Getting Mad for Nothing!

One of my earliest experiences as an agency person was seeing an angry client rail about pulling his ads from a particular publication because he didn’t like something in an article about his company. I can’t remember the precise issue that roused his ire, but I remember that it was relatively minor and that, even if it weren’t, there were a whole host of reasons not to threaten someone on the editorial side with pressure on the advertising side.

With the advent of the internet, having a hissy fit about editorial content just expands the audience for an unflattering depiction of your company and its executives.

There was ample proof of this last month when Mad Magazine published a four-page parody of a Circuit City ad. You can see the “Sucker City” spoof on the Consumerist blog.

A thin-skinned Circuit City executive named Elizabeth Barron ordered all stores to “immediately remove all issues and copies” of the magazine from the sales floor and “throw them away.”

Her email was picked up by thousands of bloggers and hundreds of mainstream media and read by hundreds of thousands more, who added their own snarky commentary to the mix (such as this one: “Way to go, Circuit City. Your response to this means it's the first time anybody has paid attention to Mad Magazine in fifteen years.”)

The whole brouhaha calmed down the very next day, when Jim Babb, a savvy Circuit City communications pro, wrote an absolutely charming letter to the Consumerist that showed he had a sense of humor:

I spotted the article about Circuit City and MAD Magazine on your site.

Fyi, I became aware of this "situation" only this morning, and I have sent a note today to the Editors of MAD Magazine.

Speaking as "an embarrassed corporate PR Guy," I apologized for the fact that some overly-sensitive souls at our corporate headquarters ordered the removal of the August issue of MAD Magazine from our stores. Please keep in mind that only 40 of our 700 stores sell magazines at all.

The parody of our newspaper ad in the August MAD was very clever. Most of us at Circuit City share a rich sense of humor and irony...but there are occasional temporary lapses.

We apologize for the knee-jerk reaction, and have issued a retraction order; the affected stores are being directed to put the magazines back on sale.

As a gesture of our apology and deep respect for the folks at MAD Magazine, we are creating a cross-departmental task force to study the importance of humor in the corporate workplace and expect the resulting PowerPoint presentation to top out at least 300 pages, chock full of charts, graphs and company action plans.

In addition I have offered to send the MAD Magazine Editor a $20.00 Circuit City Gift Card, toward the purchase of a Nintendo Wii...if he can find one!

A sincere apology … delivered swiftly … with a convincing promise that the problem will not recur. That’s the essence of good media relations and great crisis communications.



Technorati Tags: Circuit City, Mad Magazine, Sucker City, Elizabeth Barron, Jim Babb, Consumerist, business, communications, public relations

U.S. Open: Close Minded?

Talk about poor customer relations, deceitfulness, close-mindedness, bad public relations and not thinking strategically!

Whatever you want to call it, the 2008 U.S. Open, one of the prime worldwide sporting events, chose to commit a silly and yet insulting blunder.

What happened? The U.S.T.A announced last Thursday that there were no tickets left for the weekend. But, according to The New York Times, tickets were on sale on Friday morning.

The senior director of PR for the U.S.T.A. explained that indeed there were “200-300 seats available for Friday and probably 300 combined for Saturday and Sunday.” In explaining the previous no-ticket announcement, the PR director said, “We were looking to avoid a huge buildup of people, and people going away disappointed.”

Talking straight to potential ticket-buyers would have prevented disappointment at the box office. It would also have prevented Continue reading "U.S. Open: Close Minded?"

U.S. Open: Close Minded?

Talk about poor customer relations, deceitfulness, close-mindedness, bad public relations and not thinking strategically!

Whatever you want to call it, the 2008 U.S. Open, one of the prime worldwide sporting events, chose to commit a silly and yet insulting blunder.

What happened? The U.S.T.A announced last Thursday that there were no tickets left for the weekend. But, according to The New York Times, tickets were on sale on Friday morning.

The senior director of PR for the U.S.T.A. explained that indeed there were “200-300 seats available for Friday and probably 300 combined for Saturday and Sunday.” In explaining the previous no-ticket announcement, the PR director said, “We were looking to avoid a huge buildup of people, and people going away disappointed.”

Talking straight to potential ticket-buyers would have prevented disappointment at the box office. It would also have prevented a huge “builddown” in credibility both for the U.S.T.A and its senior PR director.



Technorati Tags: U.S. Open, poor customer relations, bad public relations, U.S.T.A, credibility, The New York Times, business, communications, public relations

Ikea: Smart PR, Smart Business

It is refreshing to see that Ikea, the Swedish/International furniture store, is community relations sensitive, as evidenced by its actions in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York. The store has distinguished itself, particularly in light of protests which have kept other major chains from entering key markets (e.g., residents of Staten Island, Queens and the Bronx have kept Wal-Mart out; and Manhattanites have kept Costco out.) The New York Times tells the story in its front page article on August 11, “Brooklyn Neighbors Admit a Big Box Isn’t All Bad.”

The protests against competitors obviously inspired Ikea’s benevolence but, regardless, its unique community strategies have inspired Brooklyn residents to embrace Ikea rather than turn away, as many opponents did — before Ikea acted — who felt the neighborhood would lose its character.

