Michael Valor, founder of Raleigh-Durham, N.C.-based digital agency Valor Media, issued a series of apologies on social media following reports about a tweet that his shop posted to promote client Z-Burger over the weekend.
The tweet in question featured an image from a video released by Isis in 2014 that depicted American journalist James Foley moments before his execution. The still had been altered to include the line, “When you say you want a burger and someone says okay lets hit McDonalds,” along with an image of a burger and the line, “You disgrace me.”
According to a statement issued by Z-Burger founder Peter Tabibian, the tweet was deleted approximately one hour after it went live and as soon as he learned of its existence.
A second message stated that the image was created and published by Valor Media “without expected oversight by Valor’s managers” and that no one at Z-Burger saw it before it went live.
Z-Burger is based in the Washington, D.C., area, and local blog the Washingtonian first reported on the story Aug. 23.
Michael Valor quickly shared the post and issued a series of apologies in both video and written form after promising to explain what had gone wrong. The Z-Burger account also shared these videos.
One of the initial Z-Burger tweets encouraged followers to contact Tabibian directly; he has not yet responded to a request for additional comment.
Adweek reached out to Valor, who sent a written statement.
“Being a career advertiser, this is a nightmare. Being a human, this is pain in my heart. Being a proud American, this is a difficult situation to swallow,” Valor wrote. “I’m a young media company owner who as of four days ago owned one of the fastest growing media companies in the triangle of North Carolina when I received an alarming text about content that went up within the hour.”
Valor went on to explain that his agency, which reportedly employs eight, had recently doubled its workload but “did not have the proper processes for quality assurance and content checks.”
“We hired an art director approximately three weeks ago to help handle all of the new incoming work in which one of her tasks was to repurpose memes for over 200 tweets in the upcoming 30 days,” he continued. “From what I’m told, a caffeine-fueled late night turned into a faulty copy/paste of a Google burger meme that our art director was unaware of being an actual physical event, and an ignorant assumption was made with lack of thought.”
In a Twitter response to Adweek, he wrote that the art director may have mistaken the image for one taken from a TV show.
Valor wrote that this mistake led to “pain for many including myself and especially the family” of James Foley, adding that he scheduled a call to apologize to them directly on Wednesday.
He apologized to the client as well as “anyone and everyone offended by content like this being released.”
“I just want to make this abundantly clear: I work very hard to be the best person I can possibly be and out of 100,000 moments in my life, this is one that has made the largest mark,” Valor wrote, promising to his clients and the Foley family that “nothing like this will ever happen again” and encouraging others to contact him directly (his email address was included in one of the Z-Burger tweets explaining the situation).
A subsequent tweet by Valor appeared to refer to the negative attention his company has received since news of the image first attracted notice over the weekend.
Adweek asked him to clarify and will update the story when he responds.
Valor Media, also listed as Blaze Media, Inc., on LinkedIn, describes itself as “designed to set your brand on FIRE” via services including web design, SEO and social media. On his personal profile, Valor lists himself as a “Hero.”
James Foley was kidnapped in 2012 while covering the Syrian war as a journalist for Agence France-Presse and the GlobalPost and subsequently became the first American civilian murdered by ISIS. His family later established a foundation with the mission of protecting conflict journalists and returning American hostages kidnapped abroad.