The "noise level" exploded only two days after Crain’s published a story on Feb. 16 in which the New York chapter of the Public Relations Society of America called him a "stain on the industry."
Within days, the Hispanic Public Relations Society condemned him and days later, Richard Edelman, the CEO of Edelman Public Relations, one of the nation's largest PR firms, also issued a blistering condemnation.
Only months before, Torossian seemed to be riding high, portrayed in some press reports as a "confidant of Eric Adams." While Torossian was never involved in policy sessions and was not on the official payroll, he helped introduce Adams to media, sports and entertainment figures in Manhattan while the former Brooklyn borough president was mounting his successful mayoral campaign.
Torossian had helped Adams get into the exclusive NoHo members-only club Zero Bond and secured the mayor-elect publicity for appearing there. For a while, it appeared to be Adams’ unofficial transition headquarters.
But staffers bristled at the outsider who seemed to have the mayor's ear, especially when it turned out Torossian was the longtime representative of the adult site Pornhub and its parent company, Mind Geek.
One longtime Democratic operative blasted the mayor for hobnobbing with Torossian and urged him to "move away as quickly as possible." Adams later canceled a series of fundraisers—including one at Zero Bond arranged by Torossian.
Pressure intensified after the Crain's story on Feb. 16 revealed that Torossian was scrubbing the Everything-PR site of controversial stories and replaced the names of the fake journalists that populated the site since he took over with the anonymous byline "By EPR staff" on virtually all stories in its archives.
After the PRSA New York chapter issued its blistering condemnation two days later, Torossian finally admitted—after denying for years that he owned the site—that he had indeed bought it in 2014. He said it was a "lapse in judgment" to have hidden his ownership for nearly eight years. He also conceded to "ethical lapses" in the early years following the founding of the firm.
Torossian said Friday that while he is stepping down from the CEO role, he will remain 5WPR’s owner and chairman. Two longtime associates, co-Presidents Dara Bush and Matt Caiola, will become co-CEOs, overseeing the day-to-day decisions while he remains founder and chairman.
"I started 5WPR at the age of 28 in December 2002. Today, nearly 20 years later, we employ 275 people and are one of America's largest and leading PR agencies,” Torossian said. “We have done many great things together. But I have also made many mistakes."
He also said he has "zero interest in selling."
But some PR pros are not buying his mea culpa and question why he should be allowed to continue to profit from the company.
"Why would an innocent man step down as CEO from the company he founded and ran? He wouldn't,” said Ken Frydman, head of Source Communications, who was slammed in an Everything-PR.com story years after he beat out Torossian's firm for a contract. The original negative story is among those scrubbed from the site in recent weeks.
Aaron Kwittken, founder and chairman of KWT Global, had also been subject to negative stories on Everything-PR.com before it was disclosed that Torossian owned it.
"The damage is already done," Kwittken said. "This move is merely a distinction without a difference."
Keith J. Kelly is a reporter for Crain's New York Business