Hollywood Harassment Is a Gold Mine for Crisis PR Firms

“I’ve gotten more calls in the last month than I did in all of last year,” crisis manager Susan Tellem tells TheWrap

Last Updated: November 23, 2017 @ 9:30 AM

The post-Harvey Weinstein harassment and abuse accusations have created a boom for at least a few people in Hollywood: public reactions experts specializing in crisis management.

“We’ve seen an uptick of three times the volume in the past six weeks alone,” Evan Nierman, founder of crisis PR firm Red Banyan, told TheWrap. “I’ve signed four new clients just this past week.”

The reckoning around sexual misconduct has revived pain and trauma for victims, and cost many accused men their jobs and reputations. Crisis PR experts might be the only ones who come out ahead.

Most crisis PR firms bill on an hourly basis, according to Nierman, as it is hard to predict how long the crisis will last and the amount of work required to quash it. Rates vary widely depending on the size of the firm and its location.

“I know of firms who charge $300 an hour and others that bill close to $850 an hour,” he said.

Susan Tellem, a partner with Tellem Grody PR, Inc. in Malibu, said her crisis management division has seen a whopping 70 percent uptick in sexual harassment inquiries since the Weinstein scandal broke.

“I’ve gotten more calls in the last month than I did in all of last year,” she said.

The stream of accusations is changing the way organizations are thinking about the issue of workplace sexual harassment, crisis mangers say. Some are rushing to hire crisis managers even before being hit with any accusations, just in case.

“There are so many of these cases, companies want to safeguard themselves from any future negative impact,” Lou Shapiro, a criminal defense attorney who specializes in crisis management, told TheWrap. “All my colleagues are being called into battle.”

Crisis managers specialize in containing negative publicity, as opposed to promoting an entity or project. Some firms are in such high demand that they are beefing up their staffs.

Red Banyon, for example, has hired another crisis manager within the last two weeks and is planning on hiring two more by the end of the year.

“We’re at a seminal time,” Nierman said. “This is one of those inflection points where the Weinstein scandal has evolved and has blown the lid off the topic and not just in Hollywood, but wherever there are men in positions of power. And all these people are lawyering up.”

But taking on cases is not without risk. Some accused men, including Brett Ratner, Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey, lost their longtime publicists soon after allegations became public. And Lisa Bloom, an attorney known for championing women’s rights, severed her ties with Weinstein following an intense backlash.

Crisis managers have always been an integral part of the entertainment industry — and Washington, which has plenty of its own problems with sexual misconduct.

Judy Smith, one of the country’s most famous fixers, inspired ABC’s hit show “Scandal,” starring Kerry Washington. Sitrick and Company’s Sallie Hofmeister has become a well-known name as the spokeswoman for Harvey Weinstein. And attorney Marty Singer, who represents Ratner, among others, is well-known for his blustery threats to journalists.

Crisis mangers say the Weinstein scandal has underscored the importance of having an expert who is equipped to deal with negative press.

While the costs of crisis PR might sound astronomical, Nierman said they pale in comparison to the potential losses that can result from an ill-prepared response.

“People don’t like to pay premium,” he said. “But when they need help, they’re damn glad that they have it.”

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