Saturday, January 31, 2009

Overlooking and Underestimating PR

I have been keeping mostly quiet about the announcement and developments of the Association of Bloggers (Singapore), because apart from memories of being naively indignant about the whole ECL vs Ping issue, and indignantly appalled with the DK Banned affair, I felt that I knew far too little of the complete story to make fair comments. You know lah, I'm a PR-practitioner-to-be, so I get almost paranoid about what comes out of my mouth or fingers these days.

Now that I've been watching the events unfold though, I thought it appropriate to give my speech standing on familiar territory.

That is, Public Relations.

What could well have been the One Ring to Rule Them All instead crashed and burned slowly, torturously, and spectacularly, complete with exploding fuel tanks and screaming passengers roasted alive. Some questioned why the traditional media knew before the new media whom this was squarely targeted at knew (hoo. Nice mouthful there.). Some (choke)slammed Association Protem President ECL of establishing the association on petty terms and using it as a chance to get back at those who have in one way or another snubbed her. Some, as everyone's favorite werewolf said here, ridiculed the association's redundancy, and in an embarrassingly Singaporean fashion questioned its arguably exorbitant membership fees. And now, to seal the kiss, seven of the ten Protem members have stepped down from their posts. How's that for a first week at work?

All that I have just mentioned made for just about the perfect PR disaster. Wrong introduction to the wrong target, dirty linen of leaders, dubious agendas. First of all, the Association appears to have been a solo effort, with ECL taking most of the questions and the brunt of the backlash. Most if not all of the Protem are well-established and experienced bloggers, and I cannot see how everyone seems to have failed to caution their President that bloggers are a vicious bunch of piranhas that will jump on anything that tickles their irritant bone and bash it to pulp. Now I want to say this very clearly that I am not hitting out on any of the Protem members. Including the President. Some of my good friends are in the committee, and in all sincerity I hold them in high intellectual esteem. Mistakes have been made, and I'm mapping it out in a... not so nice manner by not pulling any punches. And you will see why, I hope, by the time you get to the end of this post. So please be patient and read through.

While this cannot be applied to every situation, I believe it's still common sense - please know your market before deploying your product and its introductory processes. If you aren't already confident that you know your target market well, take time to research on their likes, dislikes, habits and quirks. One should know that with such a product that concerns the very fundamentals of blogging, secrecy is not the way to go. And that an exclusive interview with traditional media, the friendly nemesis and benevolent antithesis of blogging, is bloody suicide. That interview should have been no surprise to the blogosphere. It should have served as information to people who don't care all that much. It should have been old boring news to the blogosphere.

Then there were ECL's responses to the backlash. Did she act by herself? As with presidents and prime ministers, one should never make the next move without consulting your committee. It is understandable that one gets offended, insulted and indignant when the baby you have so painstakingly nurtured in the past few months gets thrown about and laughed at. But the response wasn't a one-paragraph shoot off. It was a long detailed return. There should have been more than enough time to consider one's actions before proceeding further. Whether you get dragged into the situation or not, one should always distinguish clearly between organization and self. Failure to do so would result in one acting in a capacity greater than what is required, and further ruin the already damaged image of the company.

That said, I wonder if I am being idealistically demanding when I ask - Where was the committee then? Having seen the negative reactions of the community, why did they not gather around their president to discuss solutions? Or did they already do so to the President's deaf ears? And because there is no PR or communications-related post in the committee, I will turn on the next closest discipline. The marketers of the committee seemed to be doing nothing at all to repair the damage done to the organization's reputation, nor to curb the President's inflammatory remarks, nor to advise her, it appears, on how to deal with further attacks, at least until it was far too late. Nor, while we're on the subject, did they seem to plan the execution of the introduction. If they had given it some thought, it wouldn't be half the flop it turned out to be, I think. Because really honestly, some of the mistakes made in this case are palmface stupid.

What I'm saying is this. Never, ever, leave PR out of the equation. You just cannot afford to nowadays. Your PR person, assuming he/she is competent, is there to be a firestarter and a fireman. If things go awfully wrong as it has in this case, he will be there to put the fire out. If things go well, he's there to spread the good fire of your product, and watch triumphantly as it spreads farther and farther. And especially in today's marketing world, where we're dealing more with bloggers with just about no need nor incentive to write responsibly, you will need your PR to deal with them. Okay, us.

