May I have an adult conversation with you about social media, man to man—or man to woman, as the case may be?
It is not my intention to preach or command but rather to gently suggest. Even before the advent of tweeting and blogging and friending, ours was a free country. It remains your call, and yours alone, to decide whether it’s worth more to maintain your freedom to tweet than it is to keep your job.
What raises this question, of course, is the increasing incidence of people spoiling their stature or losing their jobs as a result of misguided missives on Twitter or Facebook or blogs.
A recent viral flameout was the firing of the social media consultant—and subsequently, his former agency—for accidently dispatching a gratuitous F-bomb tweet about Detroit drivers through a client Chrysler company account.
The young man’s instantaneous offing has inspired spirited Chrysler critics on this and other websites. They denounce the company for being “heartless in firing someone who made an honest mistake,” “inconsistent in its values (Eminem is the company’s advertising spokesman),” and “tone deaf in its understanding of social media.”
All of which may be true.
The young man at the center of the controversy—himself a tried and true Detroiter—seems like an eminently sensible, affable and apologetic chap.
However, and here’s my point, if you want to keep your job, especially in the practice of public relations, then you must subordinate your right to tweet or blog to the interests of your client.
If what you would like to tweet or blog won’t reflect well on your client, then you simply shouldn’t do it—unless, of course, you are willing to part with that portion of your income.
So whether you’re an SEO specialist or a social media guru or even a lousy, stinkin’ speechwriter, here, alas, are the stark business realities that go along with getting paid by a client.
Reality No. 1. Public companies are PC.
That is, they are both “prissy” and “cautious.”
They’re “prissy” about their reputations, i.e., they don’t want to be associated with bad language, bad behavior or antisocial actions. Sure, their executives curse and sometimes do awful things, but they are their executives. And you’re an outsider. The standards for you are higher.
Hypocritical? Sure. But it’s theircompany, their money and, therefore, their rules.
When an outsider breaks those rules and causes negative publicity, most companies adopt a “cautious” stance; they cut their losses and disassociate themselves from those who caused the problem.
Nobody likes embarrassing publicity, least of all large companies. If the fastest way to get the story out of the headlines is to deep-six an outside consultant, look out below.
Reality No. 2. You ain’t Eminem.
Companies hire celebrity spokesmen for one reason—they’re celebrities. They attract attention for their sponsor.
In hiring said celebrity, the company agrees to accept that individual’s “baggage,” up to a point. In the case of Chrysler and Eminem, the company probably thought long and hard about casting its lot with a notorious, potty-mouthed rapper. But Eminem stands for Detroit, so Chrysler decided it was worth the risk.
If Eminem violates the “morals clause” written into his Chrysler contract, the company will drop him, as Hanes dropped Charley Sheen, Gillette dropped Tiger Woods and Aflac dropped Gilbert Gottfried.
There are no such similar “morals clauses” for outside public relations agencies. Agencies are hired for their behind-the-scenes competence, not for their public persona, and representatives of those agencies are paid to be heard and not seen.
Stated another way, we won’t cut you the same slack as we do Eminem.
Double standard? Sure. But that’s the way the client wants it. And most of the time, if you wish to continue to be retained, you abide because …
Reality No. 3. You and your agency are expendable.
Sorry, kids, but there are probably millions of social media whiz kids out there, just like you. I know there are billions of public relations people out there, just like me. And each of them is more than willing to step in if I mess up in the service of my client.
Rarely is an outside agency so irreplaceable that the client awards it a “do over,” after it commits some public faux pas. That, of course, is what the social media agency found out in the Chrysler case. Yes, they were good, but when the storm hit, they were gone. And no doubt, some equally worthy group slid right in to take their place.
In my own case, if I’ve been lucky enough to have client who actually pays me, I understand that every time I go on television or write a column or say something stupid in public, I’m at risk of losing that paycheck.
That may not be fair. But it goes with the territory. In the public relations business, that’s our lot in life.
As the Internet critics excoriated Chrysler for its precipitous, cold-hearted action, the young man at the center of the controversy was more philosophical about his own and his agency’s sacking by Chrysler:
“This brought a large amount of visibility to their company and brand that they didn’t want and didn’t ask for,” he said. “Unfortunately, somebody has to pay for that. I don’t think they can be blamed for that decision; they acted accordingly in doing what they did.”
Smart kid. And, now, a little wiser, too.