An Austin public relations firm under fire for using a racially insensitive name has released its new identity.
On Tuesday morning the founders of what was formerly known as Strange Fruit PR announced that their firm will now be known as Perennial Public Relations. With the announcement came another statement regarding the backlash that put Strange Fruit PR in national headlines.
The firm was called out via social media for using a name associated with the lynching of blacks in the South.
Over the weekend, the hospitality PR firm, which has used the name since it was founded in 2012 and represents some of Austin's top restaurants, was called out on social media because "strange fruit" is a term associated with the lynching of blacks in the South.
Based on a poem by Abel Meeropol, "Strange Fruit" was made famous after it was recorded as a song by Billie Holiday in 1939. The phrase "strange fruit" refers to the bodies of black men and women hanging from trees.
Why the brouhaha suddenly exploded at this time is unclear, although it might seem that given the current inflamed passions about race relations after grand juries in Missouri and New York refused to indict officers who killed unarmed black men, someone noticed the name and commented on social media. Because of the rapid pace of Twitter, the discussion spread rapidly and made headlines in influential web publications.
According to an email to the Austin American-Statesman, Mary Mickel, who co-founded the firm with Ali Slutsky, said they were unaware of the term's other meaning when they came up with the name for the company more than two years ago.
“We of course Googled to ensure that it was not taken elsewhere and found the Billie Holiday song online. Thinking it would have nothing to do with our firm, and since it was written in 1939 it wouldn’t be top of mind in the public consciousness. We now know we were naïve to think that, and should have known better," Mickel wrote.
After a failed attempt at assuaging the public on Twitter, the company went offline (deactivating its social media accounts and taking down its website) while it worked on creating a new name. Below is the full statement released by Perennial PR via email on Tuesday:
We sincerely apologize to those offended by the former name of our firm. As of today, we have renamed our firm to Perennial Public Relations. We have always prided ourselves as open-minded individuals and we remain committed to serving our clientele and community. In no way did we ever intend for the name of our firm to offend nor infer any implication of racism. We are grateful for and appreciate the ongoing support of our clients and community."
CultureMap Austin editor-in-chief Arden Ward contributed to this report.