It's important to understand why we—and others—talk about Ronn Torossian so much. He and his firm are far from the biggest players in the PR industry, so it may seem strange that he gets so much attention. The real reason he matters is that he embodies the public's worst ideas about what a PR person is: loud, brash, more flash than substance, dirty, manipulative, amoral, and, in the end, not particularly bright. The real movers and shakers in the PR industry achieved their positions partly by keeping their mouths shut. That doesn't make them better people than Ronn, but it does make them wiser.
Most people would be surprised to find out how much time the average PR person spends worrying about their industry's reputation as a den of lying bastards. Ronn has the touchiness, but not the reflective nature, of his peers. A few years ago I wrote an article in PRWeek calling him a self-promoter (a vast understatement), and we haven't gotten along ever since. Each of us thinks the other is a jerk; I'm happy with that, and I assume he is too.
Mention 5W or Ronn to most people in the PR industry, and you will draw a chuckle or a roll of the eyes. Mention him to most reporters who have been the recipients of his ALL CAPS, nonsensical email blasts , and you'll draw an even worse reaction. When I covered the PR industry for three years at PRWeek, I don't recall ever hearing any unqualified praise of Ronn from anyone who was off the record. That's not normal. He gets more press for himself than just about anybody else in PR, and consequently, has a huge effect on how people perceive the industry as a whole. And that drives a lot of people crazy, because he is just a terrible representative. Although, it must be said, he is colorful, and provides good copy—he embraces the (misguided) "all press is good press" philosophy, even if his peers wish he didn't.
Hopefully, the emails below are evidence enough for the world to see exactly why Ronn inspires the feelings that he does. He will often brag about building his firm from the ground up, and his claims are true; to the extent that you admire unbridled entrepreneurship independent of any social value, you should admire Mr. Torossian. But fundamentally, he's a hustler; and, as a PR professional, he has no idea what he's doing.
According to Melissa Weiss' lawyer, she found out soon after she was hired at 5W last month that Ronn was violating the law by miscategorizing employees and not paying them overtime. "Ms. Weiss reported these violations to Mr. Torossian and he threatened to fire her and any employee not happy with their status," her lawyer writes. "Soon thereafter, Ms. Weiss was terminated and her final pay was withheld, leading her to bring a small claims action for her earned pay."
Weiss' story is not an unfamiliar one. We've received tips telling us the same thing. Among the claims, tipsters say that 5W does not pay overtime to low-level employees, in violation of labor law; that Ronn has docked employees for a full day's pay, or a vacation day, for being 15 minutes late to work, causing several people to resign; and that employees don't get proper comp time after working 7 days in a row or more.
On March 1, Ronn sent Weiss the following email, titled "YOUR CLAIMS":
On March 7—last Friday, the same day that Torossian leaked his own lawsuit against Weiss—he sent her this email:
After Weiss got this "CUNT" message, her lawyer sent a cease-and-desist email to Ronn and his attorney. In it, he noted, "Ms. Weiss will be commencing further claims against 5W and Mr. Torossian individually. Furthermore, Ms. Weiss previously notified the Department of Labor of 5W's labor violations and we will be cooperating with their investigation to the fullest extent."
To that message, Ronn responded to Weiss and her attorney with this:
In short, a man who makes his living giving strategic advice to other people responded to a legal email by calling his former employee a "cunt," and including her attorney on the email. Not much needs to be added to that.
We will note that Ronn does have his defenders—mainly, himself, and (some of) his current employees. Christine Garabedian, a five-year employee of 5W, writes us to say Ronn is an "amazing boss," adding, "To anyone who would say 'wow this girl obviously has been brain washed' YOU ARE DEAD WRONG."
About Melissa Weiss, Garabedian writes:
Melissa Weiss came to 5W in 2008 and immediately began asking me "how can you take it here?". As the HR director are these types of questions appropriate? I suddenly began to think that maybe Melissa was jealous of my success at 5W. As a 30 something, single women who still has her parents address listed on her taxes to avoid paying NYC taxes, I could see how she would be jealous of a successful 27 year old who is happy at her job. I love that she is so happy to say that 5W doesn't follow regulations when she is the one cheating the government...
PS Melissa I just got engaged- Now are you even more jealous of me :)