Lessons Learned

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  • March 25, 2011
  • Starr Million Baker

Last night, sitting in the DFW airport on the last leg of an eight hour travel ordeal, I received the link to a blog post about offense taken to the tip cards we created for and distributed at SXSWi. To say I was surprised by the response of those who were offended by the cards is an understatement. Being offensive is not in our company culture, nor in my personal nature. But, no one goes through life pleasing everyone and if you’re willing to put yourself out there, as we are, there’s a high probability that at some point in time someone is not going to agree with your approach. Such is life.

Throughout this experience, a few things we counsel our clients to do have been reinforced (nothing like personal experience to solidify client counsel!), and I personally have learned a few lessons as well:

Know your audience. At the office prior to printing the cards, we talked about what we wanted on them and we went for pithy, visual language that had a sense of humor to it. None of us were offended by the tip, nor did we imagine others would be, but we are not the target audience of SXSWi. This happens to our clients all the time too – messaging can’t be created in a vacuum. Get out, figure out your audience, come up with messages that will resonate with them, not just with you.
Humor is hard – very hard – to pull off. We usually counsel our clients to not even try it, unless they are comfortable with their audience. We fell flat here to the extent that not only were we not funny to some, but were offensive. Ouch. Not our intention.
Respond quickly. When Violet Blue reached out to me on Saturday, I thought a response on Monday was appropriate (I have two babies and busy weekends – I am “always on” but felt certain that a response on Monday would be fine). Apparently I was wrong, as the two days I took to respond created even more fervor over the situation. I find this unfortunate. I can say I will try to be quicker in the future, but there is value to being offline as well. I try to find that balance.
Respond via multiple channels. I’m still working on this one, but there is a lesson here somewhere: When Violet reached out to me via email (to the info@ink-pr.com email), I wrote a blog post (with the intention that this would be helpful to her as she could have my complete line of thinking and share as she felt necessary) and sent her the link via email in response. She took offense to this. I’m still putting my finger on why – perhaps it felt like I was brushing her off or not being direct? But I also believe I did a disservice to myself by not opening a two-way dialogue. In the future, I will do both.
Get a social media monitoring tool. There were conversations being had on Twitter and Flickr and blogs that we missed, plain and simple. I believe in responding, believe in opening the lines of communication, but if you don’t see it you can’t address it. I’m going back now and responding to folks, but it’s been several days and that’s just added fuel to the fire. We’ll do a better job on this for INK from here on out.

Those are the lessons learned for now. Perhaps more will pop up in the coming days. If you have one, feel free to share. Now back to regularly scheduled programming (aka work).

4 responses to “Lessons Learned”

  1. Starr,

    INK PR does great work. Never forget that.

    Have a good weekend.

  2. tricia says:

    Hi Starr, I just read the thoughtful apology you left on my own blog. http://bit.ly/SX300MM

    I, however, felt that your apology on my blog post sounded much more genuine than the apology you have made here on Violet Blue’s blogpost on ZDNet. http://www.zdnet.com/blog/perlow/tech-pr-and-short-skirts-at-sxsw/16513
    Why is that?

    I have to question whether you truly understand why people are offended when I read about your initial reply to Violet where you responded to her with a blogpost titled, “Here’s A Tip: Lighten Up.” Wow, now that’s pretty bad form considering that you are a PR firm – exacerbating publicity faux pas by sending passive aggressive responses to someone who privately reached out to you for dialogue?

    I also just finished reading your own blogpost, “Lessons Learned,” where you outline things that your firm could’ve done better. One thing that is missing is the attempt to understand historical and cultural contexts.

    This phrase as it is used in this context is an old one – it has its roots in the early days of the golden age of public relations.
    As intriquing as we all find the world of Mad Men, none of want to go back to that era.

    Understanding context is critical. People often hear, “I got gypped.” But if you don’t understand the context from where it came from, who it is addressing, the group of people that “gypped” refers to, then it might not seem offensive.

    I’m not saying that you should be down with every “female” conciousness agenda, but as an all female PR firm you should not be as you say “surprised” that so many women and men consider the tip cards to be a solid problem. And then in a reply to Violet you say again that “you remain surprised at the response” – well if you remain surprised then that to me doesn’t sound like you actually understand how your tip cards were offensive still.

    Sadly, there still seems to be a disconnect on your end in understanding why people were upset by this and your original intent.

    tricia

  3. Kristi says:

    @tricia

    Goodness! The woman offers up TWO apologies after the “Lighten Up” blog post and you have the nerve to critique the apology written to someone else. She has clearly stated that she learned her audience may not always see things the way she does…no need for a history lesson. And for the record, I read your blog and I was offended by the description of the cards as “sexist s**t.” I don’t use swear words. Now should I demand that you understand why I don’t use those words, or move on?