It is a daunting situation for ABS now, one that will convince many that there is no need to bother fighting anymore. But I think there's still a slim chance, if they can hang on tight to their cards and play them well.

One more mistake though, and it will all over. And when that happens, belief can help them no further.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Yesterday, I met up with my friends from my time in university. All four of us were the same, entering uni after O levels, and unwittingly convincing everyone we tell this to afterwards that we're absolute genii. 7 months after we left graduated, we met up with each other - one in unit (me, cos I'm fat and went in much earlier), one freshly passed out from Police Academy, one in OCS, one not long into SCDF training as a fireman (tough shit).

We went to Bukit Panjang Plaza (great mall, but fucked up place to get to -_-") for Jack's Place and nearby for LAN to play Left 4 Dead. It's a fantastic game. But as I see it much of the enjoyment depends on co-op. I dunno how much fun it will be playing alone with 3 bots for company. I do know that there's a chance that a controller flung out of frustration might crack my 42" LCD TV.

But that's the thrill of it all. Wondering if I should buy it for the 360 - should be able to tide me over till Street Fighter IV (!!!!!!!) and Resident Evil 5 and Final Fantasy XIII (HAHA PSers HAHA).

More importantly, as we talked and shared and boasted about our NS life (we may not have been able to share much pain and bitchiness because we were scattered all over, but it's fun in its own way listening to stories from other metaphorical islands.), complained about bunkmates, and reveled in each others' simple company, I began to realize just how much I missed this crowd of people. This gang of madcaps. This clique of intelligence. And I don't mean intelligence in a sense of IQ, but rather one where we're tuned to the exact frequency, able to understand each other effortlessly. I won't pretend that we're a smart bunch above common folk - how smart do you think you are when the entry requirement is $60 000 and 6 O level passes? But the unique education system, the amount of interaction we went through seeing and working with each other for 3 years that sped by just like that, it just sets us apart from others. And I look back and see how much I was teased and how awkwardly I stood out in secondary school, how university was such a world of a difference where I felt very at home, and how I'm back to square one now, and I realize that my blind insistence and parents' hope was right - I'm quite hopelessly tuned to respond favorably to the US education system. And these months in NS, I've had my fun, of course I've had. I gained plenty of experiences that I could finally identify with others. But the magic of it all, for now, will remain in this clique of mine.

Perhaps it should remain this way, that we meet once in awhile and realise how much we took our company for granted.

After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and familiarity breeds contempt.

Love you guys. And thank you for memories undoable.

Got such a word meh undoable? But it sounds nice lah. Chim.

Happy moo year.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Customer Disservice

I honestly don't know whether I have too high standards, or expectations, or it was the crowd, or just a bad bad day. How often though do you get served poop on a silver platter two times in a row?

Story is, my parents announced to me that they wanted to invest in a home theater (love their choice of words). The only condition is wireless, because we don't have/don't want a rug in our living room, and with wires running smack across the floor, either you die, or the console crashes. Or worse, the whole TV. I don't like the idea personally, I want to avoid wireless as much as possible, but it is a very valid concern, and it's just too bad that this very valid concern is mine.

So we decide to go to Vivo City to check it out, and with the others trailing behind me I make a beeline for Best Denki. When I first reach the home theatre section we were attended to quickly. But I honestly dunno what was up with the sales guy. He was so slow and blur I started wondering if he was mentally challenged. Almost every question was returned with a "Hah? Err..."

