Once again, CMS alum Sam Ford has the right explanation of how and why modern P.R. can go awry.
Joanna Weiss in a Boston Globe editorial quotes Ford about what he calls the “gee-whiz shiny new object mentality” that sets companies up for disaster when they don’t understand how new tech allows untended audiences to get their hands on a message.
She cites famous missteps that, in ways that used to work when the intended audience was isolated from others, made organizations—from the Obama campaign to Chevrolet—look awful once their message was spread farther than they expected.
Case in point 1: On June 1, the day that dismal job numbers are released, the Obama campaign releases a video featuring Anna Wintour, the “Vogue” editor who inspired “The Devil Wears Prada.” Gazing down her nose, she invites Obama supporters to a fundraiser she is co-hosting with one of “the most incredible women in the world”: Sarah Jessica Parker. This is apparently a bid to tap into a “Sex and the City” envy that shriveled and died circa 2008—and to battle Mitt Romney for the title of “candidate least in touch with the commoners.” The Republican National Committee responds with a video called “Meanwhile,” which overlays Wintour’s speech with bad employment stats.
What’s most astounding about these mistakes is how unnecessary they were, given that they’d happened before in the corporate world. So says Sam Ford, director of digital strategy for the communications firm Peppercom and a comparative media studies affiliate at MIT. He reminded me of a time, in 2006, when Chevrolet decided to let people create their own ads for the Chevy Tahoe, using online video, on the Chevrolet site. People responded with short films explaining how Chevy was raping the environment.
Chalk it up to what Sam Ford calls the “gee-whiz shiny new object mentality,” which draws both corporate chieftains and campaign strategists—two groups dominated by wealthy, cloistered, aging white men—to rush headlong into the digital world, simply because it’s there. Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and mobile apps are cheap and easy to produce. The kids are talking about them. So campaigns and companies tend to leave the conception and operation to interns and low-level employees. Often, it’s clear that no one is watching from above. Or proofreading.
“High-tech PR in the hands of rubes” —Boston Globe