Prior to June 22nd, Jonathan Freidland was the head of PR for Netflix. As of now, he is unemployed. What happened between these two dates, however, may be the greatest contribution he has made to the field yet. In just a short period time, Friedland—an expert communicator with decades in the industry—was able to put his expertise to use providing one of the all-time great lessons in how not to do PR.
1. Begin A Risque Conversation With Employees and Utter A Racial Slur
The saga begins with Friedland allegedly using the N-word in a meeting with employees. The action, as you would expect, got him reported to human resources.
According to Friedland, the slur-dropping was an honest byproduct of the fact that he had been discussing “words that offend in comedy.”
Why one would ever engage—especially amongst one’s employees—in a discussion topic which necessitates the use of offensive language is beyond me. But that’s why Friedland makes the big bucks.
2. While Being Reprimanded for Use of Slur, Use it Again
Like any good employee, Friedland then trudged up to HR, ready to be verbally berated while keeping a smile on his face.
But, in a twist, Friedland instead dropped the ultimate PR bomb, using the same slur AGAIN, in front of HR.
It was at this point that experts began to suspect Friedland was in fact putting on the ultimate lesson in terrible corporate communication, itching for an academic job to escape the stresses startup culture.
3. Respond to Firing with Self-Congratulatory Tweet Downplaying The Offense
On Friday, Netflix boss Reed Hastings took Friedland’s bait, firing him in a company-wide email. With his actions, he astutely pointed out, Friedland “showed unacceptably low racial awareness and sensitivity.”
In response, Friedland tweeted: “Thanks. Rise high, fall fast. All on a couple of words…”
This tweet is an impeccable array of self-congratulations, self-pity, downplaying of one’s repeated use of racial slurs, terse thank-you’s, and an ellipsis all thrown in for good measure; Friedland is truly summoning up all of his powers to put on this master class in bad PR.
4. Grand Finale: Quickly Delete Past Tweet, Downplay Offensive Remarks One More Time
I’m leaving Netflix after seven years. Leaders have to be beyond reproach in the example we set and unfortunately I fell short of that standard when I was insensitive in speaking to my team about words that offend in comedy.
— jonathan friedland (@jsf33) June 22, 2018
As if the previous tweet wasn’t good enough on its own, Friedland decided to also showcase the absolute futility of deleting tweets by quickly removing the post from his own page even as copies and screenshots spread throughout the web.
He then put the bow on it all by apologizing about “the distress this lapse has caused” and how he “feel[s] honored” to have worked at the streaming giant. AWW.
But of course, I’m not done: this is a class in bad PR, not good.
In a final, masterful bit of image tarnishing, Friedman brings us all right back to what got him in trouble in the first place: his assumption that using slurs is excusable in certain contexts.
“I was insensitive,” he explains (so far so good) “in speaking to my team about words that offend in comedy.”
Oh Jonathan…..just stop…..
For post-lesson exercises, turn to fig. 3C.
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