Archives Cynthia

Did Mariah Carey’s camp make her NYE disaster worse?

mariah-carey-new-yearEven if you went to bed before the ball dropped, you’ve probably heard about Mariah Carey’s much-talked about performance on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.


Here’s the short version. She started to sing “Auld Lang Syne” when suddenly the music switched to one of her hits – one she says she hadn’t planned on performing. Then she began making comments about “vocals” being missing and monitors that weren’t on, “trying to be a good sport here,” she says before finally giving up and walking off stage.

What was clear to the millions of people watching both in Times Square and on TV, was that Mariah was supposed to be lipsyncing her hits but couldn’t get it right due to technical difficulties. It’s live TV. It’s Time Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It’s cold. The fact more things haven’t gone wrong in the past 10 plus years is a testament to the hard-working ABC production team. Happy New Year.

On the morning after, the embarrassing slip-up grew turned into a New Year’s Eve disaster to rival that of the SS Poseidon.

To protect the singer’s reputation, her camp accused ABC of causing the entire debacle. Even worse, they suggested that it wasn’t just a case of incompetence, that it was actually a choreographed ratings grab.

The root of the problem appears to have been with Mariah’s ear piece which, according to her, wasn’t working properly. She claims she reported the problem before the show began but was assured that it would be fine. It wasn’t fine. She couldn’t hear the music and thus wasn’t able to sing.

Sounds reasonable.

But after pointing fingers at ABC, the production company shot back with a few barbs of their own:

“In very rare instances there are of course technical errors that can occur with live television, however, an initial investigation has indicated that dcp had no involvement in the challenges associated with Ms. Carey’s New Year’s Eve performance.”  Sources for Dick Clark Productions also noted that Ms Mariah refused to rehearse prior to the show, sending her stand-in to stand-in for her during the run through.

The statement from the production company went on to say:

“As the premier producer of live television events for nearly 50 years, we pride ourselves on our reputation and long-standing relationships with artists. To suggest that dcp (Dick Clark Productions), as producer of music shows including the American Music Awards, Billboard  Music Awards, New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and Academy of Country Music Awards, would ever intentionally compromise the success of any artist is defamatory, outrageous and frankly absurd,”

It is absurd. Really.

ABC could have cut to commercial, or switched to the West Coast feed but they didn’t. Perhaps Mariah could have asked them to stop the track so she could simply sing just as she’s sung a thousand times before – but she didn’t

Perhaps, in all the noise and confusion, nothing could have been done to change the way it went down. It’s live TV. Things happen. Things that are a lot worse than this. The real damage is not what happened on New Year’s Eve but what happened on New Year’s Day and is still happening as all parties play the blame game.

Mariah’s camp may think they’re protecting the singer’s reputation with these accusations but they’re actually making her look worse. Even if the production team was at fault, a simple “there were technical issues and I’m sorry it wasn’t up to my usual standards” would have made this a non-issue by the end of the Rose Bowl. The world understands technical issues. What they don’t understand is an experienced performer throwing shade on the production company named for a beloved star.

What’s rough is the fact that Mariah herself is still taking the blows when she’s clearly already put the incident behind her. But those blows are going to continue as long as her staff continue to give the press sound bites like: “She should have walked off and thrown the mic at somebody’s head — that would have been a great moment”

Reputation lesson for today: watch out for the people who are trying to protect you, because they could be doing you way more harm than good.

Airbnb’s Big Apple reputation spoiled by new bill & lack of customer concern

au07bmlw1na-adrian-williamsOver the last few years, Airbnb has worked hard to build up its reputation as an economical, immersive and trendy alternative to booking a hotel room when you travel.

Instead of staying in a corporatized hotel or getting chummy with your neighbors at a traditional bed and breakfast, Airbnb (the ‘bnb’ is a reference to the original bed and breakfast concept) lets you stay in someone’s home without that someone around to crowd you.

But as popular as the service is, the company has had to navigate more than its share of bumps in the road and it’s beginning to impact their reputation – particularly in New York City.

From the beginning, Airbnb has had to fight two fights; the hotels that don’t like losing their customers to an alternative business model, and residents who don’t like the steady stream of strangers moving in temporarily next-door.

Thanks to a push from both of these factions, Gov. Cuomo of New York just signed a bill that is hitting Airbnb harder than its ever been hit before. As of Nov 1, any person who offers to rent their living space for less than 30 days will be subject to a fine of up to $7,500.  Sounds harsh, but here’s an interesting fact; actually renting out your apartment to someone for less than 30 days has been illegal in New York City since 2010.

Illegal – and yet Airbnb still has 1,000’s of available listings in the city. A few weeks ago, Mr. and Mrs. Sacks booked one of those listings. They paid out $2,000 for a ten night stay (quite cheap for NY) and arrived thinking their accommodations were all taken care of.

