The Cain Train has Left the Station

After several grueling months of watching Herman Cain’s political campaign struggle through numerous PR nightmares, the mess is finally over. At least it can be used as a learning experience for current and future Public Relations practitioners. There are three important lessons we can take away from this giant failure in issues management and crisis communications:

1. Get ahead of the story. This does not mean denying things the day before the story breaks and the accusers come forward. Telling the media, your fans and your opposition that some women are going to make accusations and they’re definitely not true so don’t worry about it everyone does not make you seem like you’re being forthcoming and transparent. In fact, it made Herman Cain seem even guiltier, at least of a cover-up.

Cain would have been better off addressing the accusations long before they became an issue. His team had to have known that someone, whether it be another candidate, a member of the media, or a blog-poster with a grudge, would have eventually brought the accusations up. And yet, no one had even had any plan. It seems like everyone on Cain’s team just crossed their fingers and hoped no one would talk about it. No such luck.

2. “No Comment” is no good. Following the story breaking and the repeated sexual harassment allegations coming to light, Cain readily played the “No Comment” card. This is an ineffective tactic in public relations, especially crisis communication. It made Cain look guilty, and it made the media all the more interested in the story. And by refusing to comment, Cain effectively disallowed the media from hearing his side of the story.

Second of all, Cain cried “no comment” in a ridiculous way. He didn’t just tell the media that he’d rather not (or that he couldn’t, in some cases) discuss the numerous issues. Instead, he refused to talk about the issue because, apparently, he decided it wasn’t newsworthy. That’s not the way crisis communications works, and it’s certainly not the way politics work. Cain’s “no comment” wasn’t just ineffective, it was insulting to the media and pretty egotistical.

3. Your audience is not stupid. Even if your audience is stupid, it’s a terrible idea to behave as though it is. Cain and his team used several tactics to try to sweep the accusations under the rug. First, he passed blame. Rather than take responsibility for his actions, explain his wrongdoings, apologize and make amends, Cain blamed everyone else: the Democrats, his Republican opponents, the media, and his accusers. No one believed he was the victim, and Cain ended up looking like he didn’t know how to take responsibility for his actions or handle a crisis. These are not qualities that make a good president.

Cain’s second ineffective tactic was pulling his wife into the frenzy. So many politicians have used the “devoted wife” routine that it has become an obvious ploy for sympathy and support.Cain’s third and most amusing tactic is the poor attempt at damage control that is “Women for Cain,” a hastily thrown together web page detailing how Herman Cain has always been an advocate for women’s rights! He cares about women! Look at this picture of him hugging his wife! Read these testimonials from real women who think Herman Cain is swell! It comes off as disingenuous. It’s too little, too late, and it was insulting of Cain and his team to think the webpage would really convince women that Cain is a great guy, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

The majority of PR practitioners already know exactly where Cain’s campaign went wrong and why it was such a public relations nightmare. Many people who watched the situation unfold knew the mistakes that Cain and his campaign team made and predicted the aftermath. Still, it’s always nice to be reminded how smart you are. For me, it’s a great reminder of why I don’t plan on doing political PR any time in the future.

Jade Keena
Hofstra PR Student

Bank of America Got the Hint

So after weeks of hearing my friends bicker about Bank of America’s new debit card fee and the viral outbreak against the bank online, Bank of America dropped its plans yesterday to add the monthly $5.00 charge for debit card users. J.P. Following suit, J.P. Morgan Chase has decided to drop its plans to add a fee as well.

The company statement reads as follows:

“In response to customer concerns and the changing competitive marketplace, Bank of America no longer intends to implement a debit usage fee. We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee. Our customers’ voices are most important to us. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.”

This story is very reminiscent of the recent Netflix fiasco that erupted: Company makes announcement. Customers across the country are enraged. Customers take their rage to social media. Company realizes the hole they dug for themselves. Company drops plans.

At least we know companies are taking consumers’ concerns on the web seriously and that they are beginning to understand the power of social media more than before. Bank of America better get the word out quickly because I already know a handful of people who are planning to leave the bank soon. I’d be interested to see how many customers they have lost since the initial announcement.

Kudos to BofA for resolving its PR crisis!

Speaking of PR crisis, this would be a nice time to plug my Halloween costume with the rest of the Hunter PR interns. We were struggling to come up with a group costume for the holiday, and I figured why not poke fun at our own industry? I constantly hear about PR case studies every week in class and thought of a fun and unique way to present them. What better way to showcase the case studies than in a #PRFail group costume?

PR Crisis from left to right: BPNetflixMotrinConAgra FoodsWalmart

Sometimes we just have to laugh at ourselves and what goes on in our industry. Happy November!

Nick Schweers


GASP! Another Poorly Handled PR Crisis

OKAY, so today’s lesson is how you DON’T handle a PR crisis on your hands.

While I was on the train today, I came across a tweet about a customer complaint email and response that ‘s currently viral on the Internet. The tweet referred to GASP clothing, an Australian fashion chain. We hear about similar situations all the time, but I was quite shocked when I read further…

Warning: my post is highly opinionated, but I feel most people writing about this story all feel the same way.

According to Keara O’Neil’s initial email to GASP, she was inside the store shopping with her three bridesmaids when an eager staff member approached them. At first he was “helpful and funny,” but she went on to explain that he became overly aggressive in trying to make a sale. He began to make questionable statements about her size, such as “With your figure I really think you should buy it.” Immediately the women left the store when the sales assistant yelled, “Have fun finding something at Supre” and commented, “I knew you girls were a joke the minute you walked in.”

