Kenneth Cole Is Just The Latest in a Long Line of Bad PR Decisions

Kenneth Cole cairo tweet

There’s an old saying that any publicity is good publicity – but is it?

Kenneth Cole might be questioning it, after the tweet in the image above – that tied his retail chain’s sale into the devastating events currently happening in Egypt – was picked up and discussed on various PR and marketing blogs and news sites.

I’ve also written on here before about examples of bad PR and PR that takes advantage of tragic or upsetting situations, and questioned the sense behind it.

True, a discussion about your company or business means that at least people are talking about you – but is there a limit as to how far this should go and be accepted as a good thing?

A client approached a well-known agency in New York to run a campaign about that client’s new start-up business. The business was technology-led, and the idea behind the campaign was to run a number of press releases and forum posts that implied the current technology on the market was doomed.

This was where the PR agency’s client would step in – by providing the new technology that would replace the “outdated” one, they would become the de facto standard for this piece of software.

Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons, this backfired spectacularly.

  • First, the software wasn’t actually ready – it was still buggy and users kept having their systems frozen.
  • Second, the target audience the client was going for were already fiercely loyal to the older technology. They came out fighting when the suggestion was made that they were the equivalent to schoolchildren if they didn’t upgrade to the new software, whose users would be the advanced students of that niche.

Cue forums and tech blogs lighting up with inflammatory statements and posts about this new upstart who was saying all these bad things about the user community. The PR agency swiftly put a damage limitation exercise into place, but it looks like it’s too little, too late.

Now it looks likely that when the software is ready, it’s going to have too much baggage attached to make any headway – which is a shame, as the technology in question is an excellent idea.

So who’s to blame – the client or the PR agency? It’s a little bit of both.

For a business that wanted to be the standard in its field, releasing a buggy product and not classifying it as a beta is one of the worst things it could have done.

For the agency’s part, they should have had more balls and advised their client that pissing off your target audience is not good PR. The client hired the agency for their expertise at getting the right media attention – so they should have enforced that and made the client realize the mistake they were about to make. After all, their reputation would be at stake as well.

In fairness to the PR agency in question, it seems that in this case the client wanted to drum up controversy to get people talking about their product. That certainly happened – but was the (potentially) final result worth it?

Maybe Kenneth Cole and the tech company can tell us in a few months time…

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