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Making Lemonade - Small Business Crisis Management

July 14th, 2008 · 2 Comments

BLUF: A Case Study in small business crisis management with recommendations from a number of prominent marketers.

Not one of my proudest moments, I let my emotions get away from me.  A few weeks ago I wrote this blog post about a very stupid, biased postcard I received in the mail.  Now I’ve received the response from the postcard’s author.  And I’ve decided to make lemonade of the whole thing and look at the situation as a lesson in crisis management for small business owners.  I’ll do my best to keep my prejudice against an obviously prejudiced person out of the analysis.

Case Study in Small Business Crisis Management

Background:

Small business owner, Jack Lefkowitz sent out a postcard which was evidently prepared in-house.  The postcard has several significant flaws:

  • The postcard contains language that some of the recipients find offensive and possibly exposes the businessman to legal issues.
  • A blogger (yours truly) takes the issue and publicizes it.

Now what does the small business owner do?

  • Whom should one contact and secure advice from before proceeding?
  • How should you best respond to these types of attacks, valid or not?
  • What is the best way to frame your response?

What Happened, The Real Response:

Mr. Lefkowitz responded with a follow up letter to the same mailing list.  The complete 4 page letter is scanned into a PDF file here: mailing-from-jack-lefkowitz. I apologize for the low quality of the scan, but it reflects the low quality of the actual letter received.  And yes the scan is in color the letter is black and white photocopy quality.  The photo and the highlights were actually photocopied at such poor quality as to make them nearly illegible.


Selected Excerpts:

Headline: “Why Is This Man So Upset?”

Opening Paragraph: “Last week a post card was mailed out to you notifying you about a property located at … is being put up for auction due to partnership dissolution.  It offered you a great deal to earn $10,000 if you were able to get a buyer that settles. and on the same note, get the neighbor you wished for yourself.”

Subhead #1: “Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?  So why is the man so upset here?  Who is he anyway?”

Subhead #2: THIS IS WHY JACK IS SO UPSET!!! HE WAS SIMPLY MIS UNDERSTOOD!!!”

Footer Callout (highlighted with dark background): “This mansion is for any person who wishes to enjoy leisure and comfort in a dream luxurious home and live an exceptional life?”

Page 2: (primarily a repeat of the home ad please refer to the PDF for details.

Page 3: “I’m sure you’ll love it once you see it, but as a Neighbor what benefit do you have by recommending a buyer?”

Page 4: Blank

Page 5: Copy of this article from Florida Today.com.  About a swingers club that is being evicted from a rented house in Melbourne FL.  With an attached Post-It note saying, “This is what he’s trying to protect you! Read the enclosed article”


What The Experts Recommend:

I asked a number of prominent marketing bloggers and associates how they would recommend Mr. Lefkowitz proceed.  Here is a condensed version of the recommendations I received.  The full text of the replies I received from all of the bloggers gracious enough to lend me their time and expertise can be found here.

  • Lewis Green He should have stopped his card after he described the house.
  • David Berkowitz If he’s that concerned over it he could have tried to raise the funds to buy it. 
  • Jason Falls Sure he was misunderstood the first time.  He’s only going to be misunderstood the second time by many because the message isn’t clear.  
  • Roberta Rosenberg Outline the specific goal to be achieved.  Have a professional … write the copy, tho there is a certain charm that might be lost.
  • John Johansen Determine if anyone in his market is reading the blog coverage. … If no one he’s doing business with is reading, then the controversy isn’t affecting his business.
  • Josef Katz Every communication counts.  …Have an expert review and prepare your copy.  The money you spend will be worth it…
  • Cam Beck 1. Shut up until he hires and consults a reputable lawyer.  2 Hire a reputable lawyer.
  • Cheryl Waller…Contact the [local paper] with the story and let the newspaper bash him about the inappropriate behavior on the front page in an editorial.  The housing market is a hot topic and the newspaper loves juicy stories. Controversial?  Yes.  More free marketing for the listing?  Absolutely!
  • Michelle Lamar I wish I could help you but this guy put himself out in front of the firing squad by using such extreme tactics in his ads.  
  • Gavin Heaton Work with the medium in which the issues are raised– if it is a blog, respond in that format.  If you feel uncomfortable in dealing with a blogger… engage a local PR firm to act on your behalf.
  • Drew McLellan Anyone who can live in a neighborhood of $2+ million homes is being bombarded with direct mail. … Odds are, most people didn’t even read the headline before it was tossed in the garbage.  Have some respect for your audience.  Don’t send them something that is photocopied to illegibility and then home that they’ll respect your opinion.
  • Jason Alba Totally let it go, get on with business.  Give me a break, this the type of distraction that a real CEO doesn’t need to chase, only to dig a deeper hole. … Who wants to read a 4 page whiner’s letter?

Final Recommendations and Analysis:

The main issue I feel Jack missed is that it’s not about him.  It’s not about you or your business it’s about the feelings of your prospects & customers.  There are a dozen ways Jack could have approached this from the perspective of a recipient of his mailings.  The least effective is from the sender’s perspective.  Get out of yourself & your business (hiring someone else to write is a good way) and keep the focus on the customer’s feelings, not yours.  This entire mess would have been avoided if Jack had done that to begin with.  Instead he imposed his feelings on his target audience, bringing about this problem.

After reading all of the responses I received I believe that Jason Alba and John Johansen (among others) hit the nail on the head.  If Jack called me and asked me what to do before sending the second letter.  I would do my best to determine if his target audience read any blogs that are likely to carry the story.  And from my understanding of the story today, the likelihood is low.  So my advice to Jack would be to ignore it and carry on.

However, if it does become a bigger issue then it may be that Cheryl Waller has the best idea to revel in the light of the PR while you make the money. Cheryl, is the one of the real estate professionals who took part and she has a very different view of this.  She says in part:

I honestly do not think that this campaign was designed in-house. He is using a very specific (and touchy) direct marketing approach, yes, based on exploiting people’s fears and ruffling feathers. It’s actually quite effective, which your email here proves. The style, the follow-up, the post-it note.. I have seen it all before. I’ve gone to workshops specifically on this style of copywriting.

Her contribution was long and detailed and worth a read.  I don’t happen to agree with Cheryl’s perspective, I simply think that Jack is not that clever in his marketing efforts.  But I could be wrong.

All in all, this was a great experience, and I’m truly thankful to my friends who gave me their time and their wisdom to help me with this.  This was a lot of fun and I will do it again in the future.

Tanks for reading,

Chris

Tags: For Unknown Reasons · Reasonable Social Networking · Reasonable Techie Advice · Reasons For Net Marketing

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 John Johansen // Jul 19, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    Thanks for asking me to comment on this situation. As I mentioned in my email, I read your first post on this and also had to shake my head over the marketing tactics employed.

    One issue that surfaced for me as I was writing my response was the disconnect between making the neighborhood better and making money off the house. It’s a trend that we see too often in Marketing — ignoring the people receiving the message because you’re too focused on the money.

  • 2 Chris Kieff // Jul 25, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks John for your comment and your participation.

    You’re absolutely right, that’s why I said that it’s not about you or your business, but it’s about the customer’s feelings.

    Thanks,
    Chris

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