Ocean Marketing: A Public Relations Nightmare and How to Avoid it

If I’ve learned anything in my career, it’s the importance of getting things in writing as well as being courteous to your customers—the lifeblood of any business. Getting things in writing not only serves as a helpful reminder of what needs to be done, it can also help trace the cause and lead-up to both successes and failures to help you succeed in the future.

Email chains serve as a timeline between multiple parties and since everything is in writing, there’s no confusion about what details were spelled out, unlike remembering chicken scratch notes from a meeting. Have you ever been in a long meeting and left remembering only a few vital points and some humorous commentary that didn’t have anything to do with the main topic? This is a time when getting things in writing can help you succeed.

Now, imagine that same meeting with a written agenda with room for note taking then receiving a summary of what was discussed with a plan of action laid out? This way of thinking follows the basic presentation training of “I’m going to tell you what I’m going to talk about, I’m going to talk about it, then I’m going to tell you what I talked about.” Three chances to get the information in your head.

Another great reason for emailing information is it enables you to search for it at a later time in the event you need to obtain information or follow-up. I’ve made a point of including order or model numbers in emails so if I want to trace the lead-up to an order or follow-up on a particular order, all I have to do is search for the order number.

There are times, however, when getting things in writing can be negative. As with anything digital, it is important to understand how easily information, photos, videos or even sound clips can be spread. While the intent may not always be malicious, it can quickly turn that way, especially if emotions get involved.

Take for example, the recent case of Paul Chrisoforo from Ocean Marketing. If you haven’t heard of him yet, he is a public relations professional who forgot his manners and how easy it is to forward an email. What started out as a simple inquiry from a customer regarding the delivery date of a pre-ordered a video game controller, quickly turned into a career train wreck for Paul. Instead of just giving the customer a straight answer, he was vague, got irritated with the customer, then completely insulted and spoke inappropriately to the customer.

In his tirade of insulting the customer, he, in return, let the customer know just how important he was, how many powerful people he knew, and how many gaming expos his company would be attending. When he mentioned PAX, the Penny Arcade Expo, the customer decided that it was time to inform Mike Krahulik, creator of popular comic and blog Penny Arcade, as well as head of the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX).

When Mike read the disastrous email chain, he let Paul know he wouldn’t be getting a booth at the expo. Rather than calm down or even look into who this Mr. Krahulik was, Paul continued the insults, power trip and name dropping. By that point, Mike decided he’d had enough of the drama, and informed Paul that he would be featured on his blog Penny Arcade the next day. Paul was still excited for the feature and PR until he realized who he was dealing with. Now he’s begging for the publicity to stop and has written an apology to both the customer and to Mike, but at this point, he’s completely damaged his reputation as a PR professional.

Although this put Paul and his company in a very negative light, I would say that this could actually help his career, similarly to the way the E. coli scare at Jack-In-The-Box helped their sales.  At the time, no one wanted to eat there, but shortly thereafter, it was regarded as one of the safest places to eat because the restaurant chain was taking extra precautions to ensure no one else got sick from their food.

Could this be the same case with Mr. Christoforo? Could he really be a brilliant enough PR professional to swing his career into a successful one or has he ruined his career in public relations forever?

I’m sure there are times when it might feel good to really let a customer know what you think, but in the long run, it’s not good for anyone. And worse, as Paul Christoforo so clearly demonstrated, giving a customer that kind of ammunition can be extremely damaging, not just for the person who sent it, but for the reputation of the company as well. Even if you aren’t intending to be insulting or short with someone, because it is in writing and not spoken, it can sometimes come off that way.

So keep your customers happy and your reputation safe with a few tips:

  • Write every correspondence with the knowledge that it only takes one click to forward your message. If you wouldn’t want someone else reading it, you probably shouldn’t write it.
  • If the person you’re communicating seems unclear about what you have written or seems to be getting frustrated, call the person or allow them to “please call” you so you can ensure you are on the same page. If you want to keep that record in writing, it is perfectly acceptable to write a follow-up email “per our conversation” to reiterate your points.
  • Always be courteous and polite, opting to close the email with “thank you” or “best regards” rather than “thanks…” or just your email signature. Make them feel special.
  • If you’re not sure how your email will be taken, have someone else read it. Don’t read it to them because they need to read it as your customer would—without your tone of voice.

The customer may not always be right, but no one likes to be told they are wrong and if someone is paying for a product or service, they want the respect they deserve from that company. Treat them well and you will prosper. Treat them poorly and you will damage your and your company’s reputations.

Penny Arcade Blog Post: http://penny-arcade.com/resources/just-wow1.html

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