Want a Company to Hear You? Talk to Their “People.”

Photo: ItzaFineDay

Many of you were already following my recent credit card turmoil, where I was blacklisted from using my own card. When talks with the regular customer service/fraud department left me unfulfilled and wanting to switch credit cards, I got a little creative in my communication efforts. I enlisted the PR department.

What is PR? Public relations companies may be internal to a large company, but usually there is some kind of outside entity representing a corporation's interests, looking out for any negative attention, and working very hard to get the good word out. Since perception is their business, they are usually very interested in any rumblings concerning their client, especially when those rumblings involve a bad experience.

How do you reach a PR contact? Sometimes it's easier than you think. You can start by going to the company's website, searching for a contact page, which may list a separate number or name for media inquiries or press. If you don't find one easily available, I would try looking for a site map. This will bring up all possible links on the website, and sometimes PR contacts are listed. If all of this doesn't work, I start googling for the company's name and “press release.” I follow any links within the last month (because PR reps change all the time), and read to the bottom of the press release, where there is usually a contact name and number. This is the person I want to talk to.

What do you say? You can start by introducing yourself. Don't say that you are just a guy that buys dish soap. Tell them who you are, how influential you are among your circle (not in a pompous way, mind you), and why your recent experience with the client has left you frustrated. You can say that you would love to know how your issue will be resolved, and that you're confident the PR rep can help get your complaint to the right person. Don't be arrogant, don't be demanding. Understand that the PR rep is doing a job, that they don't control how the company does business, and that they want you to be happy. Then sit back and wait.

What happens next? If the PR rep is doing their job (and you haven't been unreasonable in your feedback), they will address the matter. It may take some time for them to do some back-and-forth with the company. Eventually, someone will get back to you.

What if you don't get any results? This does happen. I haven't had it happen to me personally (although I've only had to resort to enlisting the PR rep once or twice, as of late.) If you don't get results, you can try looking for another PR company. Sometimes they switch reps, companies, or go through a period of transition. They may have simply dropped the ball. They may have deemed your complaint unimportant. If you feel that you've been wronged, however, don't give up. (Paul has some great tips for going straight to the top: The CEO.)

I can say that I've known some fabulous PR people who would go to the ends of the earth to straighten out a misunderstanding with a client. They want all to be well in their world, and their job depends on it. Treat them with dignity, the way you would want to be treated, and let them know your qualms. Not enough of them get this kind of feedback for free – they might be thankful to have it.


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Guest's picture

This is so helpful.
Complaining, but in a way that can have a positive result, by dealing with people who WANT to have a positive result.
Thank you!

Guest's picture

i noticed this when working as a business reporter. if i mentioned a customer who had a problem, no matter how small, to pr (or an exec for that matter), they wanted all the details and wanted to fix it. the same problem had often already been blown off or bungled by customer service.

of course, they knew that i had the power to write about the problem in a major metroplitan newspaper read by hundreds of thousands of people. so i don't know how they would have responded to the same info directly from the customer.

if pr ignores you, and your problem is serious enough to warrant the effort, enlist the help of local media. even if it doesn't get taken up by the local "problem solver" column, if you can pique the interest of any old business reporter in your problem, one call from them and the company will probably pay attention.

Guest's picture

As a former journalist, this post makes me cringe. It's unethical to threaten bad press to get a company or an individual to do something you want (or to stop doing something).

Are bloggers journalists? That seems very ambiguous to me. Some certainly aspire to it. Some blogs that are doing good journalistic work don't have readerships large enough to cause anyone much trouble; others that are not journalism--not on a professional level, at least--do have very broad penetration.

I won't say I'm above remarking to some wretch at ohhh...say, Qwest...that I'm writing about my adventures with the company to an audience that averages around 7,500 readers a month. But neither would I say that's a good thing to do.

Maybe we need a blogger's code of ethics?

Linsey Knerl's picture

Certainly I'm not suggesting blackmail.  In fact, before I ever blogged, I worked in sales and got in tight with the PR departments of several health and life companies.  It was through these relationships that I realized the value that the PR people placed on individual experiences and the perception of "good service."  We would often see the heads of companies act only when they thought it would earn them bad PR -- which was too often too late to preserve their image.

What I'm suggesting is not to threaten anyone.  It is to make a friend with influence.  You don't have to blog, write, or work in media to get it done.  You don't have to be nasty about it.  You just have to know "who" to ask. 

And as far as blogs go, there is plenty of clout behind a big blog.  Companies are listening to bloggers.  If they aren't  -- they should.

Linsey Knerl

Carrie Kirby's picture

Unethical? It's unethical if you are employed by a media organization to use your position to get special treatment for yourself. It's NOT unethical for any individual who's being mistreated by a company to threaten to let as many other people as possible know how they're behaving. That's really the only way businesses or governments are persuaded to do the right thing -- by the media or ordinary citizens shining light on the problem.

I think there is a big difference between an individual's blog and a media outlet in this case. When I worked for a newspaper, I had access to the very valuable resource of print space in that paper, and it was part of my job -- and my ethical duty -- to use that space for the good of the public and the readers, not for my own personal agenda. But anyone can start a blog, and if they want to share their consumer experience there, why not? A blog CAN be for your own personal agenda, and to fight your personal batles. Now, I would agree that it would be wrong if I have a very popular blog and I threaten to criticize companies there in order to get preferential treatment. That would be being a bully and extortion. But it's still not the same as a journalist at a newspaper doing the same thing. The journalist has an understanding with the public and her employer that she will work on behalf of the public, not herself. A blogger has no such covenant, unless she specifically presents herself to her readers as having done so.

In either case, the writer is risking the credibility and popularity of the venue -- the newspaper or the blog. If a newspaper becomes known as a vehicle for the publisher's pet peeves and projects, it won't be taken seriously or read much. If I started ranting on my personal blog every single day about my lousy experience at Sears, well, I might lose a readers who miss my usual budget shopping tips.

I blog at www.shopliftingwithpermission.com.

Guest's picture

I helped one of my friends do this over this past summer, you can read the full story on the Consumerist here: http://consumerist.com/5029578/thanks-creative-labs-for-returning-my-sub.... The Consumerist article doesn't reflect that the issue was resolved, but Creative called my friend the next business day (he sent in the email on a Friday) and apologized and shipped him a whole brand new upgraded audio system that was better than the system he originally purchased. They also refunded him all of the shipping costs as he requested. It really does work.