It almost seemed too ridiculous to be true, but I no longer doubted O’Neil’s shopping experience after reading GASP’s unapologetic email response. If O’Neil’s story alone did not already have potential to hurt the brand’s reputation, this PR crisis reached its peak after the company’s unapologetic email response.

Keara O’Neil

O’Neil stated in her email, “I am pretty laid back and was quite happy just leaving your store, it was my bridesmaids who felt the need to say something to him […] I’m just one retailer notifying another of an extremely inappropriate sales assistant.” I don’t believe O’Neil expected the email response that she received from Matthew Chidgey, a GASP area manager.

Chidgey’s response was unprofessional, rude, and outright offensive. He made comments such as, “Similarly these items are priced such that they remain inaccessible to the undesirable” and “Chris is a retail superstar, who possess unparalleled ability, and I am sorry you feel upset by him, but he knew you were not going to buy anything before you even left your house.” I think my favorite line from the email is “So if you would like to do us any favours, please do not waste our retail staff’s time, because as you have already seen, they will not tolerate it.”

With a manager having such a pompous attitude, it is no surprise that the sales assistants would act in such a way towards their customers. Stories like this make me question what companies are thinking and how they could be so irrational when dealing with customer relations. This will affect sales whether Chidgey wants to believe it or not because so many people are upset about the incident. It is no surprise that GASP shut down their Facebook page after receiving the overall negative response from consumers. With today’s economy, companies should never be too comfortable with themselves. People who were once loyal to this brand will gladly spend their money elsewhere if they are offended by this news story. Make sure you read GASP’s full email response. I can say it is THE MOST unprofessional email I’ve ever read from a company. It gave me a good laugh on my train ride.

When I came back to school, I saw a video of an interview with Chidgey about the incident (see video above). It is clear he has no training in media relations based off his answers to the news anchors. He came off very ignorant or just plain stupid to me. I’d like to believe his side of the story, but I’m on the consumer’s side in this one.

Today’s lessons learned:

Don’t ever be overly confident in your brand.

The customer is ALWAYS right.

Think twice before you hit “send” on that email.

What do you all think? Will this incident hurt the brand, or will people forget about it by next week? How should GASP have handled the situation differently?

Nick Schweers
PRestige Agency

The Social Network – What’s Real? What’s Not? A Must Read!

Warning: Contains Spoilers

Eduardo is not too innocent himself…

I just came back from seeing The Social Network, which Rolling Stone claims to be“The Movie of the Year.” I had low expectations for the film and believed that everyone was overhyping it, but after seeing it I will say that it is a great film. Why? It tells the “true” (really, how true is it?) controversial story of how Facebook began, which is currently the number 2 most visited website in the United States behind Google.

Since I am a social media nerd, I had to do my research as soon as I got back to campus to see what was real in the film and what was more for the cameras. I had to know if Mark Zuckerberg was as big of a jerk as the movie makes it seem. I just spent the past hour or two reading different articles online, and was surprised by my some of my results. I even was able to get my hands on the original articles from The Harvard Crimson that were mentioned in the film. What great free press for the school newspaper!

Months ago I thought it was too soon to release a Facebook film, but now I think it’s cool that everyone can find this information online since the incidents in the film are only from a few years ago. Here is what I came across; you’ll definitely want to check these pages out if you saw the film and are asking yourself, “I wonder if this part is really true?”

The Social Network Movie vs. Facebook True Story

I thought this website had a lot of information that I had not seen in the other articles I read. I also like the “Reel Face” vs. “Real Face” section they have so viewers can see the real faces behind Facebook compared to the actors who played them. I was surprised by how many actors actually resemble the people they played.

An Annoted Guide to Every Harvard Crimson Article Mentioned in The Social Network

Vanity Fair found all the original newspaper articles from The Harvard Crimson that were mentioned in the film and gave a short summary of each scene they are featured in.

Here are the articles…

Hot or Not? Website Briefly Judges Looks

Facemash Creator Survives Ad Board

Hundreds Register for New Facebook Website

Columbia Rebukes

Harvard Phoenix Club Accused of Animal Cruelty

Article explaining how much the Winklevosses actually made from their lawsuit…

The Facebook Movie is WRONG – Here’s How Much Zuckerberg Actually Gave The Winklevosses To Go Away

How off is the film in portraying the reality of the Facebook situation?

The Facebook Movie Is An Act Of Cold-Blooded Revenge – New, Unpublished IMs Tell The Real Story

At Last — The Full Story Of How Facebook Was Founded

The 10 Most Glaring Lies In “The Social Network”

Article about Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake’s character)

With a Little Help From His Friends

The book that the movie was based on, which is supposedly more fiction than the truth- The Accidental Billionaires

Another book I came across that I read is more credible but seems less dramatic- The Facebook Effect

How Harvard is reacting to the film. Also learned what a “final club” is reading this article. It’s comparable to a fraternity or sorority.

What Harvard thinks of The Social Network

“Social Network” Shown at Harvard

Mankiw Defends Against Harvard Stereotypes


The Real Mark Zuckerberg

After saying he would not watch the film, Mark Zuckerberg gives his take on ‘The Social Network’

An interesting article I came across about Zuckerberg breaking into a Facebook user’s private email account. This incident was not shown in the film, which I read Zuckerberg should be happy about.

Final verdict based off of my research: Many details are left out in the film to make Eduardo look completely innocent, while he really could have been the villain. Harvard does not seem supportive of the film at all and Zuckerberg does not seem too concerned with it. I want to see an interview with Eduardo about this film.

I can now sleep tonight after reading all of this.

Nick Schweers
Digital Media Chair