Welcome to 2012. To kick off this year I'm commenting on one of the last really big ones from 2011. Trust me though, it's worth covering if (somehow) you haven't already heard about it.
You know, I've seen it happen before, mostly to The Daily Show and Colbert Report. They take a little vacation, and during that time something crazy happens and they lament that they weren't around for the "live" blow-by-blow. Well, I honestly feel the same way about the recent Ocean Marketing phenomenon -- a word that in this case I believe I am completely justified in using, considering how widespread it has become -- and while I could have certainly blogged about it as it was happening I felt that it might be better to just let it simmer for a while and save it for the new year. I believe, after all, that there's no better way to start a new year than with a laugh or two.
It all started innocently enough, with an experience that many of us can probably related to: emailing the public relations branch of a company with a question. This is exactly what Dave (last name withheld) did one day, inquiring about exactly when the Avenger Controllers for the PS3 would be coming out. Dave was concerned that the controllers would not be available in time for Christmas which is quite understandable. I don't think that either he nor Paul Christoforo, the man who responded to his email, could have imagined just how quickly things would get out of control.
And get out of control they did.
For those not wanting to go through the entire conversation -- although it is highly recommended -- Paul is increasingly standoffish and dickish to Dave, who is asking legitimate questions like when to expect the product he already paid money for and whether he and all the other people will be eligible for the recent $10 off rebate on the controllers. Dave finally gets fed up and outlines the points of the situation and why he's upset (he does swear a little, but raises plenty of cogent points) to which Paul responds with some of the following:
"You just got told bitch … welcome to the real internet... you think you speak for billions son your just a kid you speak for yourself no one cares what you think that’s why were growing and moving 20-50 thousand controllers a month. We do value our customers but sometimes we get children like you we just have to put you in the corner with your im stupid hat on. See you at CES , E3 , Pax East ….? Oh wait you have to ask mom and pa dukes your not an industry professional and you have no money on snap you just got told"
As Dave became more and more frustrated by Paul's behaviour he sent the discussion to Mike Krahulik, probably better known as Gabe from Penny Arcade. Perhaps it was luck, or more likely it was something that Mike found resonant, but he decided to get involved. And once someone that runs the most successful gaming webcomic on the internet decides to throw their hat into the ring, you can bet that the issue is suddenly about it get a lot more public. Paul treats Mike with much the same derision he treated Dave with, not even realizing just who he was talking to and then proceeding to seemingly not care very much either:
"Your spamming me you’re not on a mailing list you idiot ! You sent me an email remember . Make sure you stir up a lot of controversy about us the more the better we needed some drama gets good blood flow going about the new product launch . Your sites amateur at best my son could put together a better site than yours and you run PAX ?? Wow , Ill put my marketing team on a smear campaign of you and your site and your emails , I have about 125 dedicated people to run PR , Blogs , Articles , Videos you have no clue who I am . Thanks again"
What can really be said here? Well, like most people looking at this from the outside in I believe that this is a powerful message to those that are responsible for dealing with the public that your words and demeanour do have accountability. This was apparently not the first time that Paul Christoforo was a dick to someone who was asking a legitimate question about a product, but thanks to the fact that his reputation and by extension Ocean Marketing is now completely ruined it might well be the last. He thought that he could get away with name dropping and being a bully, only to find the people he mentioned quickly added to the backlash against him (something which he reacted to with the same professionalism to be expected of him by this point). If you look at Paul's twitter now you'll see him still talking about having buyers and companies that will work with him, then alternating and saying that both he and Ocean Marketing have had their reputations ruined over this.
One of his comments in particular strikes me: "I mean, I took 4000 calls. I had one bad call out of 4000 calls, and they put me on a cross and crucify me?" I'm someone who's also in a public service position (nothing important as what Paul had I assure you) and I know that dealing with people in any volume can be extremely testing even at the best of times and downright infuriating at the worst of them. That being said, there is never, ever an excuse for the kind of behaviour that Paul demonstrated in his dealings. All of the questions he was asked were legitimate, and by appearing flippant he did himself no favours from the outset. But if you're about to write something like, and I quote:
"Things happen in manufacturing if your unhappy you have 7 days from the day your item ships for a refund. You placed a pre order just like any software title the gets a date moved due to the tweaks and bugs not being worked out and GameStop or any other place holds your cash and im sure you don’t complain to activision or epic games so put on your big boy hat and wait it out like everyone else. The benefit is a token of our appreaciation for everyone no one is special including you or any first time buyer . Feel free to cancel we need the units were back ordered 11,000 units so your 2 will be gone fast. Maybe I’ll put them on eBay for 150.00 myself. Have a good day Dan"
Emphasis mine for the bolded text. If you're about to write -- or even worse actually physically tell -- someone something like that, you need to catch yourself and ask "wow, is this something I should be doing?" because I guarantee you the answer is no. Four, four hundred, four thousand, hell, four million. I don't care what the number of people you have to deal with actually is: each one of those people deserves respect and not to be treated like they're some nuisance or idiot ... even if they totally are. That wasn't the case with Dave, but certainly there are always customers that don't know what they're talking about or doing; you treat them with the same level of respect as everyone else, because that's your job. And if you find yourself almost snapping at people and making these kinds of statements constantly, then you really need to reconsider if you're a good choice for a public relations position. We all have bad days sure, but when you start letting that affect your work on a constant basis then it might be a case of more than just a bad day and instead a sign that you might not be on the right career path.
What I find sad is that Paul's family has received threats over this, and that the Avenger Controller has also gotten a lot of bad press. These people and products are innocent by-standers (at least for the most part in the case of the Avenger) and probably don't deserve the detrimental treatment that they've gotten from the public over this. Paul, in the meantime, seems determined to keep flailing about, flipping between be crushed about how his company and reputation are in shambles and bragging about how he's going to get more clients and press coverage over all of this. Perhaps that's the saddest thing of all: some people never learn.