For-profit

FitzGibbon Media

Founder:

Trevor FitzGibbon

Dissolved:

December 2015

FitzGibbon Media was a high-powered left-of-center PR firm working for major liberal clients like MoveOn.org and Planned Parenthood founded by Trevor FitzGibbon. Trevor FitzGibbon was a former state-level communications director for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.[1]

FitzGibbon Media was quickly shuttered in 2015 after FitzGibbon Media staffers accused Trevor FitzGibbon of multiple allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault.[2] The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia elected not to file charges against Trevor FitzGibbon, who went on to found a new PR firm called Mission Critical Media and a group called Defend our Daughters ostensibly intended to defend the “vulnerable in the workplace.”[3]

Work, Clients, and Projects

FitzGibbon gained a national reputation as then-candidate Barack Obama’s New Mexico communications director during the 2008 Presidential campaign.[4] Before then, he had worked at Fenton Communications, a liberal public relations firm with offices in Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco with clients across the left-of-center world including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to MoveOn.org to the Transgender Law Center.[5]

His first client after joining Fenton around 2002 was MoveOn.org. FitzGibbon’s initial advertising campaign began being as an ad in the New York Times and eventually ballooned into a television commercial after his success in raising small donations online.[6] Fenton Communications stated that “FitzGibbon’s messaging and PR efforts on behalf of MoveOn.org have helped position the online advocacy group as a national political force in American life.”[7]

After leaving Fenton Communications in 2008 and working on the Obama campaign, FitzGibbon founded FitzGibbon Media. The company quickly established itself as the go to public relations firm for the progressive movement, signing major clients from MoveOn.Org to Planned Parenthood[8] to the embassy of the repressive socialist Venezuelan regime of Nicolas Maduro.[9]

FitzGibbon Media enjoyed an impressive reputation in the progressive world, with one commentator suggesting the firm received the “first call whenever a huge progressive moment [was] about to happen anywhere in the country.”[10]

Before being taken down, the firm’s website claimed that “FitzGibbon strategists can transform a client’s news into a story on the front page of Huffington Post, book your principals on MSNBC, and schedule interviews on NPR.” In 2013, then-CEO of FitzGibbon client Rebuild the Dream Natali Foster said, “the FitzGibbon Media team has a rare knack for spotting what’s newsworthy, and the amazing relationships to help it get into stories and on the air.”[11]

The firm ran the social media account of convicted WikiLeaks collaborator Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning while Manning served prison time, typing out posts dictated by the convicted spy via telephone while reporting responses back. FitzGibbon Media also worked with WikiLeaks to arrange public defense of Edward Snowden when he was hiding in Hong Kong.[12]

By 2015, FitzGibbon’s company employed 30 people with offices in London, New York, San Francisco, and Washington.[13]

Below is a list of major FitzGibbon Media clients:[14]

FitzGibbon also represented Amnesty International,[15] the Center for American ProgressNARAL (formerly the National Abortion Rights Action League), UltraViolet, and the Venezuelan government.[16]

Sexual Harassment Controversy and Closure

FitzGibbon Media’s swift decline began in December 2015 when an avalanche of accusations of sexual harassment and assault against the company’s president, Trevor Fitzgibbon, quickly forced the progressive public relations firm to close up shop. Sierra Pedraja, now an editor for Detroit’s NBC affiliate,[17] was searching for a full-time job when a friend working at FitzGibbon media introduced her to the company’s president, Trevor FitzGibbon. Pedraja was then invited to a social gathering with the team that evening in a hotel lobby, where FitzGibbon allegedly commented on Pedraja’s beauty and asked her if she wanted to have any “fun” while he was in Austin.[18]

According to Pedraja, FitzGibbon then asked her if she wanted to meet alone at the hotel, which she declined. After the retreat, FitzGibbon allegedly contacted Pedraha requesting “maxim” style photos, which Pedraja also declined to send.[19]

Pedraja relayed her story to FitzGibbon Media employees, which caused other women to recall similar experiences where FitzGibbon had invited them to his hotel room, requested pictures, and asked for hugs. Another woman reported that FitzGibbon had once groped her breast while she was on a business call.[20]

FitzGibbon even allegedly behaved inappropriately with clients, including allegedly contacting an employee of MoveOn.org to ask her if she was married or had a boyfriend, or to request her to send him pictures.[21]

