We’ve all heard of businesses having huge public relations flops, but what if a PR rep is the one causing the problem? That is what happened to N-Control in mid-December of 2011.
N-Control are the creators of the Avenger, a video game controller accessory designed for disabled users and hardcore gamers. The company’s PR representation was Ocean Marketing, headed by Paul Christoforo, who for a short time was put in charge of customer service for the company. During the holidays a customer named Dave emailed asking when his remote would be arriving, as it was past the estimated arrival date and it was a gift for somebody. What was to follow became pure PR mayhem. The email chain, which can be found here, became viral within hours of being posted on a gaming blog, Penny Arcade.
Here is a quick recap:
Dave emails N-Control and receives an incredibly vague and less than helpful email from Christoforo. Dave sends several follow up emails asking Christoforo to be more specific. Christoforo goes on an angry, abusive, and incoherent tirade. Christoforo threatens to sell Dave’s order on eBay, calls him a baby, and makes a few more offensive statements in terms of both content and grammar. Eventually, Dave sends these emails to a major gaming blogger, Mike Kahulik, who decides to get involved. After Christoforo verbally bashes Kahulik the whole string of emails went viral.
The viral effect was overwhelming. Internet users who read the email exchange were outraged and flooded Christoforo’s Twitter and Facebook accounts with hateful messages. Gamers targeted a great portion of their anger towards N-Control and hundreds of 1-star reviews flooded Amazon.com for the Avenger controller.
The public relations lessons are pretty obvious here:
Email exchanges are NOT private and can be sent outside your corporate boundaries
You are always representing your brand – both the company you work for and your clients.
Never be rude to customers
Grammar, grammar, grammar!
Since then, N-Control has been on damage control, and they have done a very good job.
N-Control immediately dumped Ocean Marketing and hired a PR disaster representative, Moisés Chiullan, who started an aggressive campaign to undo Christoforo’s damage. He had to show everyone that the Avenger is a good product, the only thing N-Control did wrong was hire Ocean Marketing and that the company is not backed by bullies.
N-Control had apologized many times over and had assured everyone that they did not condone these actions. Chiullan Tweeted and wrote several press releases in order to publically divorce any associations and ties to Ocean Marketing. Chiullan then set up a Reddit AMA (ask me anything), a forum where Reddit users can ask him questions, and he answers them. Reddit is one of the most popular social networking sites for the gaming demographic so he was able to reach his target audience. Since Christoforo had control of most of the social media accounts for N-Control, Chiullan created a new Facebook and Twitter and began to actively post updates, answer questions and respond to comments. He also shut down the company website and created a new one. In addition to this, N-Control donated $10,000 and $50,000 worth of products to Child’s Play, a charity that seeks to improve the lives of children in hospitals by providing them with a chance to play video games.
Although the damage is not fully mended, Chiullan has made (and continues to make) some great PR decisions, and has gotten N-Control on the fast track to recovery. He sees this debacle as a great opportunity saying “[the situation is] something that potentially we can capitalize on. The opportunity is there for Avenger Controllers to convert bad blood into a much broader awareness of the product.”