In Marketing, nothing ever goes according to plan. And when things go wrong, that’s when the best marketing professionals get to work and navigate those uncomfortable waters. How we respond to a difficult situation will often determine our brand’s reputation more than the actual disaster itself.
In the spirit of spooky season, the American Marketing Association (AMA) – Austin Chapter brought together a group of PR, Marketing, and paranormal experts for a light-hearted discussion of marketing challenges and ways to overcome those obstacles when terror strikes your organization.
The hour-long panel discussion included:
- Mach 1 Vice President Maggie Glynn
- Unearthly: History & Paranormal Investigation’s Jane Mesa
- SKIP Collective Founder Sara Ploof
- Lytho CMO Russ Somers
- AMA Austin President Francois Marais (moderator)
THE DOUBLE AGENT
Francois, who leads sales and business development for the Better Business Bureau, and is involved in several startups, began by sharing a horror story involving a celebrity spokesperson. When he was running an insurance distribution business for a publicly listed insurance group in South Africa, they had been using a local celebrity as their spokesperson. The spokesperson was featured across their advertisements and PR pieces, and was well associated with their company and brand.
On a particular Monday morning the Head of Marketing approached Francois with a newspaper advertisement with their celebrity spokesperson advertising a competitor’s product. “The Head of Marketing always gets the blame, never the celebrity spokesperson,” so how do you address the issue and protect your company? When the phones started ringing off the hook, they went into damage control mode, and worked through tough discussions with the celebrity and his agent.
The bottom line, make sure you have the right people looking at the contracts, because few people read the contracts to begin with.
THE MISSING CALL SHEET
Sara, a marketing and communications veteran, recently launched SKIP Collective, where she focuses on growth marketing, branding, creative, and management. She has managed PR and marketing campaigns for companies across many industries, including fashion and beauty, food and beverage, CPGs, restaurants, and hotels, and she shared her horror story involving a celebrity spokesperson.
Her company secured a virtual interview for their celebrity spokesperson, and shared a call sheet. Because the spokesperson had given interviews in the past, she assumed their spokesperson had read all of the talking points.
When the interviewer began asking spontaneous questions about current events, the spokesperson was at a disadvantage and responded unfavorable. Sara jumped into action doing background work, and messaging her team to outline scenarios while the interview was going on, to devise an action plan.
Sara asked, “how much do you manage, or micromanage, versus letting them do what they do best?” It’s a tricky line to navigate, however it’s best to “never assume, and always make sure you read all the contracts.”
THE WRONG DATE
Francois shared another marketing mishap, where they accidentally took a religious group of distributors to a comedy evening on a Wednesday, when they intended to book the Jazz evening on a Thursday. The opening comedian was vulgar and highly offensive which, as you can imagine, did not go down well with our group, and the ride home was silent.
Francois explains, “we had to do a fair amount of damage control and repair reputational damage the following day.” In the end, the relationships were mended, and processes were put in place to ensure the inspection team double checked the brief document, especially ensuring they get the right day booked for an event. This highlighted the importance of a brief document and how critical it is to double check before executing on an event, and that something small can have a real significant impact.
THE INVISIBLE BOOTH
Russ leads marketing for Lytho, a creative operations platform for major brands. He spent many years as a musician and bartender before he moved into marketing – first in product marketing for large companies like Dell and Dun & Bradstreet, and then building the marketing teams that led to successful exits for startups like Trendkite and Invodo. In startups, he said, there are a lot of “funny” things that might not be funny for months (or years) later.
For example, at a travel conference, Russ’ team was forced to innovate when their trade show booth was lost in the mail. The team mobilized to purchase poster board and markers, then created an ingenious display featuring the slogan “don’t you hate it when your luggage gets lost in the mail?” Because their swag was also lost, they handed out mini bottles of champagne and pedialyte instead. To this day, he explained, “many of our customers at the time think this was a planned campaign.”
INFECTIOUS SOUNDBITE, ECLIPSES INTERVIEW
Prior to joining The Mach 1 Group, Maggie served as a Capitol correspondent for 14 stations across Texas, turning content daily on the legislature along with the biggest breaking news stories in the state. She was at the forefront of the coverage of the state’s response to COVID-19 and Winter Storm Uri while also landing exclusive interviews ahead of the 2022 primaries on both sides of the aisle. Now, she shares her behind-the-camera expertise with clients as they garner media attention.
Maggie stressed the importance of strong talking points and media training, by explaining that having weak talking points fuels the other side. “It’s important to be vigilant with what you say, because you never know what will go viral.” She illustrated with a story, where a 5 second video clip was taken out of context and went viral. The viewers only watched the unflattering clip, and did not watch the entire interview.
When it comes to interviewing, she emphasized that local media is always willing to work with the public. If a live interview isn’t a good fit for your spokesperson, then they’ll work with you to do a pre-recorded interview.
WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE…
Since 2018, Jane has been driving vintage hearses around downtown Austin as a tour guide for Haunted ATX, and in 2019 she and Bert Mesa began recording their research and sharing their discoveries on their YouTube channel, Unearthly: History & Paranormal Investigation.
Jane shared a local horror story about America and Austin’s first serial killer, the Servant Girl Annihilator, who first began December 30, 1884. Over the next 12 months, she explains that 8 people were murdered across Austin.
The marketing mishap occurred in response to the murders. Stopping the killer wasn’t as easy as rounding up 400 of the local criminals, or as easy as installing the moontowers to illuminate the city streets at night. None the less, as of December 24, 1885, the murders stopped. Or did they? Jane explained the debate over whether this serial killer simply moved to London to become Jack the Ripper. For more information, watch their 4-minute mini-documentary.
During the Q&A, the panel was asked whether they have ever used your competitor’s crisis for your own gain? How would you do so eloquently and with taste? Russ chimed in, “always punch up, never punch down.” We were in a situation where we used a different cloud provider for hosting our videos, and our competitors hosted their own videos in-house.
Unfortunately, their video service went down for several days, and we were faced with the question of whether or not to highlight the fact their company dropped the ball. Instead, they focused on advertising the benefits of their service, including their upload time. “If you put in the preparation, then you can benefit from mistakes.”
Sara adds, “we wouldn’t advise negatively commenting on a competitor.” In a similar situation, we increased our ad budget and targeted the audience who was experiencing the technical failure from our competitors. Always think creatively.
The panel of experts shared several illuminating stories of situations where things did not go according to plan. In summary, here’re a few key takeaways from the panelists:
- “There is no such thing as being over prepared” — Maggie.
- “Have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. Be prepared.” — Sara.
- “When things are going well, we ease up. In the good times, you miss your mistakes. In the bad times, those mistakes surface up. Gather your team on a regular basis, especially in the good times, to check our blindspots and ask the tough “What if” questions.” — Francois
- “There is no situation you cannot make worse. When you are down, stop digging!” — Russ
- “The best place to explore the spooky side of Austin is at Cedar Oaks, and the best way is in a hearse with Paranormal Investigations.” — Jane