How Not To Market to Bloggers, Redux

Someone got fired. In the wake of this entry about a really bad e-mail pitch I received from a PR company on behalf of Napster, this popped up in the entry’s comment thread:

Hi John,

I am the President & CEO of Guerilla PR and am quite disturbed by the email that was sent to you by Nadine of my staff and want to personally apologize.

Each of our outreach emails are crafted for a specific target audience and typically go through a quality control and approval process. As I’m sure you are well aware, mistakes occur within even the most strategic marketing campaigns and, unfortunately, you mistakenly received an email that was specifically developed for outreach to a database of comedic fansites (thus the affiliate-focused offer and tone).

Aside from containing messages that were not tailored specifically to you, the email you received was crafted by a Guerilla staffer who took it upon herself to make creative changes to the approved email copy, which resulted in language that was far more cutesy, “salesy”, immature, unprofessional and generic than any which Guerilla pr typically recommends using- with any audience. The copy in the email was not approved by anyone at Guerilla PR, nor by anyone at Napster.

At Guerilla PR, we understand that “guerilla” marketing can be an incredibly powerful tool, but only when well executed. The type of communication you received is NOT indicative of the communications that we send on behalf of Napster or any of our clients.

In all fairness, Guerilla PR and our employees have relationships which we have built up over 7 years and have succeeded in providing sites, writers and users with valuable digital assets, tools, story queries, interviews, videos, and more.

I am glad this was brought to my attention, as it enabled us to correct the situation. We concur with your assessment and strive to continually have our entire staff practice the recommendations you scribed. To reduce the risk of future similar incidents, this GPR rep’s employment has been terminated.

Please email me back if you have any additional needs or questions. Thank you.

With respect,

Michael Leifer

Two things here:

1. Very large kudos to Mr. Leifer and Guerilla PR for moving quickly to explain the situation from their end and to address the issue in a substantive fashion. It’s always a good thing when errors are addressed, and the transparency here in dealing with the issue is also super smart. That is, indeed, good PR. So well done, sir. Apology accepted, with sincere thanks.

2. Holy crap, what I wrote got someone fired. Well, to be accurate, their own actions got them fired, although it does appear my entry was a contributing factor in the actions coming to light. I’m still working out how I feel about this personally, although from a business point of view it has undeniable logic: If someone went that far out of the chain of standard practices for a company and the result is that a client was put in a bad light, it’s time to clean out a desk.

In any event, good to see this dealt with.

Update, 7/22/06, 9:30 am: As you’ll see in the comments, many of the commenters seriously doubt the sincerity of the letter above, and suggest Mr. Leifer’s explanation (and termination of his staffer) are largely the work of a marketeer trying to once again get a grip on his spin. I fully acknowledge he could just be telling me what I want to hear and letting me imagine that my immense blogger powers have crushed my marketing foes, when in fact they continue on unscathed. But inasmuch as that Mr. Leifer is putting the credibility of his shop on the line with a public apology, and that it would be simple enough for an industrious business reporter to verify the particulars of Mr. Leifer’s letter (hint, hint), I’m willing to take him at his word for now. This does, however, accentuate how suspicious folks in the online world are of bad marketing, and how quickly credibility erodes when one’s company does something dumb.

48 thoughts on “How Not To Market to Bloggers, Redux

  1. Not so good for the fired employee, very good for the company (assuming the follow-up letter is wholly accurate). Knowing you have a bad employee pissing off your customers is not something you want to hear about after customer #295,603 complains six months later.

  2. A number of people in the comments thread mentioned receiving the same email. Has anyone gotten anything else that came from Guerilla PR? It may not be possible, but I’d love to see what the original letter looked like before the ex-employee edited it.

  3. Jon Marcus:

    I get the feeling the letter may have been sent out to a master list of contacts, which had not been yet sorted by affinity, etc. If that’s the case, it seems unlikely to me that there would have been another approved version out there.

