Looking back over a longish career the blog is frequently forced to admit that some decisions seemed like a good idea at the time.
One of the most memorable was in the Cadets’ Mess at the Scheyville Officer Training Unit in late 1967 when the Adjutant asked the blog whether it would like to go into the Army PR unit after graduation. The PR unit had some big advantages – temporary Captain rank; more money; the likelihood the blog would know more about PR than anything else in the Army; and, a possible degree of additional safety. Having watched too many WWII movies with stiff upper lip Brit characters when young the blog had a terrible rush of blood and replied “Sir, I was rather thinking I might go into a combat arm.” Next thing the blog knew it was in the Royal Australian Artillery and then bound for South Vietnam.
This memory sprung to mind reading the latest of Dr Tony Jaques invaluable Managing Outcomes issues management newsletters on the recent taxi industry Twitter PR disaster. As Tony said: “There’s an old saying in the PR industry that when things go wrong the most useful all-purpose phrase is ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time.’ But there are some strategies which were never a good idea. And issue management # 1 is: ‘Don’t do dumb stuff.’”
For those who haven’t heard the Twitter disaster details the Victorian Taxi Association decided to start a Twitter campaign which would allow people to share positive experiences about taxis. Needless to say they were swamped by angry stories about all the complaints people have about taxis and tax drivers. Of course, there is a question good PR people should always ask in such situations – a way of ensuring they don’t do dumb things – and that’s what if…? In other words canvassing what might go wrong. It doesn’t mean that the PR advice has to be constantly negative it’s just that it needs to take into account sensible risk management and worst case scenarios, before pushing any campaign go buttons. Ideally sensible PR advice would also involve – when someone has come up with a bright idea (like this Twitter campaign) – calmly talking through the problems and then proposing an alternative which would work better. After all, the key to good corporate counsel is not just to say no but instead to explain how it could be done more effectively and with less risk.
Part of the problem in this case is the obsession with social media as a mandatory campaign cure-all (of more in the next blog post) rather than thinking through why, when and how you use it.
Tony recounts other Twitter disasters. McDonald’s disastrous Twitter campaigns inviting people to talk about ‘heart-warming’ experiences eating Maccas food (not sure what suggestions cardiologists made); the New York Police Department social media campaign inviting people to submit photographs of people ‘interacting with police’ (just imagine it for a moment); and best of all “Malaysian Airlines launching an invitation for people to share their ‘bucket list’ of things to do before they die, just a month after two of their aircraft had been lost killing everyone on board.” As Tony said there is now a name for such screw ups – “hashtags which turn into bashtags”. Tony’s newsletter and how to subscribe are at:
Tony also tells the blog he is finishing a new book on crisis and issues management – this time directed less to PR people and more towards senior managers. It should be out next year and when details are available the blog will provide them. From one very, very brief morsel Tony shared it will contain a brilliant discussion of the VW case comparing and contrasting it with various Toyota, Ford and Firestone cases. And on the VW case the blog suggests PR people interested in crises, issues and trust should read Michael Skapinker’s piece in the Weekend FT 7/8 November 2015.