2009-03-05 / Local & State

Pittsburgh Hospital Retains Hollywood PR Firm


PITTSBURGH (AP) - He is known in business and entertainment circles as a public relations pit bull, a master of spin.

He represented Paris Hilton after she got out of jail, Rush Limbaugh during his prescription drug scandal and Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry when she was accused of a hit-and-run accident.

But he does much more than simply help troubled celebrities, and that's why the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is on the client list of Los Angeles public relations guru Mike Sitrick, whose mission is to help the 20- hospital UPMC market itself worldwide.

Sitrick's representatives last week toured the soon-to-open campus of the $625 million Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville.

The new Children's is the latest project that warrants promotion by a national PR firm like Sitrick's, UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said.

Children's use of a comprehensive electronic medical record system has drawn praise from the leading health care technology industry organization HIMSS Analytics and merits increased news coverage, Wood said.

"That's a significant accomplishment. We expect that story to be picked up all over the world.''

The firm, which lists more than 1,000 clients on its Web site, charges some clients $695 an hour, according to published reports posted on the Web site.

The nonprofit UPMC would not say how much it pays Sitrick. The hospital network, which last year posted about $7 billion in revenue, in recent months made cost-cutting moves in light of the national economic crisis. Its top executives and senior managers are taking pay cuts of as much as 25 percent. President and CEO Jeff Romoff, who last year made about $4 million, is taking an even bigger cut.

UPMC has used Sitrick before. "Sitrick helped us orchestrate the national announcement of UPMC's partnership with IBM a while back,'' Wood said.

Sitrick's company is known on the West Coast as one of the nation's top go-to crisis communications firms. Sitrick represented the billionaire owner of the Penguins, Ron Burkle, when he was embroiled in a public feud with the New York Post. The firm represented the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles in a molestation scandal.

Sitrick's firm has represented companies involved with bankruptcy filings and proxy fights, according to its Web site. The company has experts to help companies develop or refocus their corporate images, "draw notice to accomplishments that were not getting the attention they deserved, and recover from disappointing news,'' according to its Web site.

Wood said UPMC is using Sitrick's firm to augment its visibility and not because of any image problem.

"It may be helpful to UPMC as we continue to position ourselves nationally and internationally as a global health enterprise,'' Wood said.

According to posts on Sitrick's Web site, Sitrick always talks to reporters and counsels his clients to never say "no comment.'' Yet, a reporter seeking comment about the UPMC deal was met with only off-the-record comment from Sitrick's office. That is, in effect, no comment.

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