A few weeks after Ken Fisher’s lewd remarks, Fisher Investments began running full-page ads in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Dallas Morning News, showcasing women who work for the firm. The public-relations move, though, is unlikely to help its image, experts say, and could make matters worse by not directly mentioning his bad behavior.
“These ads and PR campaign seem to speak to what it is like to work at Fisher Investments rather than address the original issue,” said April Rudin of the Rudin Group. The ad “looks tremendously ‘defensive’ and certainly not offensive (i.e., ‘Ken won’t be involved day-to-day at the firm’ or ‘our ownership structure has changed’), so it seems completely disconnected from the matter at hand.”
Overall, the latest step by Fisher “seems like a tone-deaf attempt at damage control,” she said. The ad “holds out those women at his firm as somehow being able to nullify his remarks and also gives the impression that he’s using the women at his own firm to protect himself,” explained Rudin.
The general message of the ad, she points out, is that Fisher “is digging in his heels and solidifying his reputation as someone who is unable to hear women’s concerns with his behavior.”
The firm insists its business “is growing.” As for its ads: “In recent weeks, women at all levels of Fisher Investments have expressed their growing frustration with the false portrayal of the company and its culture in the media, and they were looking for a way to share their own stories, which they feel are being ignored,” according to a statement.
It has about 3,500 employees, 30% of whom are women. It also says 30% of managers and 23% of vice presidents and other top executives are female.
However, some female staff appear to have mixed feelings. “I would say I understand and agree with some of the stuff that’s in the media that Ken’s comments were inappropriate,” said Rachel Winfield, a vice president who spoke with Bloomberg. “What Ken says and the experience of the culture are two separate things.” Other women, though, told the news service privately that they felt compelled to be in the ads.
“The brand is damaged,” said Tina Powell of C-Suite Social Media. An alternative approach to the ads would have been to create an “empowering” micro-site that showcases detailed profiles of women and their careers or to fund a scholarship or longer-term effort that supports women in the business, she added.
While Fisher’s firm did set up a micro-site, it emphasizes short statements that appear in its ad campaign. In contrast, RBC Wealth recently launched a webpage with more lengthy discussions of its diversity efforts and very specific stories of staff members and their careers.