What I like about what Ikea did is that its management Continue reading "Ikea: Smart PR, Smart Business"

Ikea: Smart PR, Smart Business

It is refreshing to see that Ikea, the Swedish/International furniture store, is community relations sensitive, as evidenced by its actions in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York. The store has distinguished itself, particularly in light of protests which have kept other major chains from entering key markets (e.g., residents of Staten Island, Queens and the Bronx have kept Wal-Mart out; and Manhattanites have kept Costco out.) The New York Times tells the story in its front page article on August 11, “Brooklyn Neighbors Admit a Big Box Isn’t All Bad.”

The protests against competitors obviously inspired Ikea’s benevolence but, regardless, its unique community strategies have inspired Brooklyn residents to embrace Ikea rather than turn away, as many opponents did — before Ikea acted — who felt the neighborhood would lose its character.

What I like about what Ikea did is that its management demonstrated wise strategic thinking, which is what one would expect from an established enterprise but often does not get. Management’s tactics addressed multiple audience segments beyond its basic customer base, focusing on those who influence customers, as well: young, old and even the general public. In doing so, the “resistance mat” has become a “welcome mat,” diluting anger through what I call a “community give-back program” focused on building current support and future customers.

Specifically, here are the magnificent moves Ikea made, according to the Times:

  • Built a grassy waterfront esplanade featuring benches with a view of the Lower Manhattan skyline, which is catching on as a neighborhood gathering place

  • Provides free N.Y. Water Taxi service between Red Hook and Manhattan, an appealing alternative to the subway

  • Offers a bus shuttle service taken by many people who are not even planning to enter the store

  • Allowed local Red Hook residents to apply for jobs at Ikea before others could

  • Selling 50 cent hot dogs in its café and offering free soda refills
One resident said Ikea’s actions are bringing badly needed visitors to the area who will spend money at other local stores. Another said Ikea may be a role-model for a future where people are less dependent on cars — and for building more developments on the waterfront. “There is a ripple effect,” he said.

But there is a ripple effect for Ikea as well. What it did has already appeared on the front page of the Times, not an easy achievement. That in itself is a magnet for customers. These moves will undoubtedly give a jump-start to business at the new store. Further it positions Ikea as a community leader, thereby sprinkling “stature dust” on it, providing a perception change among both advocates and adversaries, as well as the community at large. Said one resident: “Everyone was talking about it before — now no one talks about it anymore, which is nice.” Smart public relations is more about doing than talking.


Technorati Tags: Ikea, Red Hook, Brooklyn, Wal-Mart, Costco, NY Water Taxi, The New York Times, smart public relations, business, communications, public relations

Using the Internet as an Employee "Weapon"

This is the story of how the internet has been used as a "weapon" by employees to publicly embarrass a CEO.

Escalating charges and countercharges are not unusual in labor-management disputes, so it was no surprise when United Airlines pilots reacted — loudly — to UAL Corp.’s refusal to negotiate a new contract and the company’s announcement of plans to eliminate 950 pilot jobs and ground some aircraft to help offset the rising cost of fuel. The pilots union countercharged that the airline’s poor maintenance was responsible for four recent aircraft engine failures.

But the battle didn’t stop there. The United pilots launched a website called “Glenn Tilton Must Go,” “as a daily reminder to everyone invested in a positive future for United Airlines exactly where the source of our problems lies.” According to the pilots, that source is the CEO of United who, they say, has neglected Continue reading "Using the Internet as an Employee "Weapon""

Using the Internet as an Employee "Weapon"

This is the story of how the internet has been used as a "weapon" by employees to publicly embarrass a CEO.

Escalating charges and countercharges are not unusual in labor-management disputes, so it was no surprise when United Airlines pilots reacted — loudly — to UAL Corp.’s refusal to negotiate a new contract and the company’s announcement of plans to eliminate 950 pilot jobs and ground some aircraft to help offset the rising cost of fuel. The pilots union countercharged that the airline’s poor maintenance was responsible for four recent aircraft engine failures.

But the battle didn’t stop there. The United pilots launched a website called “Glenn Tilton Must Go,” “as a daily reminder to everyone invested in a positive future for United Airlines exactly where the source of our problems lies.” According to the pilots, that source is the CEO of United who, they say, has neglected the company’s day-to-day operations for two years, while he attempted to engineer mergers with Delta, Continental and US Airways.

The new website highlights the carrier's poor operational and financial performance, encourages passengers to report any problems they’ve had while flying on United and demands Tilton’s immediate resignation.

Readers have responded. Gerry Braun, a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter, for example, tells the tale of a family unceremoniously bumped off a flight the mother had booked six months in advance so that her grown children could visit their dying father in a hospice just once before he died of cancer.

Not only was the launch of the “Glenn Tilton Must Go” website bruited all over the blogosphere, it’s been widely covered by the mainstream media, including BusinessWeek , USA Today, The New York Times, the UK’s Guardian.

As of today, there’s been no official response from United. But the website strategy employed by the union has served its purpose. Tilton has, no doubt, lost support among his employees and the public. The speed of destruction was enabled by the internet and is there for a long time to come for everyone to see. Years ago it might have been a one shot press release covered once in the print and broadcast media.

Technorati Tags: internet, United Airlines, labor management disputes, pilots union, Glenn Tilton, Gleen Tilton Must Go, Gerry Braun, business, communications, public relations