Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

Sometimes, smart PR is about knowing when to pull the plug on a public relationship. And, sometimes, even when you do the right thing at the right time, it still stings, especially short-term. That’s why planning for a break from a business relationship needs to go public with a solid message and a carefully developed long-term plan.

Consider media conglomerate Endeavor. The company was excited, basking in a $400 million deal with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund. Then, a journalist disappeared and wound up dead, under circumstances that provoked many in the international community to point fingers at Saudi leadership. They’ve denied any knowledge or involvement, naturally, but that still left Endeavor with a difficult — and public — decision to make.

While, as of this writing, no decision has been made public yet, an Endeavor spokesperson told CNN the company is now “assessing the situation and considering our options …”

Stepping away could be a major blow to one of the most prominent talent and event management corporations in Hollywood. Especially given the largely positive press the deal with the Saudis had earned Endeavor. The media agency wanted ready capital, and the Saudis are actively looking for ways to diversify beyond oil.

Now, though, that deal is in question, and many are asking Endeavor and its subsidiary brands if it’s the best time to be associated with Saudi Arabia’s government. It’s a question that has wide-reaching implications, touching on brands as diverse as New York Fashion Week and mixed martial arts promoter UFC.

To date, several major partners in the Future Investment Initiative have broken ties, including the New York Times, CNN, JP Morgan Chase and Uber. These defections have put added pressure on Endeavor to make a decision. While critics aren’t currently making loud demands, they’re watching as the situation unfolds over multiple news cycles.

Whatever decision Endeavor makes, there will be consequences. Of course, pulling out of a $400 million deal is difficult, even if they decide it may be necessary. And, if they leave and the Saudis are cleared, it’ll look like the company acted too quickly. But the cost of staying, as long as this story remains in the headlines, could be problematic as well.

Regardless of the decision reached, the message delivered will go a long way toward determining how many respond. And it could have far-reaching consequences for a number of businesses in the entertainment industry.


Ronn Torossian is CEO of PR agency 5WPR.