Posted on May 10, 2012 by
Spread the word...

Customer service and PR used to mean minding your P’s and Q’s with clients and turning up at the right events. Companies chose the information that was made public and carefully contained any negative incident that may occur with a well versed crisis management team. Everything was very safe, fluffy, easy and more importantly, all behind closed doors.

Then came the age of social media. DUN  DUN DDDUUUUNNN.

I saw a shameful article yesterday regarding drinks giant, Diageo. Diageo was sponsoring the BII Annual Scotland Awards and upon hearing that a company called BrewDog had won the ‘Bar Operator of the Year’ award, Diageo, inexplicably and secretly demanded the organisers give this award this to a different company, otherwise they would revoke their sponsorship and all ties with the event. The ‘new winners’ then went on to reject the award as the plaque on it clearly had ‘BrewDog’ etched into it. Ooh-Er.

So what has this got to do with…well…anything?

Diageo is a huge company, producing a range of massively well known brands including Baileys, Smirnoff, Guiness and Blossom Hill. BrewDog is (as far as I can gather) a chain of bars, creating their own beer which was set up by two 24 year olds in April 2007.

Despite this massive difference in company size (and in turn, influence), as this story broke via BrewDog’s blog, this under-(brew)-dog (see what I did thar?) had a highly attentive audience in the form of Twitterers. BrewDog quickly established a UK and then worldwide trend for the phrase #AndTheWinnerIsNot. Other users were directed to their blog and very rapidly, they had recruited an entire army of supporters. Not too long ago, Brewdog would have have to write up a press release, send it to publications (probably only trade titles as national journalists may be unlikely to publish it) ring the journalists three times a week for the month thereafter to chase them up, get told it would be ‘put on file’ then wallow in misery when it seemed no one was batting an eyelid at their anguish. (I’ve been on the PR end of the spectrum, it’s not fun.)

Now that social media is rife, everyone has an equal voice. If you are an engaging person, company or charity, you have the same size audience as the most established organisations in the world. Now, the largest company in the world can be bought to it’s knees while the smallest company can get a huge boost, all from public opinion via social media.

Many businesses are now providing customer service over Facebook and Twitter. One particular company that springs to mind is O2 – they answers queries very quickly across both of these sites. Any company that fails to provide this service or does not reply to email queries at Tasmanian devil speed are labelled ‘archaic’.

Keeping loyal customers and avoiding becoming as much of a PR disaster as Kerry Katona is much more difficult now. Companies actually DO have to be ethical and ‘nice’ and empathetic with their customers otherwise you can bet your last Rolo the whole world will find out about it. At the click of a button, one bad comment – one bad customer service response – can be shared with MILLIONS of other potential (or existing) customers.

This is definitely a class in PR 101 that Diageo must have missed. Upon the announcement of the award ‘winner’, a member of staff from BrewDog was told by a judge that it was impossible that this other company had won, as the panel had clearly chosen BrewDog as the winner. BrewDog received a phone call two days later from the award organisers confirming they had succumbed to Diageo’s blackmail as they couldn’t afford to lose them as a sponsor.

BrewDog’s next move was simple and genius. Get it on Twitter, let millions of people share the blog, facilitate millions of people outside the industy (and outside the group that would usually be interested) form an opinion and help to rally support on the issue. The Twitterverse then witnessed a delay of what felt like a lifetime before Diageo published a (very lame) statement, essentially blaming the situation on a rogue element.

And I bet you can guess why the statement took so long to publish. We can safely assume that Diageo’s big wigs/marketing department were keeping track of what was unfolding – their company name was trending which would have been enough of a reason to have an online rubberneck at what was going on so we can’t excuse them on the basis that they hadn’t realised a storm was brewing.

This statement took so long because Diageo knew that it would be very difficult to conjure up an excuse that would satisfy millions of people all in one go. I personally have seen many Tweets expressing disappointment that the Twitterer will no longer be able to drink their favourite tipple as the brand is produced by Diageo – No one wants to support them anymore. Everyone is so indignant about this corporate giant trying to rip off a creative, forward thinking, honest looking business like BrewDog, and they’re not afraid to make it public.

I’m not naive. I don’t think sales of Bailey’s or Guiness will plummet as a result but I do think the public outrage tells us a thing or two. Companies are a lot less able to hide their true colours nowadays. In a time of economic difficulty when everyone needs as much help and kudos as they can get, Diageo has for some unknown reason, tried to hinder BrewDog’s success and in turn has ended up looking like the typical dishonest corporate machine that everyone has grown to hate so much.

The moral of the story: Don’t just pretend to be an honest business. BE an honest business. Engage with customers in the right way and learn the proper use of social media. Respond to a crisis quickly and transparently. Don’t try to get to the top by putting others down. Act as if there is always someone watching you and judging you on your actions and decisions because to be honest, there probably is. And if you still want to be dishonest and malicious? Well you better be damn good at hiding it.

Brewdog’s blog complete with update on Diageo’s statement:

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