Hedley is a popular, mainstream Canadian band whose audience is mostly very young Canadian women. Its lead singer is Jacob Hoggard, whose career took off after he placed third during the second season of Canadian idol.
The four young, male band members have built a persona that’s just “bad boy” enough to appeal to those very young Canadian women. Although the fact that Hedley band members are ambassadors for Free the Children, the world’s largest network of children helping children through education, suggests they aim to be viewed as something over and above bad boys.
These guys are a “big deal” in Canadian pop music. Hedley has three consecutive double-platinum certificates, over a million downloads, and ten straight videos that reached number one on the MuchMusic countdown. In 2010, Pollstar named them one of the hundred top touring artists in the world.
On the surface, it appears that Hoggard understands that Hedley’s success is dependent on the goodwill of its fans. This is what he said in the band’s website bio:
I never want to assume that because someone’s our fan, that they’ll love whatever we’re doing. I understand that no has any obligation to listen . . . When you start going, ‘Our fans will eat this shit up,’ you show down and get less attentive, less hungry . . . https://www.facebook.com/HedleyOnline
What the Pop Star Did
On Friday, May 25 Hedley played a well-reviewed, sold-out show in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Afterwards, at least three of the band members went to a very popular downtown bar.
Kayla Andrews, a diehard Hedley fan who loves their upbeat, positive message, approached band members Dave Rosin and Tommy Mac at the bar; and they graciously posed for pictures with her.
At 1:30 a.m. she spotted Hoggard. She tapped him several times on the shoulder until she got his attention, while holding her camera at the ready. How did he react? By saying, “Hey, look. It’s a midget!” Then he burst into laughter and turned his back on her.
Andrews, who stands just 4’ 7,” was shocked and humiliated. As a child, she was often bullied because of her short stature. Born prematurely, she suffered renal failure and was forced to endure a kidney transplant at age four.
Now Andrews freely admits to what she did. Not ideal perhaps, but not surprising from a star-struck young woman, who is not, after all, a public figure.
Story Goes Viral
On May 28 Andrews, who was still smarting from the incident, decided to leave a comment on the facebook page of a popular local FM station. That’s where Geoff Meeker, who writes a professional blog for a daily paper, first picked up her story.
Meeker contacted Andrews, who agreed to let him write about it. The next day “Rude Encounter” appeared in Meeker on Media http://www.thetelegram.com/Blog-Article/b/22094/Rude-Encounter.
By May 31, Meeker’s entry had more than fifteen thousand page views and had been shared more than two thousand times on facebook. The comments were mixed, from “what did she expect, it was 1:30 a.m. in the morning, in a bar, he was drunk, he was tired, she was pestering him, he’s a celebrity. JACOB HOGGARD RULES. HEDLEY RULES.” Through “She’s just an attention seeker.” On to “That never happened.” And finally, “He’s a pig. Doesn’t he know it’s fans like Andrews that put food on his plate.”
Many of those who attacked Andrews are avid fans of Hedley. Many have yet to go through puberty. They could use some lessons in manners and empathy. They, however, are not dependent on the goodwill of fans for their bread and butter.
A Less-Than-Gracious Apology
That same day Hoggard finally responded on Hedley’s facebook page. Here is what he said:
Our fans are our number one priority. The reason we’re where we are today. This is why it saddens me to hear a comment I may have made in St. John’s was hurtful to one of you, and for that I am sorry. Those who know us, know that we always try to go above and beyond for our wonderful fans and it was never my intention to alienate or offend anyone. If someone knows who we can reach Kayla, please let us know. We would like to fly her and a guest to one of our Canadian festival dates this summer, and apologize to her personally. Sincerely, Jacob
On June 1, the day following Hoggard’s apology, Meeker picked up the story in “Apology Accepted” http://www.thetelegram.com/Blog-Article/b/22129/Apology-Accepted. Andrews had accepted the apology but declined the free trip. “If he would like to, I would rather he donate the money to the Kidney Foundation,” said Andrews, adding she had been seeking neither compensation, nor fame.
It was a discussion of this incident with one of my teenagers, who is not a Hedley fan, that prompted me to write this entry. She felt Andrews had acted inappropriately in the bar, got what she deserved, and was only seeking attention (and possibly compensation) when she posted on the radio station’s facebook page. Clearly I have work to do as a parent, but perhaps I can do a better job counselling those who are dependent on public goodwill for their livelihoods—hence this case study.
As of June 2, when this was written, Hoggard’s facebook apology had generated 494 comments, 2273 likes, and 65 shares.
What’s wrong with this picture, from a public relations perspective?
Well, there are still some who feel any publicity is good publicity. And I am sure there are some who would say that, if anything, this has enhanced Hoggard’s bad -boy image with his fans, many of whom are very young and, based on their willingness to rush to his defence online, not in the least put off by this incident.
I personally wonder what the fans’ mothers make of it. Can they envision the day when their daughters are the ones Hoggard calls “piggy” or “beanpole” or “dogface.” Because many, many of those $60 concert tickets are paid for by mommies since their daughters are too young to have incomes or credit cards. Or drive a car. Or go to a concert without a parent (read mommy) to accompany them.
In an ideal world, Hoggard would never have uttered those words. In an ideal world, he would learn from his mistake.
If Hoggard wants a few drinks without being bothered by his fans, he should host a private party instead of going to a popular bar on a Friday night just five minutes’ walk from where a Hedley concert has taken place.
In many, many social media comments, fans said that Hoggard is known for being “less than diplomatic” when drunk (restraint mine). So perhaps if he wants to go to a bar to be around his fans, he should moderate his drinking when he does so.
What Hoggard (and Hedley) Should Have Done
That said, he did what he did. And he’ll probably do it again. Here are the reputation management “takeaways” he needs to learn. Same goes for all other public figures.
- Listen. If someone was listening on Hedley’s behalf, why did it take 48 hours to respond after Meeker’s first blog entry. That’s an awfully long time in the social media universe.
- Admit you did something wrong. Not “a statement I may have made in St. John’s was hurtful to one of you” but “I said something hurtful and unforgiveable to a fan in St. John’s, and for that I am truly sorry.”
- Apologize to the one you wronged first. Hedley had the resources to track down Kayla Andrews personally. Andrews deserved to hear the words from Hoggard’s lips (or the social media equivalent).
- Ask what you can do to make it right. Hoggard offered a trip for her and a guest to see a Hedley show. He should have asked what he could do to make it right. And he should have promised to try to do better in the future.
- Don’t ask for anything in return. This is the one thing that Hoggard did entirely right.
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