- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2000

Gaffes, gripes, lies and danger: This is the stuff of public relations nightmares, when slick publicists persevere and make the most of a dire moment.

The damage-control industry works for politicians caught with their pants down, companies mired in controversy and outspoken celebrities, among others.

Some clients are worse than others.

PR Week has just tallied the opinions of 542 public relations consultants regarding who or what would be "the toughest clients" among leaders, industries, businesses or celebrities.

The group determined that President Clinton, Philip Morris USA and boxer Mike Tyson were the "jobs from hell" for PR pros who hone tarnished images.

"Disaster is a perpetual way of life" in this business, said writer Justin Pope of PR Week, an industry publication based in New York.

And in this crisis league, the disasters are usually behemoths.

Bad news breaks in the national press rather than around the water cooler, and "lawsuits are in the billions, not millions, and they last years, not days or weeks," Mr. Pope said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Pat Buchanan, rap singer Eminem, Exxon-Mobil Corp., the pornography and firearms industries are also considered to be major challenges by the group.

With his habit of hollering at his spokesmen, "it's no wonder Mr. Clinton came in tops in the survey of toughest leaders to work for," the magazine stated in an article this week.

It gave high marks to former White House front man Mike McCurry, who "praises Clinton as a leader and a politician, but now says he was exasperatingly stupid in his personal life."

The PR consultants themselves shared a few tricks of the trade. It takes a sense of humor and "passion" to assume the hot seat and manage a crisis. Some relish the role.

"Tough is fun. The tougher the better," said Dan Klores, who represents both Mike Tyson and rapper Puff Daddy.

Mr. Tyson, he said, "is the biggest challenge that I've faced, and I have represented tons of CEOs who have problems; many companies, ranging from [those with] food poisoning in their products [to those with] unfortunate accidents and deaths at their properties; and airline crashes.

"This is the most complex," Mr. Klores said. "But again, [Mr. Tyson] asks for no sympathy."

Over at Philip Morris, the company hopes to divert the public's attention away from its cigarettes and toward its new smoking prevention campaigns aimed at youth.

"PR is always more difficult if you don't have a good story to tell," said spokesman Brendan McCormick. "At Philip Morris, I think we have a good story to tell."

When things go awry at the National Rifle Association, spokesman Bill Powers is "nonplused" because bad press like a recent CBS expose on the group can have a positive side.

"These reports seem to inspire the faithful," he said, "An hour of prime-time television like that can't help but fire up our members. I'll take that."

Ken Jorgenson, company spokesman for gun maker Smith & Wesson, was bemused that some would find he had a tough job.

"Educating reporters," he noted, was the worst part of his job. And there are some jobs he wouldn't take.

Flaks for the nuclear power industry are the ones with the tough life, Mr. Jorgenson said.

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