Almost every organization on the planet does something boneheaded and ill advised from time to time. The bigger the organization, the more likely it is to happen. When the perpetrators of these errors in judgment are committing these crimes of idiocy, they seldom check with the organization’s PR person to get their opinion before they commit the act. But once the media gets hold of the story and runs with it (corporate idiocy being one of their favorite topics) everyone scrambles to the poor PR pro to make it go away.
I think that many of the PR people (especially you corporate soldiers out there) charged with handling these disasters used to possess a sense of humor about them. But years of mopping up other people’s messes, particularly those stressful situations where everyone is breathing down your neck, takes its toll and it just ain’t funny anymore. Thus we’re left with robotic and textbook answers to each and every media inquiry, regardless of the seriousness. Now where is the fun in that?
It’s odd then that a ray of hope would emanate from the least likely of sources, that being our very own Richmond-based retailer-on-life-support that is Circuit City, and the guy who gets my vote for PR person of the year, Jim Babb.
The backstory is that MAD Magazine ran a parody of the store’s weekly ad that included some unflattering items, such as a Nintendo Wii that was guaranteed to be in stock, “if you’re friends with an employee who hid it in the back for you.” I personally love that one, because when Wiis first came out I hunted them relentlessly yet unsuccessfully for months until I finally got tired of camping out in front of electronics retailers at 5am and broke down and paid an arm and a leg on eBay.
However, someone who does not subscribe to the theory that all PR is good PR, took such umbrage (and had enough leverage in the corporation) that they had all of the offending MAD Magazines sold in Circuity City stores removed from the shelves. I’m sure they then said, “Not laughing anymore, are we Alfred E. Newman?” In PR circles, that type of stuff is the equivalent of waving a big flag in front of journalists that says, “Corporate Idiots Ban Unflattering Media, Please Write About It.” Not only was it a dumb move because it brought so much more attention to MAD than MAD would have ever received on its own, but the media loves these “book burning” types of stories so much they find them completely irresistible.
Such was the case with Circuit City and its MAD debacle. So what’s a PR superhero to do? Why, laugh of course! And that was the response of CC’s Jim Babb who (take notes kids): 1) Apologized for the error in judgment, 2) corrected the error by returning the magazines to the shelves, and last, but certainly not least, 3) made a joke out of it. Jim said, “As a gesture of our apology and deep respect for the folks at MAD Magazine, we are creating a cross-departmental task force to study the importance of humor in the corporate workplace and expect the resulting powerpoint presentation to top out at least 300 pages, chock full of charts, graphs and company action plans.” He also offered the editors at MAD a $20 gift card toward a Wii.
John Ficarra, MAD’s editor, played along by saying, “We at MAD were shocked and confused by this entire incident — mainly because we had no idea that Circuit City even sells magazines.”
A job well done: Jim Babb got CC out of the jam and even put the company in a positive light by showing that it may indeed have a rare sense of humor and MAD got more publicity than they could have ever dreamed of.
Class dismissed. Now go out there and laugh!