In the midst of several sexual harassment and assault allegations in Hollywood, a notable Nashville-based public relations firm has fallen from grace.
Webster PR, known for its impressive roster of country music stars, lost several accounts after CEO and president Kirk Webster was publicly charged with sexual harassment. The client list includes legends Dolly Parton, Hank Williams Jr. and Kenny Rogers. However, the roster has been trimmed from 71 to 37, most leaving within 24 hours of the charges. Many of the stars have taken to social media to address the situation or written letters of resignation which have expressed contempt for Webster’s behavior.
Former employees of Webster PR have emerged to support evidence of the charges, saying they had often felt uncomfortable with Webster’s behavior. Variety reported, “More than a dozen other former employees of Webster PR have been speaking with the press, albeit mostly not for attribution, telling their own stories of emotionally abusive or suggestive remarks, unwanted touching, and viewings of pornography in the office.” The story stated the firm was forced to continuously hire new talent, as employees left the firm after a short stay.
As the doors closed, many clients were unsure what all this means for their PR team. Many clients went to former Webster PR exec, Jeremy Westby, who decided to start fresh with his own firm, Westby PR. Westby has 19 clients listed, all formerly part of Webster PR.
With all of the negative press, do you think Westby can really get away from his association with Webster? I think the similar-sounding Westby PR is a temporary solution to a complicated situation.
Also, how should Webster PR react? They have caused confusion with their website, one day saying the firm is closed and the next having the site up like nothing had happened.
What do you think the firm could have done to address the problem with making clients panic? Should all the clients have left before the charges were even brought to court? Unfortunately, I think in today’s climate, the minute a story like that hits a brand, all other brands associated have to jump ship. The allegations may not be true and the company may be able to salvage some of their reputation. But for now, they need to face the music on their own.