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Is Great Marketing the New Public Relations?

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Just another example of how not to treat a customer in today's connected world, or put your brand in peril. Jackie & Ben do a wonderful job outlining the series of events that lead up to a horrible public relations nightmare for CompUSA.


Summary: Guy buys digital camera, gets box home, nothing in box. Blogs about it, gets note from idiot CompUSA executive saying "he should have checked the box, all sales are final." Story goes viral, through blogs, all the way up to Fox News. You can guess the rest.
We all know who's to blame in this story. It wasn't the fault of the marketing team, that's for sure. It wasn't even the fault of the PR team.
However, blame aside, is it the responsibility of the marketing team to turn this lemon of a PR move into lemonade? Or is it the PR team's job?
Normally most would say that the PR department should be in charge of this. And perhaps they should (20 years ago). But I argue that a good marketing team in today's marketplace should be able to take a disaster and turn it into a win through creative marketing. PR should not be involved anymore.
Why? Because as Jackie and Ben allude to, you cannot stop the conversation from happening, you can only embrace it and work with it. PR only seems to want to bury it.
Instead, I say a good marketing team should embrace the story. How about a marketing campaign of a contest based around finding some cash in a random box? For example...
"Whoops, we messed up! You may have heard by now, we accidentally left a computer out of one of our boxes. To make up for it, we've decided to put $10,000 in one computer box for some lucky person to find with the purchase of any CompUSA purchased computer. Anyone can win, just buy a computer from CompUSA in the next 30-days and look for your cash!"
Some would call this unnecessarily calling out the problem, but I would argue that the problem is already out there, it just hasn't been read by everyone yet.
In today's connected world, and with today's savvy customer and rabid competitors, getting any attention is better than getting none. Most likely PR would apologize (as they did) and try to kill the conversation.
But in reality, is that the best move?
What do you think? Can PR effectively solve problems anymore? Or is it marketing's turn to carry the load?


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Comments

  • by Lewis Green Thu Jun 7, 2007 via blog

    Jim, Good post. I don't think it matters which silo handles this issue. Whatever the department does needs to be approved by legal and likely a C-level executive. The statements won't say much other than the official apology. In my mind, a better strategy would be to have the CompUSA executive personally call the customer, apologize, and offer a gift. Then CompUSA needs to change this policy, and conduct customer relations internal training on a regular basis to ensure nothing like this ever happens again. The issue isn't one of either PR (a tool of marketing) or marketing. The issue is one of CompUSA apparently putting sales ahead of people. They need to reverse that thinking.

  • by Jim Kukral Thu Jun 7, 2007 via blog

    Thanks Lewis, I like your strategy as well. But I think the point of Jackie and Ben's book and my question is that "they don't get that" line of thinking, at all. It seems that too many executives and "money men" have long ago forgotten the customer as a person, and are now learning that they can no longer do that, and it's freaking them out.

  • by Nic Darling Thu Jun 7, 2007 via blog

    Regardless of which department is in charge I like your idea for a response. Yes, call the guy, and make things better with him. Maybe he will even tell someone you did it, but maybe not . . . affront plays better than reconciliation. But, you still need a response to this "thing" that has grown out of control. The box of cash is a creative and entertaining option. It makes no excuses for the error (which always seem to sound false anyway) and spins it into a fun campaign. Every company makes mistakes and customers, I think, are willing to accept that if it is dealt with honestly.

  • by Nathan Thu Jun 7, 2007 via blog

    I think the way a company handles a mistake is just as much an opportunity to create a loyal customer as to never make mistakes (which isn't possible in the first place). If that whole computer missing from the box thing happened, I think the money idea is a great idea. Another such one, that feels less like 'marketing' would be to simply say "Crap. We messed up. To show we're sorry, you get the computer free." and follow up with free personal installation if the customer wants that. Why personal installation? Because it allows for a face-to-face meeting and extra connection. Send the best rep out there who will ensure from there everything is better than 'fixed' it's fantastic.

  • by Nathan Thu Jun 7, 2007 via blog

    Er: Not computer, digital camera, got the wires crossed. Was thinking about getting a new computer. Anyhow, great post Jim :)

  • by JVRudnick Thu Jun 7, 2007 via blog

    Further to Lewis's comments, I found the email addys for the top 6 execs at the company and emailed them ALL a personal note saying "shame" on them.... I got back 3 responders, that these 3 had left the company in the past week.... Ellen Miller, Mark Walker and Bill Maddox left! I'd like to think it was BECAUSE of this issue, but maybe they know a "clinker" of a company when they work in one! Jim PS keep up this kinda work, Jim!

  • by Jim Kukral Thu Jun 7, 2007 via blog

    @Nic, You're right, we/they all make mistakes. It's how you handle them that counts. @Nathan, exactly, they had a chance to create/spin this into a huge win. @JVRudnick, Wow, makes you wonder eh? How is it possible that 3 major executives left within one week? Ponderous.

  • by Chris Fri Jun 8, 2007 via blog

    Jim - those three were already gone when this happened. They were part of the big workforce reduction at the Dallas HQ. I "was" an insider and boy am I glad I'm gone!

  • by Chris Fri Jun 8, 2007 via blog

    Jim - those three were already gone when this happened. They were part of the big workforce reduction at the Dallas HQ. I "was" an insider and boy am I glad I'm gone!

  • by andrei Sat Jun 9, 2007 via blog

    What is it whit youu people? Marketing the new PR? I dont think so...The new PR just have to keep pushing their creativity ...and you that since Al&Laura Ries book PR is more creative. CompUSA had a very bad PR persone...and one o the solution such as yours...coulded save them. But u cannot blame just the PR departament...Maybe that way says their Crisis Plan Managament: We apologize. But it is the first stept, isnt thit? After u can do a marketing plan to minimize the demage & getting attention, free publicity....

