A grieving father made the news recently for a horribly insulting reason. It seems the man’s daughter was killed in a car crash. The teenager’s death was incredibly difficult for her loving dad, but what happened just the other day poured gritty salt into a very fresh wound. The story, Ronn Torossian says, is terrible, and also a strong warning for any PR effort that depends on a third party list company for sales leads.

A local office supply chain sent the man a direct mail advertisement addressed to him, “current resident”, and “daughter killed in car crash.”

Yes, seriously.

Somehow, the information gathered included this piece of personal information and due to an apparent list snafu, that information made it onto a mailing list. As you can imagine, the grieving father was heartbroken, incensed, and later, more than a little curious.

In response to his inquiries, the company placed all the blame for the mistake on a third party vendor.

In the end, though, Torossian says, this is simply not something you can play hot potato with. Someone seriously screwed up here and beyond the pain this family was put through (again), now anyone seeing this story has to be wondering exactly what this particular chain wants to know about them – and more importantly, why they want to know it.

This sort of open-ended question can spell long-term negative PR that goes well beyond a single terrible mistake. In this case, trying to blame a third party vendor only opens up more questions about company information gathering and sales techniques. The company may have been better off not to bring the third party vendor into the messaging at all. On one side, it does nothing to remove the company’s responsibility for this mistake. On the other, it brings far too many questions to the surface.


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Ronn Torossian is the Founder, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.