  4. That was a pretty quick response. I wonder if someone at Guerilla PR is a regular reader or if they just googled Napster and found your blog entry.

  5. Well, it is good that GPR dealt with this issue quickly, but to hang this employee out to dry like this is always a bad idea – and a risky one to the employer. If I had a client who was going to make an explanation like this, it would never ever be in writing – a verbal apology would accomplish the same goal without the paper trail.

    Nadine of GPR may have a tough time getting a job in marketing at this point, and if the comment that Michael Leifer (do we know that it is really him?) made was not entirely, objectively and absolutely accurate, the next story we see could be about Nadine’s successful defamation suit/settlement against GPR. So applaud the quick reaction, if you want – but naming (and shaming) her publicly was probably a bad idea, assuming that the comment was genuine.

    How many of you have been hung out to dry by a boss who refuses to take the blame for his own mistakes? How many of you made stupid mistakes when you were just starting out? As this continues to spread from marketer to marketer over email – the punishment may be just a wee bit excessive when you look at the crime – as GPR may find out in the next few months.

  6. John H:

    Well, in as much as I don’t believe in talking about someone behind their back, I e-mailed both Guerilla PR and Napster the URL.

    Tor:

    I’m willing to believe Mr. Leifer is who he says he is. As for the punishment being a wee bit excessive, one has to assume that Napster is an important client for this company, and if firing an employee whose work has put the client in an bad spot is what the company needs to do to retain the confidence of the client, that’s part of the territory. Presuming the employee in question did in fact take it on her own initiative to do these things, the firing, though harsh, isn’t outside the realm of reason.

  7. She is sooo not buying that snazzy bit of gold and silver paperback OMW.

    Seriously, damn! You must rank pretty frikking high to get a repsonse like that. Word! SHe took the wrong initiative. ANd I don’t see “got shitcanned cuz a boof-mailed John Scalzi” entering her resume or anyone else’s any time soon.

    Hey, how was Monster House?

  8. I liked Monster House better than I expected to, actually, and going in I had expected that I would like it. So that’s good.

  9. I don’t necessarily disagree about the termination – just the public nature of it. I don’t see any reason to have used her name. There’s a reason why most employers who have terminated employees (or with all former employees) simply provide title and dates of employment when asked. Juries are notoriously sympathetic to terminated employees who were badmouthed by their former employers – warrented or not. Leifer should have just given you a phone call, or a short email from his account – that didn’t mention her name.

    And all that’s assuming that his story accurately represented what happened and that she didn’t have approval from anyone else for the changes AND that he can prove that.

  10. Thanks for clarifying that John. I was wondering if there was any evidence to support the comment because my mind’s moving the same way as Tor’s.

    Firing seems harsh, but I can see that it might be called for if the story is as portrayed. But identifying the offending employee by name seems questionable. When you add the name, the flavor changes from decisive towards vindictive. At least that’s how it felt to me.

    Re Mr. Leifer’s identity, is there any reason you’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, given the stakes? (Worst case: He’s an impostor attacking someone at GPR named Nadine, and you’ve helped him out.) Of course if he isn’t on the level, I expect you’ll be hearing from the real guys at GPR about five minutes ago.

    did he contact you other than via that comment

  11. Tor:

    “I don’t see any reason to have used her name.”

    It’s possible he didn’t. He mentioned the e-mail was sent by “Nadine of my staff” but later refers to the writer as “a Guerrila staffer,” and not as “Nadine.” It would be natural to assume that Nadine and this staffer are the same person, but speaking from personal marketing experience, the person who sends the marketing message and the person who writes it aren’t always the same person (indeed, in the last month I wrote a marketing letter for a company and it went out in someone else’s name).

    Which is to say it might have been this Nadine; but then again, it might not have been.

    Jon Marcus:

    “Re Mr. Leifer’s identity, is there any reason you’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, given the stakes?”

    Among other things, I didn’t originally publicly identify from whom I received the message. It’s entirely possible the apology is a hoax, of course, but I kind of doubt it, and as you say, if it is, I’ll hear about it sooner than later. And then, of course, I’ll have another entry.

