a little upset at the unfortunate struggles of Patch, his well-meaning $300 million experiment in hyper-local news content. He promised AOL that the venture would turn a profit by year’s end, and in order to bring this about he seemingly had no choice but to fire hundreds of the writers, editors, and managers at more than 400 individual Patch sites around the country.

But this hardly excuses the commission of a cardinal PR sin: letting his temper get away with him during a 1,000-strong conference call and firing an employee for taking a photo during his speech. It was mild as outbursts go, but it was recorded for the ages and distributed to every media outlet around.

This wasn’t just any employee, by the way; it was Patch’s creative director Abel Lenz. The fact that such a Trump-worthy incident was terrible PR should be obvious to all, but we’ll go into a bit more detail:

In the early minutes of the nearly two-hour meeting, Armstrong amusingly told his team:

“I also want to clear up the fact that leaking information or anything around Patch isn’t going to bother me, doesn’t bother me.”

Oh yeah? That doesn’t square with his decision to immediately fire Lenz for taking a picture nor his subsequent complaint, mere minutes later, that “We can’t have people that are in the locker room giving the game plan away.”

So does Armstrong hate media leaks or not? We think we know the answer…

We don’t quite understand why Lenz felt the need to photograph Armstrong at that particular moment and we can see why it irked his boss, but that’s hardly the biggest problem in this story—it’s a chief executive who’s clearly lost control of his project berating employees on what was effectively a public conference call.

Any PR pro worth his or her salt knows that nothing is truly private in the age of the over-share—and Armstrong surely knows that too, but he let his frustration get the better of him in the moment. Poor internal relations? Check. Poor self-discipline? Check. Poor leadership? Triple check.

Listen to the clip. Would you want to work for this guy?

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