The story of any company's demise is a mess of allegations, innuendo, slights, and wrongs: Employees treated badly, employers indignant, clients left holding the bag. The story behind the swift downfall of Drew Kerr's publicity firm, Four Corners, is no different. To pull out every last cliche, it's a cautionary tale of one man's twisted vision—a tale of how ego and greed should not be mistaken for ambition. Yes! So, how did Kerr's firm, which handled accounts like Radar and Maxim, go to hell so fast?
According to several ex-employees, Kerr's problems began in January, when his office manager quit. Perhaps this had something to do with her very specific responsibilities, which, per his "Office Manager's Responsibilities" handbook, included serving "a bag of mini-carrots at the staff meeting and one other snack. The carrots will need to be washed quickly in the sink before serving to the staff. The cost of snacks should not exceed $10." One ex-employee scoffed, "Drew slovenly chews them with carrot specks flying left right and center, as the staff cringes in horror. Like a bear feasting on a lamb, really." Another told us, "No one would ever eat from any of the bowls he touched, because he was a spitter. Also, we had a client call once after a hot wings lunch and he did the whole call with buffalo sauce all over his face."
He also ended staff meetings with "class dismissed," probably because "he's used to hiring kids right out of college and paying them McDonald's salaries," said one.
In April, another group of employees left. The company had lost a major account, and Kerr blamed it on the group manager ("It wasn't her fault," another former employee told us. "The company got someone to start handling it internally."), who promptly quit. She was followed quickly by every other member of her group by late April. Not one was replaced, nor was another employee who left earlier this month. Last week, hemorrhaging employees, clients and cash, Kerr told his five remaining employees that he was closing Four Corners.
Its closure was not mourned by the former employees we spoke to, each of whom regaled us with various stories about Kerr's "Jekyll-and-Hyde" personality ("The Drew I met before I started working there was totally different from who he really is," one told us) and his disrespectful attitude towards not only staff, but also clients and journalists whom he was, theoretically, supposed to be pitching his clients.
We took a look at an internal dossier, Kerr's "Handy Dandy Guide To Doing PR," which outlined just exactly how he felt about the reporters with whom he was dealing. It's from December 2005 (maybe that was part of the problem?), and it has some choice words about the various media reporters around town.
Radar's Jeff Bercovici, then at Women's Wear Daily, was described as "Another reporter one needs to be careful with since he can sometimes screw facts up. Despite his newly-acquired fashion duds, he's still kind of a dork." Stephanie Smith, then at Mediaweek, now at Women's Wear Daily, was "not a good reporter and can make little mistakes, as well as ill-informed opinions. Make sure you go over every fact with her." The New York Post's Keith Kelly "likes the behind-the-scenes stories, juicy announcements and dirt. Loves stories about people leaving and being hired — if they are high up the totem pole and juicy. Wants it exclusively. He can be a loose gun and reckless, so be careful. Make sure he gets his spelling, titles and facts right." BusinessWeek's Jon Fine? "Writes weekly column on the media, not just mags. Likes ideas, but he does not seem to be breaking news, just giving opinions. Talks 100 mph. Brother works at ESPN magazine. Keep in mind this is a weekly, so get to him far enough in advance for bigger stories. Very into heavy metal, especially Black Sabbath and AC/DC. Guitarist."
Kerr also had some advice for his publicists: "Reporters who cover this field do not like being pitched what they consider minor announcements as major stories. You must be careful not to get on a reporter's bad side by doing this." See, that's good advice. Too bad it couldn't save Drew's company.