  12. So, there’s a job opening at Guerilla PR? Can I use you as a reference John?

    $20 says I wouldn’t make it to lunch on my first day without being canned.

    -Dan

  13. Google fun:

    Her myspace page? The names match, but this person left last year, and they’re in San Anselmo (suburb of SF, I think?) not San Francisco.

    http://www.myspace.com/nadinesaez

    Towards the bottom:
    Nadine Loves (le moron deux)’s Companies
    Guerilla PR
    San Francisco, CA US
    Account Exec
    Music/Film 10/05 to 3/05

    [Update, 12/21/06 -- Nadine Saez has popped up into the thread to say that the Nadine in this case is not her, nor was she involved in this particular campaign in any way -- JS]

  14. When God closes a door; sometimes He slams it on your neck a couple of times so you’ll get the point.

    {Based on something I was told while being escorted out of the building of a previous job}.

    More commonly: She obviously was not in the right career field and is now free to pursue other interests…

  15. You know, I think the response is almost as bad as the original gaffe. It’s entirely possible that “Nadine” doesn’t work for GPR and didn’t get fired, but that this is a spin story to make it look like your complaint was addressed. But if there was a real “Nadine,” then all this letter really tells you is that she took the fall. I would trust everything else in the letter just about as far as you can throw Nadine, because the purpose of the letter is to get you to publish it on your blog, as a form of damage control, and everything in the letter is written with the hope in mind that you will do so.

    Personally, I wouldn’t give them the free advertising – if they want to explain this, let them explain it on their own web site.

  16. Ted:

    I’m shocked, shocked that you would not trust the word of a marketing executive!

    It’s indeed entirely possible that this is just spin control, that the letter was approved by Guerrila PR and Napster, that the writer was indeed not fired, and that Mr. Leifer is simply blowing smoke up my ass. One simple way to check this is to have an industrious business reporter follow up the story. It’s certainly interesting enough in its own right to be magazine or newspaper article.

    However, I regret to say that despite my personal experience in business reportage, I’ll not be the one to do it — I have a book to write. I hope someone does, though.

  17. Wait a minute. You write about Guerilla PR, and they correct the situation?

    I’ve been screaming for over a year about what a completely incompetent organization Delta Airlines is. They have not improved their service, lowered their fares (In fact, they raised them, then crammed the planes even fuller.), nor done the honorable thing by going out of business.

    I also have been railing on the gross incompetence of TimeWarner Cable, and even after FOUR phone calls to them (one in which I was pawned off to Earthlink), they still haven’t fixed that rat’s nest they laughlingly refer to as a connection outside our building. And then they keep asking me to switch to digital phone. (Rrrrrriiiiiiiight.)

    I suppose it’s the traffic. If my traffic were ten times what it is now, I could probably get Steve Ballmer fired, or at least lured over to Google. (Boy, that’d be funny.)

  18. If that MySpace site is indicative of her sense of taste I wouldn’t want her to so much as stand in front of my company headquarters much less actually market my company’s products. The site design is a crime against the internet.

  19. MySpace sites are famously atrocious, design-wise, which is at least partly an artifact of the sites terrible page tools. I don’t know how much of her site’s horribleness you can blame on her.

  20. I wouldn’t bet on this being the real case. Much like the recent AOL firing of the “customer retention specialist” for failing to abide by their policies, and the subsequent release of their training materials showing that’s how they were all trained, I’d be willing to bet this is simply a case of spinning some bad publicity.

  21. I just found this blog today, and have been reading it for hours. I hope to become a regular here. I just ordered OMW as well. Personelly I think that email is a sham. You have blog juice! They were scared, so they “fired” this person. I seriously doubt they would publically fire someone. Her boss probably yelled at her, and sent this emial.