24 hours later, they were given the boot after a neighbor complained and threatened to call the cops. The owner of the unit blamed the Sacks, saying he’d warned them to be “discreet”.

The couple called Airbnb to complain and the response they received was in keeping with the company’s good reputation. They were offered a full refund and accommodations at another Airbnb or a local hotel. If they chose the hotel (they did, for obvious reasons), they would be “reimbursed for up to $150 a night”.

At this point, it sounds like Airbnb did everything they should to keep the customer happy and protect their own reputation. One problem, you can’t buy a decent hotel room in New York for $150 a night. In fact, the couple had to pay $809 for the first night at a Holiday Inn and $249 a night for the next 9 nights.

Luckily, the couple had the funds to cover the trip, but it’s not every traveler who has an extra $2,000 in his pocket while on holiday.

The story hit the papers with headlines that included the words “horror”, “nightmare” and “cautionary tale” along with the name “Airbnb”. Even if you accept the fact that things go wrong – especially when you’re dealing with a collection of independent landlords – there’s still the matter of rentals being illegal in the city. Airbnb knew this but didn’t take any steps to shut down the offending listings. They allowed customers to walk into a bad situation. Their excuse? That they’re just a web host? That they’re no more liable for illegal listings than Craigslist is if someone lists a stolen car for sale?

Legally, that may be true but it doesn’t matter to the general public. We expect the companies we do business with to be experts in their field. We don’t see Airbnb as blameless third party. They’re the overseers. They’re the matchmakers. They’re responsible for steering us in the right – or in this case – the wrong direction.

That means, they’re also responsible to make things right when a booking goes wrong. A refund is a good start, but if they want to protect their reputation, that have to do more than make the customer whole again. They have to offer enough to cover the emotional stress as well as in the full cost of switching accommodations. There are cities in the US where $150 will buy a nice room, New York isn’t one of them.

To be clear, we’re not talking about Airbnb’s legal responsibility here. That’s still up for debate and they’re already in talks with the city to find a “compromise”  in regard to the new law. All we’re discussing here is the impact unhappy customers can have on a company’s reputation. Especially high profile customers who decide to tell their horror story, not just to friends and family, but to the press.

When a customer is unhappy, you can reply in a way that protects your reputation or you can reply in a way that actually improves it. Airbnb chose the first option. Which one would you choose?

Which company messed up its newspaper apology letter? Samsung or Wells Fargo?

When two of the world’s biggest companies make big mistakes, how do they say they’re sorry?

By taking out big newspaper ads, of course.

But even though both Samsung and Wells Fargo chose the same destination, they arrived via two very different routes. Did they both accomplish their mission? Let’s take a closer look.

Both companies ran full-page apology ads in major newspapers across the country. The Samsung ad appeared on November 7th.  The Wells Fargo ad dates back to early September.

Samsung opens with this greeting:

“To our valued customers,”

While Wells Fargo goes with:

“Moving forward to make things right”

And there’s another version that says:

“To Wells Fargo customers: Our commitment to you”

In just four words, Samsung comes off sounding humble and apologetic. Wells Fargo sounds cold and ready to move on.

After the greeting, Samsung falls on the sword:

At Samsung, we innovate to deliver breakthrough technologies that enrich people’s lives. An important tenet of our mission is to offer best-in-class safety and quality. Recently, we fell short on this promise.

For this we are truly sorry.

Wells Fargo doesn’t.

“Recently, we reached settlements with… over allegations that some of our retail customers received products and services they did not want.”

“Allegations” implies that you doubt it’s true, but we all know it’s true.

The Wells Fargo ad continues. . .

“We truly regret and take full responsibility for any such instances and have refunded those customers who incurred fees. We have also made many improvements to make certain our ongoing focus is on helping you succeed financially.”

That’s pretty close to an apology and yet it doesn’t quite make it to the finish line. I suspect the lack of explicit “sorryness” is a legal issue. By saying, ‘hey there were some bad people, we found them out and now we’re moving on’, it seems like the company as a whole isn’t really responsible for what happened.

Then there’s Samsung, going all in by the end of the ad:

“Most importantly, safety remains our top priority. We will listen to you, learn from this and act in a way that allows us to earn back your trust. On behalf of our 12,000 employees across the country, we are grateful for your ongoing support and again, we are truly sorry.”

The most telling bit might be the very last line of each ad. Samsung’s letter is signed by their CEO. Wells Fargo’s letter isn’t signed by anyone. Again, that makes it seem as if the CEO of Wells Fargo is sidestepping the blame.

What’s important here is not what the ads actually say, but how they are perceived. Both acknowledge that mistakes were made and both promise to be more vigilant in the future. But side by side, Samsung’s ad sounds more like a genuine apology where Wells Fargo sounds like legal doubletalk.

Here’s what Andy Beal has to say in his book Repped. It’s under the heading of “Sincerity”.

