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Edelman Has Some Thoughts on Using Robin Williams’ Death to Pitch

Fortunately, we have not received any such pitches. But because the unexpected death of Williams has dominated the news this week, it was perhaps inevitable that someone would tie the unfortunate news to the business of communications.

Yesterday the world’s largest PR firm did just that…and a journalist called foul.

In the post, Lisa Kovitz, media relations specialist at Edelman, argues that the death of Williams provides those in the mental health field with a “national teachable moment that shouldn’t be ignored”, writing that such experts and their representatives must proceed carefully “so as to not seem exploitive of a terrible situation.”

Hard to disagree with that. She then gathers links to pieces by others who used the news to report on their own experiences with depression with the stated goal of encouraging more of those who suffer similar afflictions to seek help.

In the next section of Kovitz’s post, She notes that most mental health orgs have yet to comment on Williams’ death because they’re “trying to be non-exploitive or stay business as usual” but implies that they shouldn’t pass on the opportunity– and that Edelman will encourage its own relevant clients to “consider another approach that is more visible and aggressive.”

Kovitz then makes points about the importance of client spokespeople being available to comment as quickly as possible on such breaking news stories and asks readers whether they have systems in place to make that process easier.

The idea that a client well-versed in mental health should be prepared to comment whenever a mentally ill celebrity commits suicide is not particularly controversial, though we can see why Kovitz’s implication that those first in line to offer their opinions will benefit most raises some ethical questions about exploiting the personal tragedy of others in order to better serve the interests of one’s own clients.

Mr. De Rosa’s terrible pitch aside, would journalists be upset to read an email that reads “Mental health expert available to comment on depression and Robin Williams suicide?”

In many cases, the answer will be yes — especially if said email arrives a short time after the news breaks. One has to wonder how valuable such an aggressive push could possibly be, even if its purpose is — in part — to reduce existing stigma.

As Walker clarified in a subsequent tweet (he also covered the story on Business Insider this morning), he saw the op-ed as both a strategic recommendation and a promotion of the firm itself.

[Ed note: frankly, as someone who has undergone treatment for depression, I feel that this widely shared tweet is more inappropriate than the Edelman post.]

UPDATE: We may have encountered the very worst Robin Williams pitch. This one, bearing the subject line “O Captain, My Captain”, reads:

“I’m sorry to interrupt your work and all the war news and the Robin Williams eulogies you are probably reading as obsessively as I am — but we really need a break…

How are you coping?…Are you keeping it real?”

The writer then relays a personal encounter with Mr. Williams in order to promote a save-the-date for…a professional development conference.

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