  22. To add my $.02:

    While I would not have used the employee’s name, the response was actually reasonable. For a firm like Guerilla PR, these letters are the first impression one gets of the organization. By editing the letter without authorization, the employee was substantially changing the impression the recipient got (and, not for the better). Don’t know how many of you have worked for major corporations, but doing that would get you warned, and eventually fired.

    What we do not know here is how many (if any) times the employee had done this sort of thing before, and how many other folks had complained.

    In any event, Mr. Scalzi, the problem is not so much that you complained, but that she was acting in a way that misrepresented her employer, making a firm whose main stock in trade is its reputation, look exceedingly unprofessional and sloppy.

    People need to remember that when they send something out over an organization’s letterhead, they are creating an impression of that organization.

  23. Saber:

    Well, of course, as I noted, one way for this to get checked out would be for a reporter to follow it up and check out the story.

  24. I call bullshit, not on John, but on the writer of this letter, first he states”

    “The copy in the email was not approved by anyone at Guerilla PR, nor by anyone at Napster.”

    Then further down he states:

    “To reduce the risk of future similar incidents, this GPR rep’s employment has been terminated.”

    She was an employee of GPR, and she obviously approved the message.

    Just more spam-fuckery.

  25. Bill Marcy:

    “She was an employee of GPR, and she obviously approved the message.”

    The implication was that she in herself did not have approval powers, i.e., she made a decision she was not empowered to make.

  26. Wait, John Scalzi is writing a book? Since when? I mean, don;t wwriters have deadlines and stuff? I mean, don’t they have to write the books instead of posting on their blogs?

    hee hee hee.

  27. My guess is somebody did get canned, and it probably wasn’t the right person either. Sending out unapproved copy, big no-no. Especially as a lure to be affiliated with a client.

    But this sounds like a structural failure, an employee working without enough direction or supervision. Or this could be someone who was paid by the email sent. As a comedian once commented about working phone Tech Support when you get judged by how many callers you take in an hour, “answering, ‘Hello, this is Tech Support how can I help (click)’ counts as one call.” In that case a reprimand is in order for both the employee and the supervisor.

    Ah, Guerilla PR, the people who brought you the “bar-buddy-with-cool-stuff” campaigns. Otherwise known as “how to get a captive audience and sell without actually paying anybody or asking permission for the privilege.” Leaves me with exactly the same feel you got from the first email they sent.

    Then there’s the “aren’t we a great company or what” paragraph near the end. As an FYI, Mr. Leifer, really bad idea. Apologize, state you made corrections, apologize again and state you’re open for contact then get out. You accept that you had to personally apologize, and that’s fantastic. Don’t foist the error off. As a former manager, when there was a problem, to anyone outside my group it was my fault. It was me, my bad. When there was victory, everybody rides the train.

  28. Ted:
    “I would trust everything else in the letter just about as far as you can throw Nadine, because the purpose of the letter is to get you to publish it on your blog, as a form of damage control, and everything in the letter is written with the hope in mind that you will do so.”
    Heh, the cynic in me would observe that it’s competent damage control, at least insofar as the image of their client is concerned.

  29. The polished apology aside, it’s pretty interesting to understand why it happened. They hired somebody to write a funny query for mass reverse-marketing, and she just went over the line with it.

    They’re lying though (probably), about her going against what she was granted approval for. I’ll bet they gave her license to write whatever she wanted, and run with it. Now they just don’t want to come off as corporate slobs, with no standards or regulations for their own spam. Maybe now they’ll “implement” that.

    And yeah, way to thank you: putting the guilt of a lost job on your head. How about a brand-new ball and chain ankle bracelet? Think about this any way you want John, you aren’t going to come to feeling good about it.

    Not that this is really your fault. Shrug.

    I think you’re being a bit more grateful to these people than they deserve.

  30. Hi John,

    I, too, have my doubts about the fate of Nadine and the spin of the apology, but others have voiced them so I’ll add a little sympathy for Nadine.

