Robin Williams’ death on Tuesday came as a massive shock. The circumstances of his passing jars hugely with the cheerful, silly and hilarious character we knew and loved from the big screen, from television interviews and from the days when he did stand up comedy.
His 1986 ‘Live at the Met’ performance, which I discovered in my mid teens, remains one of the most brilliant pieces of live comedy I’ve ever seen.
His suicide is deeply saddening.
I touched very briefly on my own struggle with depression in a very recent post, and so, for me personally, Mr Williams’ death is particularly poignant. Which makes some of the things I’ve seen in the last day or two all the more nauseating.
I’m going to leave aside the downright disgusting trolling that caused Mr Williams’ daughter Zelda to quit Twitter and Instagram, as that’s been covered elsewhere. As has the shocking ignorance displayed by others across the media and the web. But what perhaps hasn’t been addressed is the downright opportunism from supposedly intelligent, professional individuals.
On LinkedIn on Tuesday, I saw a blog post entitled: “5 Tips Robin Williams Taught Us About Career Transitioning”.
WTF?! Career transitioning? Are you kidding me?
The author runs an HR and coaching consultancy. The post started in a similar way to this one, expressing shock and sadness at Mr Williams’ passing. But it quickly took a wild left turn into douchebag territory when it listed out five of his most well-known films and proceeded to educate us about what we could learn about our careers from them.
At best you could argue that it was misguided. But perhaps the worst thing was that, despite a tirade of negative comments, sarcasm and criticism, the author continued to defend the post as a “tribute” and “part of his grieving process” before it was eventually removed many hours later.
A tribute?! Write about Mr Williams’ films for what they were by all means. But don’t attempt to draw some spurious line between that work and your own when it clearly has nothing whatsoever to do with it.
And then yesterday, PR firm Edelman, which you may think would know better, published a blog post entitled ‘Carpe Diem – Seize the Day’.
It states that “we must recognize [the loss of Mr Williams] as an opportunity to engage in a national conversation”. This cold, insensitive and soulless piece of opportunism goes on to explain how “his death created a carpe diem moment for mental health professionals” and how to exploit the news agenda for your own benefit. It advises to watch the news carefully over the coming days to analyse which mental health professionals “had a plan in place”.
I’m not saying PR people haven’t or shouldn’t offer spokespeople and advice on the topic of mental health at this time. Of course they should. But to blog about it in such a tone just one day after Mr Williams died? Sickening. It makes me feel ashamed to work in the PR industry.
The whole thing puts me in mind of fashion designer Kenneth Cole.
In 2011, he tweeted what has become infamous in social media circles and beyond when he suggested that the unrest in Cairo that year was caused by his Spring collection. He even used the #cairo hashtag, which was being used to discuss the Egyptian protests.
The backlash was immense.
That tweet is replayed over and over again as perhaps the biggest example of how not to newsjack a trending topic. (For the record, Cole has since published two similar tweets that seemed to make light of war, so he either learned nothing from that debacle or simple doesn’t care. Either way, he’s an idiot.)
And yet the message has not apparently sunk in with the ignorant, click-hungry leeches who use tragic news to publish tweets, status updates and blog posts to drive traffic to their social properties.
For anyone who’s ever considered attempting to newsjack bad news, there’s a very simple message here: don’t do it. Ever.
UPDATE 15/08/14: Edelman has now tweeted an apology for its post, saying: “We apologize to anyone we offended with our post. We did not intend to capitalize on the passing of a great actor who contributed so much.”
Posted by Paul Sutton