An ad campaign – designed to help traditional retailers defend against international online retailers – (driven by business PR experts Financial Dynamics) is having adverse results in its infancy. Irate customers are outshouting Australia’s biggest retailers, especially in online spaces and letters to newspapers carrying the press ads.
Over at Australia’s pre-eminent business affairs website – Business Spectator – PR disaster expert Gerry McCusker has published an article looking at how bank customers are hitting back at unfair practices, using social media as a potent weapon to damage banks’ online reputations, and force operational change. McCusker’s article cites cases from Australia as well as the USA.
How to create a PR disaster: Lie to customers, exacerbate their frustration and, then, have your Social Media Manager (a wonderfully named Mr Pissant, geddit??) get flamed while defending your employee engagement practices, rather than empathising with the affected family. Subsequently, the family created a blog and Twitter account – and a PR nightmare for the airline. The blog – Alaska Airlines Hates Families – made bad headlines for the airline, after it was publicised in several mainstream media including The Vancouver Sun, Toronto Star, Edmonton Journal and the UKs Daily Mail. The young family had a “nappy/diaper emergency” at the airport, which forced them to miss booking in for their flight by just 1 minute. Watch it unfold from there…
A former publicist at Australian retail chain David Jones, has read out a well-composed statement in front of a packed media scrum, where she announced she was seeking substantial punitive damages over sexual harassment claims against Jones’ former CEO, Mark McInnes (below).
While I previously posted about trying to give BP a break re their oil spill PR disaster, I’m moved to retract. Now that they’ve been caught altering and photo-shopping aerial images of their spill response, the facts seem to point to a company culture that’s prepared to fudge on fact, rather than learn from their past misrepresentations in this regard. BP says they only retouch images to help readers get a better view of photos, but at a time when the company’s every actions are so intensely under the microscope, this is a practice that only casts more suspicion on the company’s communications practices. Often in a PR crisis, the appearance of wrongdoing is just as influential as actual evidence of it.
As the author of ‘Public Relations Disasters’, I know that the critical commentary about BPs handling of its Gulf oil spill guarantees only one thing; this will go down in corporate history as the case study in how not to handle environmental crisis communications; from premature statements about modest impact to the now laughable “we have turned the corner” claim and the money-minded assertion there was “no reason for the share price movement”, many of the utterances signalled those of a self-interested and self-serving organisation.
However, many of the forensic, nay nit-picking, critiques by analysts, experts and profiteering pundits of every hue have been hysterical (against Hayward’s “I want my life back” and yacht trip, and Svanberg’s “…small people” comments), opportunistic (the US political pot-shotters) and aimed to inflict additional pointless discomfort (experts insisting how they’d’ve done it better) on an established brand and corporation patently struggling to cope with a natural and PR disaster beyond it, Haliburton’s and Transocean’s ken. Believe me, BP wants this to end and will be pursuing that goal 100%. Where is that perspective ever reported though?
So I ask you all; where is our balance, our perspective, our compassion to support all concerned in the midst of this horrible environmental catastrophe? Where’s our willingness to give everyone involved (yes, even BP) a break? Societal (ie media) statements, utterances and opinion is increasingly seeming like a harsh, judgemental and very ugly thing. Social Media in particular often supports the angriest critics, not the fair-minded voices of reason. What a cold, unforgiving and pointlessly punitive environment for PRs and communicators trying to convey any kind of company perspective or position.
The BP response has confused many PR experts, but perhaps that’s only because it ceased to be a PR issue months ago. As this AP article shows, the stakes exceed communications and reputation needs. It’s now all about limiting financial damage and the likelihood of corporate and personal prosecution. For example, some years ago I asked a former Comms Chief at a scandal-hit agricultural organisation why Execs listened to lawyers more often than they listened to PRs: “Lawyers can keep them out of jail”, was his deadpan reply.
An American director of fading English football giant, Liverpool, has offsided scores of fans with an abusive email rant to an activist who had, clearly, irked him. Reported by The Daily Mail…”In emailed responses to “Spirit of Shankly” member Stephen Horner, Tom Hicks Jnr first called him an ‘idiot’ and later wrote ‘Go to hell. I’m sick of you’. He also branded the Kop activist a ‘f*** face’.”
While little Tommy has quickly apologised (after extensive negative online and media disapproval) it’s bizarre that a senior exec could, for even a second, think that such an unguarded email comment wouldn’t create substantial negative commentary. Calls for the family’s resignation continue unabated. Again, before you press send…think, think, think.
Smutty Australian Social Media campaign leads to global PR disaster for Toyota, a hitherto well-regarded brand.
PR disaster reader David Jarwood alerts me to the case of the daughter defending her daddy a Director-level employee (of General Motors) after he gets the sack…another illustrative case of how personal posts can create professional PR disasters – maybe every family needs a Social Media Engagement Policy?
Anyhooz, Sarah Henderson, daughter of sacked GM bigwig Fritz Henderson placed a message on General Motors’ Facebook page describing Ed Whitacre, its new acting chief executive, as “a selfish piece of shit”. After generous use of the f-word, she promised to “never buy from this god forsaken company ever again” and signed off with the words: “f — all of you”. GM was quick to remove the posting, but not quick enough. It was spotted by the car industry blog Jalopnik.com, which copied the page, re-posting it on its own site. As The Australian newspaper points out: “…While the sites, blogs and discussion forums have provided companies with unprecedented access to their customers, they have opened up a myriad of opportunities for damage to a company’s reputation – as disgruntled customers are able to broadcast their frustration and anger to the world.”
I enjoyed a great chat with NYT correspondent Meraiah Foley a few weeks back – our topic was whether Kraft’s iSnack2.0 really was a PR disaster or not; my view (that it wasn’t) are well-recorded, and Meraiah reports: “Gerry McCusker, who has written a book on public relations disasters, believes Kraft’s experience with iSnack 2.0 will become a useful case study in using controversy to “cut through the clutter” of the marketing space. “Kraft has turned a fairly pedestrian product launch into a matter of public pride and public ownership and affinity for the Vegemite brand,” Mr. McCusker said. “That’s what today’s media thrives on: the conversations, the open expression of opinions, the love, the hate, the passion — and we’re talking about a jar of spread.”
For more about the topics Meraiah and I touched on, you can read the notes I pre-prepped for our chat: Continue reading