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.
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