    I work in marketing too. Everything I write is mangled by my boss who fancies himself a writer. He’s not. No, no, no. And trust me, every time someone criticizes something, he does not claim responsibility. In fact, he would probably write the same letter Leifer did (or actually I would write it; he would edit it; I would secrectly re-edit it into English, while retaining his simpering yet superior tone). Fortunately, I have a drawer full of his handwritten edits in case he ever says to me “Nadine! You’re fired!” At which point, I’ll whip out his notes and say “No! You are! And stop calling me Nadine!”

    btw, we met very briefly at Readercon. It was Scalzifying. I bought OMW and it’s going on vacation tomorrow.

  31. I call *such* bullshit.

    It seems that you got taken in by the second stage of the campaign.

    The response letter didn’t address even one of your observations, but seemed to be a generic “respond to complaint” letter.

    You weren’t mad, you weren’t even really complaining, you just observed how the email wasn’t effective as marketing to you specifically.

    Don’t worry, nobody was fired, and why should they be from your original posting? Really.

    If they’d really read your posting, they might have thanked you for your free consult.

  32. mensley,

    I think you envy John’s “blog juice.” (saber)

    Most generic grievance-acknowlegement letters aren’t directly from CEO’s, and don’t result in somebody getting terminated.

  33. Man, before I thought Guerilla PR were just dumb internet punks, but now I think they’re sleazy scum. The CEO doesn’t stand up and take the hit and apologize–instead he makes a scapegoat of one of his underlings and weasel-slimes towards the exit in the flickering shadows as she burns.

    Naming an employee? Pretending the things she did were in no way connected to the company/his leadership? What an ass. No wonder GP puts out such junk. The rot comes from the top.

  34. I know I’m cynical, but if the letter is right and someone did get fired it was almost certainly the wrong person. If anyone got fired and the letter is even halfway sincere and not a gimmick.

    I’ve seen this situation far too often. Big Boss orders you to do something, gives either (a) no guidelines on what to do, or (b) tells you to do stuff that is flat out wrong, illegal, immoral, stupid, etc. It’s a catch 22, if you don’t do it, you’re fired, if you do do it and someone complains then you’re fired. Just another bit of corporate cannon fodder.

    In summation, I hate people and wish the planet was ruled by giant squirrels.

  35. Hey Johnny,

    Ever wonder how a cheezy thriller like the “Da Vinci Code” became a double-zillion bestseller? Or even a movie directed by Richie Howard? Didya wonder how it could do so when your own, far superior “Old Dude’s War” has yet to inspire its own episode of NBC Primetime, a weeklong of programming at the History Channel, or even a legion of cheap knockoffs?

    Well, wonder no more.

    We can help you use your “readers” to make your next book a “phenomena” — as super-quick and easy as a PR chick in a black pantsuit. How do we do it? We’ll sleep with them!

    By guiding your blog’s readers to our embracing arms we’ll get their whorin’ money and you’ll get their undying — and very marketable — love and attention.

    Call me when your next book needs the “hot, wet lovin’” that we can provide.

    Peace out.

    Greg
    Drooling Gibbon PR

  36. Jim Winter: The big difference between your case and John’s is that he’s a reasonably prominent blogger, and Guerilla PR exist, in part, to specifically target bloggers.

    When someone messes up in such an obvious way to a prominent target, they get in trouble.

    Delta, of course, are a much bigger firm, and you, specifically, are merely one of many (many) customers. Also, they don’t specifically sell to or need the services of bloggers.

    Whether “Nadine” exists, got fired, whether it was someone else that got fired, or if it’s just another PR scam is something that we can only, at this point, speculate on. It does, however, emphasise John’s point; if you’re going to market to bloggers, get it right.

    “Nadine” didn’t. Mr Leifer is at least trying. Nice to see an alternate to Amazon offered as well, shame the UK doesn’t have alternates (yet)…

  37. Well, i just posted in the last thread about how I didn’t believe that these people who send out these mass marketed e-mails are real people and that i’m sure that “Nadine” didn’t get fired, and that user name was just retired. I worked for a car dealership once and my name was “Mrs. White” At the time, I was neither a Mrs., or had the name “White”. This is a marketing technique that’s been in use long before the Internet, and a marketing company as low brow and painfully bad as that one would be using old techniques.