FitzGibbon had previously faced several accusations of sexual harassment while working for Fenton Communications. The firm retained Fenton for several more years, keeping him “closely monitored,” according to reports. Then-CEO of Fenton Communications Bill Werde said that there were “no other complaints brought to the company’s attention” for the rest of FitzGibbon’s tenure, which ended in 2008.[22]

The torrent of accusations in 2015 culminated in the reporting of “over a half dozen incidents of sexual harassment and at least two involving sexual assault committed by Trevor FitzGibbon against his own employees” according to a statement issued at the time by FitzGibbon Media employees.[23]

FitzGibbon responded claiming that “the allegations against me are a distraction to the mission at hand” and that because of an “irreconcilable difference has arisen between the FitzGibbon team and me…we had no choice but to make the difficult decision to close FitzGibbon Media.”[24]

The company determined they could not continue without revenue generated by Trevor FitzGibbon personally, and, after formally taking a leave of absence on a Monday, December 14, the firm closed on Thursday, December 17.  The entire staff was laid off without bonuses or severance, receiving paycheck only until the end of the year.[25]

No criminal charges or civil complaints were filed against FitzGibbon or the firm.

FitzGibbon’s Latest Projects

After the charges were dropped and in an apparent effort to publicly clear his name, FitzGibbon announced two new ventures, Mission Critical Media, a new PR firm, and Dignity for our Daughters, an organization created to advocate for the “vulnerable in the workplace” and create a “culture where women can flourish both in and out of the workplace.”[26]

A former FitzGibbon Media client, the left-wing feminist organization UltraViolet, issued a press release listing 72 liberal organizations that pledged not to work with Trevor FitzGibbon or to “financially support his new firm, Mission Critical Media.”[27]  Signatories included:[28]

