Jun 09

A tale of two crises

This is a tale of two crises. One was handled flawlessly. The other was badly bungled.

The first dominated yesterday's PR news world and concerned the ill-advised attempt by Delta Airlines to charge returning Afghanistan veterans $200 for their extra bags. Ugh.

A social media savvy vet captured the unfortunate and oh-so-unnecessary airport confrontation between the vets and the “Sorry sir, but rules are rules” airline worker. He posted the video on YouTube and it spread faster than Anthony Weiner's nude pics.

In the blink of an eye, Delta suddenly had a 747-sized crisis on its hands. But, that's when the airline turned on the after burners, fastened the seat belts and weathered the increasingly bumpy ride. A Delta blogger, identified only as Rachael R (is Rachael Ray moonlighting?)  quickly posted an apology AND announced an immediate change in the airline's baggage policy for traveling U.S. military personnel. A simple, yet brilliant move. Crisis averted. Delta and the vets can move on. And, Rachael R. can get back to her cooking.

Now, compare Delta's response with the Bank of America's incredibly, ham-fisted mishandling of a Florida couple's mortgage payment.

Warren and Maureen Nyerges had purchased their foreclosed home outright.   However, while on a foreclosure frenzy, BofA decided the property’s foreclosure was still in force and past due.  So, the bank went on with their foreclosure on the hapless Nyerges. With no other recourse, they hired a savvy lawyer who turned the tables on the bank in a brilliant legal maneuver that would impress even the legendary Mike Lasky of Davis & Gilbert fame.

The couple's lawyer proved the home was free and clear and demanded the bank pay their $2,500 legal fees. BofA refused. So, get this, the lawyer got a court order to go to the local bank branch and take possession of their furniture. Ya gotta love it!

Sheriff deputies and a moving van showed up at the bank. But, the brain-dead BofA branch manager STILL wouldn't comply. It took a full hour before he finally gave Mr. & Mrs. Nyerges a check for $5,772.88 as restitution. This local news clip below is a MUST SEE and should be included in any crisis planning workshop.

 

Did BofA issue an explanation, an apology or announce a change in their foreclosure policy? Nope. There wasn't even a peep from the massive financial institution.

So, here's an idea. Since BofA has shown itself so inept at managing crisis communications, why not outsource the function to the Delta Airlines team? I'm sure the ailing airline could use the incremental income and Bank of America desperately needs competent PR counsel. Hey, maybe BofA can even convince Delta's Rachael R. to cook the Nyerges a special 'forgiveness meal.'

Aug 19

The case of the missing luggage

I’m not sure if it was my Russian adventure, the impending 15th anniversary of Peppercom or Doc_suitcase some late Summer malaise, but I’ve been flooded recently by obscure memories (i.e. the crazy client who insisted we become 18 percent diverse or else, the ill-fated pool party, etc.).

My dusty synapses fired up once again the other day when I spied a PR news brief announcing that a certain luggage company had retained a new PR firm. You see, Ed and I knew this company once upon a time. We knew it very well.

Nearly two decades ago, we toiled for a now defunct, integrated marketing shop called Earle Palmer Brown. EPB was the antithesis of our other employer, Brouillard (i.e. if the latter resembled the Politburo, the former was more akin to what Ed’s charming and vivacious wife, Pamela, liked to call ‘Romper Room.’). The inmates ran the asylum at EPB. And, because, Ed, Bill Southard (our boss) and I were bringing in loads of new business, we were pretty much allowed to indulge any and all excesses.

All of which brings me back to the luggage company. At the time, they were a client on the advertising side of the office. In order to create ads for the client, our ad group needed to photograph the product. So, they grabbed an unused storage room and filled it with the latest, greatest stuff (note: the luggage was also loaned to art directors and photo editors of style magazines for use as props in their shoots).

One day, when the account manager was away on vacation, someone in the PR group secured a key to the product storage room. Needless to say, it emptied out faster than a disappointed group of Mets fans leaving CitiField. Everyone grabbed one, two or more items of their liking. It was positively Bacchanalian in its excess.

Now, fast forward to the following week when the vacationing account guy returned, unlocked the product loan door and went totally ballistic. He sent an agency-wide note letting everyone know about the theft, suggesting he knew exactly who had taken it (our rollicking PR group had built quite an image and reputation by then) and declared that no questions would be asked if the merchandise was promptly returned. Sad to say, it wasn’t. The account guy complained to senior management, who promptly told him to back off. He did a little dance with the client and told them uncooperative art directors and photo editors had refused to return the product loans. Amazingly, the room was quickly restocked and the office returned to its normal state of complete bedlam.

In retrospect, the case of the missing luggage is an interesting morality tale. It spotlights the reality that far too many management teams ‘overlook’ inappropriate behavior from solid performers. Just look at Wall Street or Enron or BP. Moral and ethical behavior routinely takes a back seat to profits (which is why we’re seeing such a plethora of crises). At EPB, the PR group were the high rollers, so no one was going to mess with us about a few missing garment bags.

I’d like to think that Ed and I took the best and worst of what we experienced at EPB and Brouillard, and created a happy medium at Peppercom. It also helps that we haven’t represented luggage manufacturers and been tempted to ‘borrow’ a sleek, black briefcase or two.

We’re older and wiser now (even if Ed hasn’t aged particularly well). And, I’d like to think we’d crack down hard and fast on any behavior remotely resembling the Romper Room days of EPB- which should be good news for any luggage manufacturers out there in search of PR agency support. Your bags are safe with us.