    My husband works for Office Max and he was called in on the carpet not long ago and informed of a “Sales Revolution” that would be happening. When asked if he knew what happened in a revolution, he smart assedly responded “Uhm, people get shot, Sir.” “That’s Right!” his boss exclaimed excitedly. In this area, Office max has essentially declared war on it’s employees, and now this particular store is being run by a skeleton staff (lots of people got shot, but even more fled before they could be) and the boss has just given notice because his revolution went so incredibly badly.

    I tell you this story because any company that would up and fire a real person (which i still don’t feel they did) because of something posted on a blog, isn’t a company worth doing business with. I’m afraid that i agree with Tor on this. I don’t know why i said that “I’m afraid…” At any rate, this should never have happened like this. When a company gets to the point that the only thing they can do is hold someone under them responsible whenever something goes wrong, then that company is headed to the toilet.

    If that person is real and something was to happen to her, then it should have happened in private, and she should have been defended tooth and nail in public.

    If they’d done that, then I would have jumped on their ship. Instead they use WalMart tactics and the customer is always right.

    Right. You’re lucky to have the opportunity to shop in my store, and not only am I going to treet you well, but i’m going to keep my dignity doing it. Go find something better at Wally world or Guerrilla PR if you don’t like it.

  38. For what it’s worth: I made a complaint to a manager of an auto-repair shop after a particularly shoddy piece of work. He assured me that the employee in question had caused other problems before this one and he had been fired.

    A couple of days later, I took the car back in to have the re- repair adjusted – you know where this is going – and the same mope who did the first shoddy repair was the guy examining the second take. He confirmed that he had not been fired, that such a claim was just something the service manager trotted out to defuse annoyed customers.

    Short-sighted on all fronts: I immediately found a new place to handle my auto maintenance and repair.

    Tim

  39. I agree that it is very unlikely that this person was actually fired, mostly because it is such a disproportionate response to sending out a badly customized email. If the response note had said “She behaved incorrectly to send this email out without review and we have talked to her about how this hurts our product” that would be a believable response.

    It is intriguing, however, to think that this outrage over the poor email and the CEO response with the firing are all just a part of their guerilla plan. Is any marketing firm really that smart? Are Scalzi’s handling of this incident and these comment threads really achieving any imaginable goal of the mktg firm or of Napster? I don’t think so, but perhaps awareness is awareness….

    Keith

  40. Any company that would up and fire a real person (which i still don’t feel they did) because of something posted on a blog, isn’t a company worth doing business with.

    Peggy: Companies are rapidly starting to see that what gets posted on a blog directly impacts their businesses. Huge multinational, publicly traded companies are getting into the blogosphere because they understand that this new medium is changing the way we do business.

  41. Firing the employee because the firm neither fully trained her for blogger outreach, nor is taking the time to check the work of what may have been a junior staffer is crap.

    PR firms are supposed to train their staffs. The good ones do. The bad ones just shove their staffers under trains to be run over.

    Looks like Nadine was run over.

  42. I just wanted to let you know that I am NOT the Nadine that was involved in this incident, and I would appreciate it if you took down my myspace url. I worked for GPR until March 2006, and was not involved in that campaign whatsoever. Nadine Dunn was given my old email address and my contact list, shortly after I left, against my wishes. I had hoped they would have had her last name on her email address so this sort of confusion would not have happened. It’s unfortunate that this other person’s unprofessionalism encroached on my space (no pun intended) and tainted my good name. By the way, Nadine Dunn was contracted from another company, and she actually WAS fired.

  43. Hi, Nadine. I won’t take down the link, but I have added a notation to the comment in which the link exists that you have maintained that the Nadine in this case is not you and that you were not involved in the campaign. I think this accomplishes pretty much the same thing, without messing up the comment thread.

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