I recently met the in-house PR guy for the William Morris Agency, Chris Petrikin. He is by my estimation a solid communications professional who has served both on the media and clients sides of the dance. Chris now appears to be caught in the middle of a very public spat between his bosses who have taken umbrage with what they believe is an attempt by their competitors to use the New York Post to “villify” the venerable talent agency. Specifically, WMA has targeted the feisty tabloid’s famous gossip column “Page Six, which has published highly unflattering, if not unsubstantiated and materially harmful information about the state of the company.
WMA has gone so far as to bring out its big legal gunslinger Bert Fields (who is in The Times twice this week) in an attempt to seek a printed retraction from Mr. Murdoch’s perennial money-losing, but widely-read (by the cognascenti), New York City tabloid. Howard J Rubenstein, mouthpiece to just about everyone, refused to comment on behalf of his longstanding client Rupert Murdoch, because this is now a legal matter.
I feel for Chris. By filing a very public lawsuit and agreeing to an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Fields has drawn more attention to WMA. Even if WMA doesn’t have any woes to speak of, and I thought Chris’s comments in The Times were perfectly reasonable, just the media attention such a lawsuit would garner would raise questions.
I won’t delve into the catalyst that served as the tipping point for all of this, but the seemingly unrehearsed, unfortunate comments by newly-installed WMA president Dave Wirtschafter’s in a recent interview in The New Yorker was certainly ill-advised. My feeling is that proving malice will be difficult, and that this lawsuit will only serve to exacerbate WMA’s PR woes.