Former Life or Death PR Staffers Launch New Firm Following Sexual Misconduct Allegations
Soon after revelations of Life or Death PR founder and CEO Heathcliff Berru’s alleged sexual misconduct emerged online, many of the company’s employees announced their departure. Life or Death president Nick Dierl quickly revealed he intended to launch a new firm outfitted by a number of his former colleagues. Now, he has opened up about his latest venture dubbed Liberal Arts and the allegations against Berru.
In an initial statement following Berru’s resignation, Dierl promised his new PR company would have “no ties to Heathcliff Berru or the Life or Death name.”
In an interview with Billboard, former Life or Death senior publicist Duncan Will -- who will join Dierl at Liberal Arts -- added, “We wanted to make sure [Berru] absolutely couldn’t work or profit from anything else that we did.”
Ian Wheeler of Knitting Factory Records, Figure Eight Management and Figure Eight Media will serve as managing director of Liberal Arts. Wheeler revealed Liberal Arts will fall under Knitting Factory’s umbrella and assured Berru would not have any equity in the new company.
“I understand why someone would want to leave Life or Death,” Dierl told Billboard. “We did.” Former Life or Death staff members Bradley Bledsoe, Emily Mullen and Linda Valenziano have joined Liberal Arts, and erstwhile clients Killer Mike and Wet have also shifted to the new company.
“It’s been emotionally draining and exhausting, and I’m sick to my stomach still,” Will added. “It’s an amazing opportunity to start our own company, but I feel conflicted having it born out of these events. We needed to take steps, and within our [new] company, we put our female coworkers in positions of leadership that involves them fully in all decision-making processes.”
Allegations of Berru’s sexual misconduct first surfaced when Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman shared her experiences with the publicist last week. Her story prompted other women in the industry to reveal similar encounters. Since Coffman’s original tweets, there have been nearly 20 allegations made against Berru from Best Coast’s Bethany Costentino; Chelsea Wolfe; publicists Beth Martinez and Judy Silverman; and more. Berru stepped down the day after Coffman’s tweets. A number of clients parted ways with Life or Death in light of the scandal, including Wavves, DIIV and Speedy Ortiz.
When Dierl confronted Berru about the allegations, the former CEO said he was “blackout drunk” on the night Coffman referenced. (In his statement announcing his resignation, Berru said he would enter rehab for substance abuse.) “I couldn’t judge Heathcliff’s level of sincerity, either,” Dierl told Billboard.
“We believed all of those stories and chose to operate accordingly instead of contesting those statements,” Will said. “I applaud all of the women who came forward and brought these conversations to the public sphere. I hope that it’s a conversation that doesn’t end this week and continues to be talked about in the industry.”