2014 PR People Awards: Crisis Manager of the Year

Winner: Cari Brunelle, Partner, Hellerman Baretz Communications

Cari Brunelle’s integrity comes through fully in the pressure cooker of high-stakes, crisis situations. It is then, faced with difficult choices, that clients (and their advisers) can be most tempted to bend the truth to avoid a negative article the next day. Brunelle, however, consistently counsels clients to take the high road—to be honest in their dealings with the press. It is, you could say, the mature approach.

For example, she made it work for a law firm faced with the imminent publication of a book by one of its attorneys, detailing a salacious personal life. The firm’s non-evasive response played well with the reporter covering the story most closely—who ultimately wrote a harmless story—and recommended the book to her mother’s book club. Brunelle also made her approach work with a U.S. Senate candidate she prepared for a debate on CNN. The candidate was faced with a politically extreme adversary, who frequently made less than truthful assertions. Brunelle counseled restraint rather than aggression, and the candidate now sits in the U.S. Senate.

Brunelle’s application of the key tenets of PR can best be described through her work with medical device maker Theragenics, which has turned to her for crisis advice multiple times over the course of 12 years. The CEO of the company, formerly traded on NASDAQ, had been the subject of a smear campaign in connection with a hostile takeover attempt. Again, Brunelle advised against stooping, and as she predicted, the truth won out and the CEO was still there when the company went private.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Heidi Davidson, BlackBerry Ltd
  • Justine Griffin, Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications