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Client Relations: Mind Your Professional Bedside Manner

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Importance of Research

In January 2012, McDonald’s began a Twitter campaign, #MeetTheFarmers, with the hopes of increasing awareness of the farmers who supply their fresh produce.  All was going smoothly until the introduction of the hashtag #McDstories.  Almost immediately, the Twitter feed became host to a brutal McDonald’s bashing that ranged from reports of “fingernails in Big Macs” to “hospitalized for food poisoning”.  The campaign was pulled from Twitter within two hours.

How is it that McDonald’s failed to see the potential for this negative feedback?  Are they so entrenched in marketing myopia they no longer recognize the wide range of opinions held by the public?  And once McDonald’s was knee-deep in the situation, how did they not recognize the value they could achieve in this two-way communication?

This campaign failed in two ways: First, McDonald’s not considering the potential of criticism with the ambiguous hashtag was short-sighted at best, negligent at worst.  Second, and possibly of more importance, was their inability to recognize the value in receiving this information from past and current customers.  True, these stories are not what McDonald’s expected, nor wanted to have posted on their Twitter feed; however, what better way to learn about public perception than from the public themselves?  Criticism is an essential form of research and education and companies pay a lot of money to find out what the public doesn’t like about them.  Leverage this information while it is being thrown at you to make changes for the better.

I think companies, especially really large, successful ones, simply put their blinders on and forget that not everyone lives in their little bubble with them.  Particularly in public relations, there is a tendency to get swept up in the creative without refining the details.  When you are sitting around the room with your colleagues in a brainstorming session coming up with the “next big idea” it is easy to get lost in the positive momentum.  You come up with an idea, and then another, and then another…and you jump into the tactics before establishing the overall strategy which is based on research and a true understanding of the needs of the customer.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
                                                                                                                  ― Dwight D. Eisenhower