Part of me wanted to tell him to find someone more competent please because you're wasting our time, but I didn't. I really, really, knnbccb really am too patient and kind for my own mental health -_-"

After awhile, while we were testing some of our music, he just disappeared and we never saw him again. An older guy came along and apparently was in charge of the entire section, but after awhile when my father kept insisting that he turn up the bass, he said, "I go call my sound guy." This next guy appeared but he was supposed to be in charge of the Yamaha section. He was honestly the most helpful and knowledgeable guy but he had an area to stick to and other customers to attend to, so he left us to find for ourselves another salesman. I randomly walked to the shavers counter and told one younger salesman that I wish to be attended to by someone from the home theatre section. After physically searching for some guy in mind, and paging him over the store PA for 10min, we were still unattended to. Someone else came along, and was equally clueless about wireless home theater products. He however introduced us to some new information, that some wireless technologies use infrared, which requires direct line-of-sight, which I think is fuck-you stupid, but anyway. My parents said "never mind, we'll take our time and research. No rush." So I walk out dejectedly of Denki (yeah it's not best). True, there was no rush really, but I had asked my parents and aunt to detour to Vivo for a solid purpose, and utterly failed to meet it because of a whole fucking store's incompetencies. We'd all have been chilling at home an hour earlier if we didn't go to Vivo only to find out that Denki's customer service fell to a new low.

As we were walking, my dad was chattering away about how Samsung came out with this new phone that looks even better than the Omnia (turned out to be the Pixon he was talking about). And both of us realized at the same time that Samsung had home theater systems displayed there as well.

So excited again we went to the flagship store. And great, this guy at least knows his products. Even if he can't recite the power distribution in middle left right rear left rear right speakers backwards, at least he could tell you immediately which systems supported wireless rear speakers, which is all we needed, not a completely wireless system. We tested a frankly sexy system, the X715. After I was satisfied with the stereo playback, I asked for a DVD to hear the 5.1. "Don't have." What the fuck is the meaning of don't have? You sell 5.1 systems without media to show of 5.1 capabilities? After repeatedly asking, he went to dig up the Cars DVD, and again the system performed well. My parents were ready to pay up after he's answered their million questions. Then I enquired about my Xbox and how it would be wired up. And though not his fault, I was disappointed because it seemed that I cannot retain my high def video and have 5.1 at the same time. The last time I clearly remembered a salesman show me an amp module with HDMI in and out, for configurations such as these. My father made a comment about how this set didn't have as much connectivity as the other set we saw in Denki, and I shrugged because shucks USB input isn't important to me. As I was playing with the console later though, I switched through the modes and landed smack on USB mode.

And true enough to my deduction, our friend apparently missed out on the cosmetically concealed side flap containing a USB port, Aux in, and Headphones out.

Ticked me off a little, but again, these aren't the most important features to me, so I told my parents "Go ahead and get it if you want. I'll solve my own problems after." After which I spied the Guitar Hero station empty and went to play. I haven't even gotten through half the song when my dad called to me.

"The guy says there's no stock at the moment, so you give him your number and he'll call you when he's checked."

We motherfucking stand there, excited for half an hour, and at the bloody END of it all you tell me there's no stock? NO STOCK??

I hide my anger and give him my particulars, and we go home, me still in a bad mood. I'd asked for a brochure for the system, and got more like a catalogue instead, but no matter. I get back home and my dad says "Hey look, this one does wireless too."

Following instructions I went to dig up their number from Vivo's website and the guy who answers says that the model is not on display in the store. Great, then? Don't need to know ah? Don't see don't know, is that the new policy now?

"Right well, then what's the price?"
"Ahhh that one we don't have it in store sir, so we dunno the price. You can check with Best Denki or Challenger for the price. I think Best would be a better place to check."
" ... Do they even have it?"
"Uh this oneeee.... You have to check with them, sir."

There. Picture-perfect don't-see-don't-know.

Is that it? Is that the state of electronics sale in Singapore? Try smoke your way through uninformed customers? Say you find someone else to assist us and disappear in the smoke? Not know BASIC features of a product and say it's not there? Know that products exist but have no information about them because they aren't in your showroom?

Utterly disappointing. Denki's bad enough, but this is Samsung's FLAGSHIP store we're talking about you know! Flagship store where Tech65 recorded. Where SMB5 was held. Whose space will be offered to many more events yet. Is this the sort of sparkling image you want to give customers? Worse, to bloggers who'd have no qualms about tearing your brand name apart letter by letter?

Something had better be done by management level island-wide. STARTING WITH THESE TWO STORES.