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.