Michelle Sullivan Communications

Cooks Source firestorm: Hell hath no fury like a blogger (and her community) scorned.

Twitter and Facebook are ablaze. A wronged blogger has mobilized her online community (and their online community. And so on. And so on. Like a Faberge organic shampoo commercial). Her grievances have gone viral and her supporters are attacking the brand at the source of her frustration. As a PR practitioner guiding my clients into the world of social media, I see this as an opportunity for brands to (once again) learn from the very very big mistakes of others. In the age of social media, bad policy and bad customer service can bring unparalleled damage to the brand whose image you work so hard to protect. There is no escaping scrutiny and the wrath of angry consumers when a complaint captures the attention of the online community.

In case you’ve missed the drama, here’s a recap:

Monica Gaudio found out through a friend that one of her blog posts had been reprinted without her permission by foodie magazine Cooks Source (the Internet is also ablaze about the lack of an apostrophe, but that’s another story). As she explains in her blog post, she contacted the editor of Cooks Source in an attempt to understand how her article had ended up in print. Upon realizing it had been plagarized, she asked for a public apology on Facebook and in the magazine as well as monetary compensation in the form of a symbolic donation to the Columbia School of Journalism.

Editor Judith Griggs responded by email as follows:

« Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was « my bad » indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.

But honestly Monica, the web is considered « public domain » and you should be happy we just didn’t « lift » your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free! »

Dismissive. Arrogant. Condescending. Factually wrong (content published online is NOT public domain and copyright free). Just bad from start to finish. From a PR —  not to mention customer service — point of view, this reply is riddled with strategic landmines. We can only hope Ms Griggs’ eyes and mind were tired when she wrote it …

So where do things stand a little over 24 hours after Monica Gaudio posted her story?

  • Her blog post has 17 pages of comments (and counting)
  • The Cooks Source Facebook page has gone from about 130 « fans » to 2988 « fans » … although judging from the slew of negative comments on the page’s wall, Facebook needs to come up with an option other than « like » for pages. It is painfully obvious that these are not fans.
  • Guy Fawkes is currently Twitter’s trending topic … but Cooks Source and the newly developed  hashtags #cooksource #crookssource and #crooksource are getting their share of Twitter’s attention. The brand is being coopted by others (@crookssource) and fake Twitter accounts are being set up : @cooksource and @cookssource (at least I _hope_ that last one is fake).

Lessons to be learned:

1. Your staff are your ambassadors. They become very visible ambassadors when what they say (or write) is published online. Educate them about new realities. It’s possible that like Ms Griggs, they’ve been doing things ‘that way’ for 30 years. Times have changed and it’s high time everyone knows it.

2. Understand that what happens in Vegas no longer stays in Vegas. Your customer service emails can be published online in a blink of an eye. So can your customer service calls, for that matter. And talk to Comcast about the power of video. Make sure the quality of your customer service is always something of which you can be proud.

3. Even if you’re not ready to enter into the social media space, it’s wise to stake your claim on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. If you don’t, someone else will. And you might not like what they decide to do with it.

4. Learn from the successes of others. Companies like Best Buy, Dell and Comcast have managed to turn disgruntled bloggers into brand ambassadors simply by acknowledging mistakes and by starting to work towards rebuilding bridges. They’ve entered into the conversation in a real way and it’s paid off.

5. Apologize. Sincerely. Then try to move on. There are good stories to share, so share them. And let your natural ambassadors .. your employees, your fans … share them too.

6. A fundamental shift in communication has happened in the last few years. Free yourself from the illusion of control. Invest in authentic conversations with your clients.

A message to Cooks Source Magazine and its editor: It’s time to face the music. Trust me. You don’t want to end up like Nestle, who temporarily abandoned the Facebook ship after a Greenpeace led campaign mobilized the online community and bogged down their page.  Hundreds of negative comments on your Facebook wall can seem overwhelming, but it’s feedback worth listening to. Embrace the opportunity.

I write this blog post in the middle of the night, having been violently awakened by the realization that my siamese cat had gone hunting in my country home and brought a half-dead mouse back into my bed. I see parallels, don’t you? Your brand deserves a better fate than the gift my warrior-feline presented to me tonight. Don’t let social media keep you up at night. Make sure you and all your employees manage your brand’s image online as well as off by respecting your clients, by apologizing to them when required and by demonstrating that you’re attentive to their concerns.

Social media offers you an unprecedented opportunity to engage in conversation with existing and potential clients. Grab it.

