Hey, CEOs, repeat after me: “I hired a PR professional for a reason.”
If you haven’t guessed already, we’re talking about Groupon. The daily deals company, which has already come under fire for information disclosed in its initial public offering filings, is once again in the news for a PR gaffe. And the company’s CEO, Andrew Mason, has taken the time-honored approach of blaming the media for his own mistakes.
In a memo leaked to tech blog AllThingsD
, Mason makes many claims, including annual growth of 12 percent from July to August of this year, not to mention a 20 percent decline in marketing expenses. Groupon has been criticized both for difficulty maintaining its top line and its enormous outlays for marketing—not to mention other missteps
, from big founder dividends to sketchy accounting practices.
The interesting stuff, however, comes in the form of media-directed venom—a sure-fire way to get reporters’ sympathy, right? According to Reuters
, Mason’s memo stated: “While we've bitten our tongues and allowed insane accusations ... to go unchallenged publicly, it's important to me that you have the context necessary to brush this stuff off.”
This is tantamount to poking a tiger in the eye.
So, what explains the imprudent PR approach that Groupon’s CEO has adopted? Well, there’s the “unexpected” departure
of the company’s PR pro, Brad Williams. After only two months in the role, Williams said the decision was mutual about the fit not being right. It isn’t hard to see, however, that Groupon’s executive culture isn’t exactly designed for the success of a disciplined PR pro, especially given Mason’s behavior during Groupon’s pre-IPO “quiet period.”
The situation at Groupon offers a case study in why executives need to hire, listen to, and follow the advice of their PR teams. Williams, it seems, was fighting an uphill battle, given the nature of the near-constant headlines about his employer. And upon his departure, a bomb of a memo was dropped on the media (Business Insider muses
about the memo’s having been intended for outside consumption from the start). It’s pretty clear that Mason needs help, and I’d gladly guess that he wasn’t letting Williams provide it.
The lesson is that PR leaders are like any other senior managers in a company: They are hired for a reason. Executives across industries need only to look at the Groupon situation to see why the PR talent they’ve hired is so important.
So, we’ve been given a very public example of what not to do. Now it’s up to PR pros to use it to show their C-suites what they can do
to protect a company’s reputation, bolster the brand, and ultimately contribute to shareholder value.
Tom Johansmeyer is group marketing director of Cross Border, which publishes IR magazine, Corporate Secretary, and the recently launched Inside IPO.