Most online reputation attacks happen because at some point you not only let a stakeholder down, but you didn’t apologize for doing so. If you’re going to resolve this attack quickly, then you had better apologize quickly. Not one of those “we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused” non-apologies, but a sincere, heartfelt apology. . . . Saying I’m sorry has repaired many damaged reputations.

Did Twitter just fire its new hire because of an old Facebook post?

termination-1538203_640Twitter’s having a rough month. First, word got around the Disney decided not to buy them because of their bad reputation. Then, they got called out by the media for changing the time on their Q3 earnings call. (Dodging the inevitable, much?) When they did finally speak up, the report included their intent to lay off 300 workers. Ouch.

On the upside, they don’t have to find the money to pay their new VR Program Manager, Greg Gopman, because they fired him shortly after they hired him. Why? Perhaps, because of a nasty, old Facebook post.

Greg Gopman is a serial entrepreneur and the former CEO of AngelHack. He proudly announced his hiring to the world on Facebook and shortly after, he announced his firing on Facebook, too. (Ironic) In his single sentence post, he blamed tech news website Techcrunch for his misfortune.

Shortly after the big Twitter announcement, a reporter at Techcrunch wondered out loud if Twitter knew about the nasty diatribe on the homeless population in San Francisco that Gopman had posted on Facebook three years ago. The word ‘degenerates’ was used, and he suggested that they be moved to some part of the city where he wouldn’t have to see them every day.

I understand Gopman was lambasted for that post back in 2013 when it was new. He has long since deleted the post and he now says he’s an advocate for the homeless. He even claims to have been at a charity event to raise money for the homeless when he got the news that he was fired. (Ironic x 2)

So did Twitter make the right move, cutting this guy loose? Were they worried about reputation assassination by proxy? Sure, the guy is high profile, but the post was 3 years old. Did Twitter fire him because they were embarrassed by their own lack of due diligence? Is it reasonable to expect an HR worker to dig up that tidbit before the contract was signed? Would it have turned out differently if Twitter wasn’t already in trouble for letting the trolls run wild?

That last one is the biggie. Right now, Twitter can’t afford to be caught hanging around with the bad crowd.  A year ago, I could see Twitter making a case for keeping Gopman around. He’s changed his tune and the experience he brings will be a huge asset for the company. But with family-friendly Disney giving a buyout a second thought. . . . it’s a whole new world.

People get fired every day for the ugly, inappropriate or lamebrain things they post on social media, but this case feels a little different. What do you think? Did Twitter have a choice or was it made for them the moment Techcrunch posted that article?

What we need is a legal statute of limitations on social media postings. If you wrote something dumb in college and now you’re 45 and up for a high-profile job then it can’t be held against you. Until that happens, you’re better off keeping your opinions to yourself.

How Twitter’s reputation cost the company a Disney deal

dont-feed-trollsIt may not seem like Disney and Twitter have much in common, but the leaders of the two companies have been working together for several years. Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey is on the board at Disney and Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger has been a mentor to the folks over at Twitter.

So when Twitter needed a buyer and a bailout, Disney seemed like a logical choice. After all, Disney was looking for away to connect with more customers over mobile and Twitter is great in both online customer service and creating entertainment buzz. But after weeks of whispered rumors and hopes, Disney closed the books on the potential deal. Why? A source told Bloomberg it was Twitter’s bad reputation that ended it all.

Walt Disney Co. decided not to pursue a bid for Twitter Inc. partly out of concern that bullying and other uncivil forms of communication on the social media site might soil the company’s wholesome family image, according to people familiar with management’s thinking.

You can hardly blame them. Twitter has repeatedly come under fire for allowing users to run amuck. Cyber-bullying, racist comments, violent threats, reputation smashing phony celebrity accounts – it’s like the wild west of wordplay.

Some of the problems stem from the fact that anyone can open as many anonymous accounts as they have email addresses. Early on, users praised Twitter for going this route while Facebook was making everyone post under their real names. There are plenty of reasons to want to hide your identity on social media and they’re not all vicious. By the same token, it’s not just anonymous users who are using the social network to harass and harangue. Just yesterday, I saw a group of easily identifiable Tweeters go after a popular author en masse because of one Tweet. The discussion was mostly civil but I imagine the author is still feeling the pain.

So here comes Disney, with its family-friendly face and happiest place on Earth mentality – how does Twitter fit into that? It doesn’t.

What’s sad, is that the folks of Twitter never saw this day coming. Did no one ever think about the consequences of their actions – or in-actions? Wasn’t there anyone who said, ‘we’re getting a bad reputation and that’s going to hurt us if we decide to sell the company?’

The articles that have been written do say that Twitter’s reputation was only part of the problem, but it’s the part that’s the toughest to fix. I doubt even Disney would be able to gain control of the trolls at this point. It’s all gone too far.

Just like your inventory, balance sheet and customer list, your company reputation can either be an asset or a liability. The time to get that straight is now, before you’re counting on an investor or buyer to save your business from going under.