MAJ: the Internet is having fun with Cooks Source by accusing them of any of a thousand different things. My personal favourites:

Cooksource was on the Grassy Knoll


Cooks Source’s keyboard has 3 buttons: C, V and Ctrl

Your mother .. and my father .. were right: blogger relations revisited

At PodCamp Montreal last September, I was part of a panel called “Managing the PR Beast : Building Relationships with PR Practitioners While Maintaining Credibility with Your Audience”, along with Kim Vallee, Rayanne Langdon and Eden Spodek. I have to say, PodCamps and other unconferences are a great place to meet people who become valuable members of your personal and professional circles. One such person is Jennifer Blais of Black Eye Design, who, today, was kind enough to forward a great blog post that passes along many of the same helpful tips we tried to communicate that day to bloggers and PR professionals looking to work with one another.

Eric Karjaluoto is a prominent Vancouver-based design blogger. His blog post, How to keep bloggers from hating you, an open letter to PR practitioners written from the blogger’s point of view, should be basic reading for anyone thinking about venturing into the social media waters. Eric caps off his best practices blog post by reminding everyone that basic manners DO count when doing blogger outreach. Yes, the manners your mother taught you. Like please. And thank you. And remember when she told you to sit down and be quiet because you were being annoying? That one too.

The PR landscape is definitely changing and we all need to keep up. Having done blogger outreach for about three or four years now, I’m pretty sure I have the hang of it, but always take a moment to run a checklist before hitting ‘send’ on any email:

  • is this content likely to be of interest to this particular blogger?
  • do I know this blogger? Have I met him face to face at an event? Have I built a relationship up with him over time through blog comments? If not, have I at the very least taken the time to read through a minimum of a half-dozen blog posts, including the first, to be sure I’m not wasting his time?
  • is my email personalized? Does it show I’ve taken the time to understand his interests and objectives? Am I helping him deliver content that will be of interest to his readers?
  • is my email interesting, as well as short, efficient, and to the point? Does it respect the blogger’s time?
  • am I being clear that I am not ‘purchasing’ visibility? Will the blogger understand that he or she is treated with the same respect as a journalist who may also be reviewing the product for traditional media and will benefit from the same freedom of expression?
  • am I reaching out to him or her in the best way? Might Twitter be better than email?
  • is this a win-win situation for both my client and the blogger? And to the blogger’s readers?
  • is my campaign a credit to my own consultancy as well as to my industry?

The last point is an important one for me. It pains me every time I hear about bad practices in the PR industry. It’s easy for bloggers to paint all PR industry professionals with the same brush. We owe it to our industry and to our colleagues to strive towards implementing best practices. I’m constantly trying to improve, stay current and be sensitive in the way I enter into relationships with journalists and bloggers. If a journalist or blogger tells me once that they’d rather I contact them through Twitter, I take note and do everything I can to respect that request.

You may have noticed that respect is the common thread here. Respect a blogger’s time, interests, individuality, readership and requests. No one likes to be treated badly, without consideration, with impatience or like a number. Be respectful at all times.

Rules a mother would want her child to live by. Better yet, it’s nothing less than what my father — he who lived by the Golden Rule — would expect of me:

Do unto bloggers as you would have them do unto you.

Words to live by.

If you haven’t already, and you’re interested, you can listen to my PodCamp Montreal panel session here.

And for your reading pleasure, profiles of Eric and Black Eye Design, taken from their respective blogs/websites:


About Eric Karjaluoto:
My friend Eric Shelkie and I run an interactive agency called smashLAB, where we make neat things like MakeFive, shiftCMS, and Design Can Change. We’ve just launched a new service for those in advertising, marketing and design called undrln. I also have a personal site. But it’s personal, so don’t go there.

About Black Eye Design:
In business for well over a decade, Black Eye Design is an award-winning boutique design studio based in Montreal. Black Eye specializes in champion creative for book covers and interiors and other publications, and has developed a one-two punch database-into-layout system to streamline the workflow for event listings design. Step into the ring with our team, and you’ll find out why our credo reads « Knockout Creative. No Sweat ».

Social media training : Dave Fleet’s new wiki

Have I mentioned that I think Dave Fleet is a really clever guy? I met him at a Toronto Geek Dinner in August and have been following him ever since.

Dave has turned a fantastic idea for social media training into a collaborative wiki, where public relations professionals interested in dipping their toe into the social media space can benefit from the expertise of those who have been experimenting for awhile and are willing to share their key learnings.

Dave’s slogan : Using Social Media To Create Social Media Training

It has just launched, and I’ve entered the fray with preliminary contributions to the Blogger Relations and Social Media News Release sections of the wiki. I’ll be watching these pages and others to see how they develop over time.

The podcasting section is of particular interest for my learning curve, in case anyone out there feel like contributing…