References

  1. Greenfield, Daniel. “Obama Communication Director Accused of Sexual Assault.” FrontPage Mag. December 18, 2015. Accessed September 23, 2017. http://www.frontpagemag.com/point/261172/obama-communication-director-accused-sexual-daniel-greenfield.
  2. Terkel, Amanda, Ryan Grimm, and Sam Stein. “The Disturbing Story of Widespread Sexual Assault Allegations At a Major Progressive PR Firm.” The Huffington Post. December 17, 2017. Accessed September 23, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/fitzgibbon-media_us_567330fce4b014efe0d4cb4e.
  3. Merlan, Anna. “Founder of PR Firm Shut Down Over Sexual Harassment Allegations Launches Project to Protect Women at Work.” Jezebel. May 17, 2017. Accessed September 23, 2017. http://jezebel.com/founder-of-pr-firm-shut-down-over-sexual-harassment-all-1795302563.
  4. Greenfield, Daniel. “Obama Communication Director Accused of Sexual Assault.” FrontPage Mag. December 18, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.frontpagemag.com/point/261172/obama-communication-director-accused-sexual-daniel-greenfield.
  5. “Clients.” Fenton. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.fenton.com/clients/.
  6. Baldwin, Brent. “The Fire Starter.” Style Weekly. August 18, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2017. https://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/the-fire-starter/Content?oid=2233402.
  7. “Fenton Communications.” Discover the Networks. Accessed November 09, 2017. http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/printgroupProfile.asp?grpid=6958
  8. Greenfield, Daniel. “Obama Communication Director Accused of Sexual Assault.” FrontPage Mag. December 18, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.frontpagemag.com/point/261172/obama-communication-director-accused-sexual-daniel-greenfield.
  9. Terkel, Amanda. Ryan Grim, and Daniel Marans. “FitzGibbon Media May Be Gone, But Staffers And Progressive Groups Are Rallying To Launch a New Version.” The Huffington Post. December 19, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/fitzgibbon-clients-welcome-employees_us_5674377ee4b014efe0d53244.
  10. Baldwin, Brent. “The Fire Starter.” Style Weekly. August 18, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2017. https://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/the-fire-starter/Content?oid=2233402.
  11. Kincaid, Cliff. “Hagel’s Controversial Foreign Connections and Backers.” Accuracy in Media. January 14, 2013. Accessed September 23, 2017. http://www.aim.org/aim-column/hagels-controversial-foreign-connections-and-backers/.
  12. Baldwin, Brent. “The Fire Starter.” Style Weekly. August 18, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2017. https://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/the-fire-starter/Content?oid=2233402.
  13. Baldwin, Brent. “The Fire Starter.” Style Weekly. August 18, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2017. https://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/the-fire-starter/Content?oid=2233402.
  14. Greenfield, Daniel. “Obama Communication Director Accused of Sexual Assault.” FrontPage Mag. December 18, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.frontpagemag.com/point/261172/obama-communication-director-accused-sexual-daniel-greenfield.
  15. Lewis, Paul. “Progressive PR firm FitzGibbon shuts after sexual harassment allegations.” The Guardian. December 18, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/18/fitzgibbon-media-progressive-pr-firm-shuts-after-sexual-harassment-complaints-against-founder.
  16. Terkel, Amanda, Ryan Grimm, and Sam Stein. “The Disturbing Story of Widespread Sexual Assault Allegations At a Major Progressive PR Firm.” The Huffington Post. December 17, 2017. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/fitzgibbon-media_us_567330fce4b014efe0d4cb4e.
  17. “@sierrapedraja.” Twitter. Accessed September 22, 2017. https://twitter.com/sierrapedraja?lang=en.
  18. Terkel, Amanda, Ryan Grimm, and Sam Stein. “The Disturbing Story of Widespread Sexual Assault Allegations At a Major Progressive PR Firm.” The Huffington Post. December 17, 2017. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/fitzgibbon-media_us_567330fce4b014efe0d4cb4e.
  19. Terkel, Amanda, Ryan Grimm, and Sam Stein. “The Disturbing Story of Widespread Sexual Assault Allegations At a Major Progressive PR Firm.” The Huffington Post. December 17, 2017. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/fitzgibbon-media_us_567330fce4b014efe0d4cb4e.
  20. Terkel, Amanda, Ryan Grimm, and Sam Stein. “The Disturbing Story of Widespread Sexual Assault Allegations At a Major Progressive PR Firm.” The Huffington Post. December 17, 2017. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/fitzgibbon-media_us_567330fce4b014efe0d4cb4e.
  21. Crockett, Emily. “FitzGibbon Media and the problem of sexual harassment in the progressive movement.” Vox. December 21, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2017. https://www.vox.com/2015/12/21/10632508/fitzgibbon-sexual-harassment-progressive
  22. Terkel, Amanda, Ryan Grimm, and Sam Stein. “The Disturbing Story of Widespread Sexual Assault Allegations At a Major Progressive PR Firm.” The Huffington Post. December 17, 2017. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/fitzgibbon-media_us_567330fce4b014efe0d4cb4e.
  23. Terkel, Amanda, Ryan Grimm, and Sam Stein. “The Disturbing Story of Widespread Sexual Assault Allegations At a Major Progressive PR Firm.” The Huffington Post. December 17, 2017. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/fitzgibbon-media_us_567330fce4b014efe0d4cb4e.
  24. Terkel, Amanda, Ryan Grimm, and Sam Stein. “The Disturbing Story of Widespread Sexual Assault Allegations At a Major Progressive PR Firm.” The Huffington Post. December 17, 2017. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/fitzgibbon-media_us_567330fce4b014efe0d4cb4e.
  25. Terkel, Amanda, Ryan Grimm, and Sam Stein. “The Disturbing Story of Widespread Sexual Assault Allegations At a Major Progressive PR Firm.” The Huffington Post. December 17, 2017. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/fitzgibbon-media_us_567330fce4b014efe0d4cb4e.
  26. Merlan, Anna. “Founder of PR Firm Shut Down Over Sexual Harassment Allegations Launches Project to Protect Women at Work.” Jezebel. May 17, 2017. Accessed September 23, 2017. http://jezebel.com/founder-of-pr-firm-shut-down-over-sexual-harassment-all-1795302563.
  27. Abrams, Brett. “Progressive Organizations Pledge Not to Work With Sexual Abuser Trevor FitzGibbon in New Sign-On Letter.” Ultraviolet. May 22, 2017. Accessed September 23, 2017. https://weareultraviolet.org/pressrel/progressive-organizations-pledge-not-work-sexual-abuser-trevor-fitzgibbon-new-sign-letter/.
  28. “FitzGibbon Letter.” Accessed September 23, 2017. https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.weareultraviolet.com/images/FitzgibbonLetter.pdf.
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