  • by Jim Lane Sat Jun 9, 2007 via blog

    Looks to me like you have a bone to pick with PR. They can handle it quietly and put out the fire. The solution you present would blow up in your face and look like the company is trying too hard to bury the incident and BUY goodwill via a "giveaway." You would be crucified in the social media because pundits would see right through you with the ease they caught Edelmann out.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Mon Jun 11, 2007 via blog

    It would be helpful if the company had a policy about dealing with mistakes to begin with. Frankly, if a firm makes a mistake it seems they should make it right with THAT customer before it becomes a social media issue. I recently ordered a new phone with a wireless headset, etc., for my home office. There was radio station interference with the new phone. I ordered a filter from the same company but they sent me the wrong one. I called and the cheerful person who answered said sorry about that we will send a UPS or FedEx (I forget which one it was) person to you with the right one and you just have to give back the one you have. Sure enough they followed through and I got the right filter with very little effort on my part. The mistake and how they handled it actually turned me into a loyal customer, and I would not hesitate to recommend them! Neil

  • by Lysander Meath Baker Thu Jun 14, 2007 via blog

    How does CompUSA know that there really was no camera in the box? Some customers are dishonest. If you have a policy of handing out free gifts to customers who claim empty boxes then I suspect there will suddenly be many more empty boxes...

  • by Dan Thu Jun 14, 2007 via blog

    Marketing and PR are two different fields, and I'm afraid this article supports the common ignorance about what PR really does. I agree with the last 3 posters. "20 years ago"??? Hardly. Deal with the customer who has the problem first. It has nothing to do "burying" anything...it's about being honest with the customer; afterall, PR deals with your publics and marketing is concerned with sales. Jim Lane's post is right: the media will see right through your idea to put money in a box...you're just trying to make more money rather than solving the problem at hand. While your proposed giveaway might be something to consider doing after everything is settled with the problem, I hardly think saying "PR should not be involved anymore" is a legitimate argument. Of course PR can effectively solve problems...if you have the right people doing it. Obviously CompUSA's executive wasn't the right person to decide he would handle their PR himself.

  • by David Thu Jun 14, 2007 via blog

    I tend to agree with Neil. I would rather speak to the client directly, offering him an upgrade on the product he bought (top model in the range, for example) and let the client do your PR and marketing. The customer might post to another blog and praise the company for the 'efficient manner in which they handled a delicate situation' - and your reputation is restored - at least in part. It might be picked up by other publications and used as an example of good customer management. And the good thing would be that PR / Marketing had nothing to do with it. Similar stories tend to 'disappear' from the media after some time but a disgruntled and angry customer will not forget the incident. I'd prefer to be lambasted in the media for a couple of days rather than having an unhappy customer convincing his friends and family not to purchase anything from my company. When that happens, the company has an even bigger problem to solve.

  • by David Thu Jun 14, 2007 via blog

    I tend to agree with Neil. I would rather speak to the client directly, offering him an upgrade on the product he bought (top model in the range, for example) and let the client do your PR and marketing. The customer might post to another blog and praise the company for the 'efficient manner in which they handled a delicate situation' - and your reputation is restored - at least in part. It might be picked up by other publications and used as an example of good customer management. And the good thing would be that PR / Marketing had nothing to do with it. Similar stories tend to 'disappear' from the media after some time but a disgruntled and angry customer will not forget the incident. I'd prefer to be lambasted in the media for a couple of days rather than having an unhappy customer convincing his friends and family not to purchase anything from my company. When that happens, the company has an even bigger problem to solve.

  • by Karl Boehm Thu Jun 14, 2007 via blog

    I think that the marketing promotion is an interesting idea but this is an argument of semantics and the answer simply depends on the corporate structure - is the PR department setup to be reactionary or is the marketing and the truth is that after the customer service line fails, then it goes to management and when that fails if it goes public the PR department is setup to react to public opinion. So I suppose I disagree with the main point however marketing can certainly help the PR department make lemonade so to speak. Thanks for the topic!

  • by Rick Couture Fri Jun 15, 2007 via blog

    I bet the empty box was the one they used as the display model...easily confirmed by checking the serial number on the box against the serial number on the floor model. Assuming the camera box had a serial number of course...my Canon does I think. A smart store manager could have solved this one so easily.

  • by Margie Zable Fisher Mon Jun 18, 2007 via blog

    Hi Jim, Loved your post. The bottom line is: everyone is in P.R. That includes salespeople, customer service people and executives. Letting them all know that they are empowered to handle problems, and that any of their actions (especially crummy ones) can have a major effect on corporate performance will help prevent problems like this in the future.

  • by indiana j0nes Tue Jun 19, 2007 via blog

    hi there.. i would like to ask.. could you briefly discuss the diffrent publics of a company and their expectation? and why is it important..

  • by Akeem Adetunji Mon Jul 2, 2007 via blog

    I think everything stems from the Management culture. Compusa does not strike me as a company particularly interested in projecting a good image to its customers. The company is obviously hanging by a thread, with their kind of customer service I bet you they wont be around long. I have personally had a doze of their bad customer relation and vowed not to return

  • by Akym Mon Jul 2, 2007 via blog

    I think everything stems from the Management culture. Compusa does not strike me as a company particularly interested in projecting a good image to its customers. The company is obviously hanging by a thread, with their kind of customer service I bet you they wont be around long. I have personally had a doze of their bad customer relation and vowed not to return

  • by ISAAC BISILKI Wed Nov 7, 2007 via blog

    I am an undergrat.

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