September 22, 2010

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain*

Posted in current events, events, social media tagged at 4:48 pm by Jennifer

I can’t write a post about transparency and not mention that while I do talk about Netflix in this post, I won’t be going into their services etc. I work for Mansfield  and is a client of ours. So while this post isn’t about Netflix per se, their services or even really Netflix as a brand I thought that I should put that out in the open from the very start. And now that’s out of the way, on to my post!

Public perception of the PR industry is not always favourable. It seems to either glamorize all night parties and rubbing shoulders with celebrities or it paints us as huddled around a long boardroom table plotting evil schemes to make big bad companies look good. That just isn’t the case, and PR companies that try to “spin the truth” or “trick the public” tend not to have the respect of their peers or survive in this industry. The reality is despite devastating cuts to the media industry there remain savvy and dedicated reporters ready to flush out a balanced story as well as a rise in bloggers who truly do their homework. Social media has given way to an army of tech-savvy super sleuths and the last thing I would ever advise a client or colleague to do is try to deceive them! These days it seems the truth is just a click or link away.

So what’s this about? It’s a lesson to all of us in being open, honest and transparent with the public when sharing information with them. Recently Netflix launched a press conference and public event in downtown Toronto. It was right around the corner from my office and flyers were being handed out yesterday, I just so happened to get my hands on one.

Their concept was really creative with actors dressed up as movie characters passing flyers out – really fun and I thought this was a great way to promote the launch of their new streaming movie service. Those actors were a great idea. The ones paid to “play types, for example, mothers, film buffs, tech geeks, couch potatoes etc.” – not such a great idea. Especially when media are asking those same extras for their opinions on the product thinking that they are average people who just so happened to stop by the launch.

This isn’t the first snag in a public relations campaign where a company was not transparent in their activities. WalMart suffered a major blow when the blog “Walmarting Across America” instead “WalMarted across the internet”. It was exposed to be a PR campaign disguised as average couple Jim and Laura’s roadtrip to various WalMart locations. As my coworker pointed out when we were talking about this, “Why would anybody do that?”

This post isn’t meant as a hand slap to Netflix or WalMart’s PR agencies by pointing out what happened. When mistakes are made we should learn from eachother and apply better techniques to our overall practices. At the end of the day we need to relate to the public, earn their trust, understand the power of social media and engage people openly on behalf of our clients but also protect our own reputations. Not being transparent can lead to situations where you will have to work really hard to rebuild public trust.

Also check out Chris (a.k.a Nachosatmidnight)’s take on the launch including some funny graphics that made me ha-ha.

– BB

* From The Wizard of Oz – I did a paper my graduating year about the importance of “the man behind the curtain” and the statement this makes on “political spin”.



  1. […] than one observer as “a case study on how not to launch a product,” one PR professional wrote in a blog post, “it’s a lesson to all of us in being open, honest and transparent with the […]

    • Thanks for including me in the online discussion, I really think situations like this make us reflect on our industry as a whole. This isn’t the impression of PR I want people to have – and I’m sure my peers agree.

  2. Anna said,

    “This post isn’t meant as a hand slap to Netflix or WalMart’s PR agencies by pointing out what happened.” had a layperson made that comment it may have been credible but you have stated that work for Mansfield and is a client.. Under those circumstances I have to say your blog has the taste of PR mudslinging.

    • Anna you raise a valid point and I honestly appreciate it. But I think that by not naming the agencies involved (who I ultimately respect) I tried to take a look at the overall issue and what we can learn from it without putting anyone down. At the end of the day – a mistake was made here. I’m not going to pretend what was done in either case was right.

      As someone in PR I try to examine my industry overall – not as a layperson but as a working PR professional. This isn’t about Netflix products or service, it’s about a PR campaign that hit a giant snag and affected an otherwise well executed launch.

  3. […] Blogroomblogette is a public relations employee in Toronto who works around the corner and who got one of the Netflix ‘permission’ flyers. […]

  4. John said,

    It’s interesting that you consider PR and the Wizard synonymous with each other: here in Europe we’re launching a new product at the moment and the PR firm that we’re working with are … well, at best, an expensive disappointment.

    What other media has there been in reaction to the Netflix incident?

    • To clarity – no, I don’t think they are synonymous with each other. The “man behind the curtain” represents the deception and “spin” that happens behind closed doors or out of sight from the public eye.

      The industry involved can be almost anything really; law, finances, marketing, politics… Even some non-profits have been exposed for deceptive practices in the past. We should not label an industry as “good” or “bad” overall.

      • John said,

        Thanks for clarifying that — but I can see this from both sides. It can be seen that in a number of businesses that PR is the “power behind the throne”.

        For example, there’s a global business who shall remain anonymous (but are headquartered in Stamford, CT) which I’ve worked with in the past where PR has allowed for the former CEO to effectively achieve an almost Stalinist “cult of personality”. As a consequence, many of its employees and suppliers with an independent streak tend not to last there very long – and those who do spend more than a couple of years there find their future careers blighted by the experience as it transpires that the experience can require people be “deprogrammed” afterwards.

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