Archive for the ‘Reputation management’ Category


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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. Don’t ask for anything in return. This is the one thing that Hoggard did entirely right.

If you liked this, you might also like:

https://ishouldhavedonethisyesterday.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/case-study-good-works-and-strong-emotions-lead-to-expression-of-hatred-why-organizations-need-a-social-media-policy-and-when-to-moderate-comments-on-social-media-accounts/

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This post is entirely off topic; however, I have been watching this public relations SNAFU unfold around me. What follows is a cross between a case study and a cautionary tale.

The volunteer president of an animal welfare group was pissed because a severely abused puppy had to be euthanized. Perfectly understandable. I would be too.

Next to a picture of that puppy on the organization’s facebook page, this is what she posted:  “As far as I’m concerned, if a bomb went off and wiped this community off the face of the earth . . . there would not be too many tears shed. There … I have said what everyone is thinking! How many animals have to needlessly die at the hands of those assholes!” That was May 18.

Then in a post to the thread, the volunteer director of public relations for the animal welfare group identified where the puppy had been taken—a neighbouring native community.

No question, at that moment the president of the animal welfare group truly hated that community.

And it took off from there.

A subsequent post by another member of the facebook group read “Is (name of community) a alcohol free reserve?? or are they just plain savages walking around in a human like form.” In all, over 100 posts. I did not read them; but according to a caller to a news outlet’s feedback line, they went so far as to suggest mandatory sterilization of the native group. The same caller said 81 posts were made, including numerous comments from the president, before she made a post to the effect that her comments were aimed at the perpetrators of the abuse, not the entire native community.

Perhaps she would have hated the people of that community regardless of their race—only she knows for sure. I am reasonably sure she would have felt the same way about any community where she found numerous incidents of animal neglect and abuse. Regardless, her hatred was ugly, something better kept to herself. She, however, chose to make it public.

Understandable at some level perhaps, but the wrong thing to do from her organization’s perspective.

Some of the group’s other posters, however, were unabashedly racist. Not at all understandable. Also the wrong thing from the organization’s perspective.

How did the animal welfare group react as an organization? Initially, it deleted the thread and tightened up its monitoring of what was said on the page.

But by May 22 a facebook group called “Shame on (Name of Animal Welfare Group) Negative Comments on (Name of Native Group)” had more than 550 members.

On May 23 the animal welfare group suspended all activity on the facebook page in question. Still, their director of public relations publicly maintained their president had the full support of the board.

Meanwhile, the chief of the native community called for the president to issue a formal apology.  She has since written him apologizing for her comment about wanting to “blow them all away,” saying that she didn’t mean to disrespect the community itself. But clearly, that is what she did. Not all residents of that native community abuse or neglect animals, yet she talked about wiping out the entire community. She liberally tarred them all with the same brush.

The animal welfare group has received threatening calls and e-mails. A single female employee was confronted by two truckloads of people, purportedly from the native community, hurling obscenities.

Media coverage has fanned the flames. Animal welfare people have been called racists. Native people have been called animal abusers (and worse).

I know the animal welfare group in question does a lot of good work. I can appreciate that animal rescue work is brutal and unrelenting and frustrating. The volunteers who do this hard work with the support of one paid staff don’t deserve to have their efforts tarnished.

So from a public relations perspective, the real question here is how this could have been prevented. And how can the animal welfare group ensure nothing like this ever happens again.

Where to from Here?

Develop a social media policy. If an organization uses social media, it needs a social media policy. At the very least, the policy should set out

  1. who can speak on behalf of the organization
  2. what can and can’t they say (libel, hate, threats, bias are all on the no-fly list)
  3. who preapproves comments made on behalf of the organization

Someone could have, should have prevented the group’s president from posting in anger. Someone can, and must, ensure nothing like it happens again.

Appoint a moderator or moderators for the group’s media accounts. If an organization deals with highly emotional issues, comments on its social media accounts need to be moderated. I understand posts about lost and found animals and requests for emergency assistance are time sensitive. That is why this organization needs a moderator or moderators, so there’s no huge delay in making those posts. But no post or comment—whether from an internal or external source—should go up before it has been vetted and approved.

Can the Existing Wounds be Healed?

 The animal rescue group has taken a black eye. The people of the native group, and other members of their race, are hurt.

The director of public relations would have served the organization better had she said that while the board of directors understood the president’s anger, her comments were wrong, and hateful; and the organization was truly sorry. Instead, she allowed her comments to be coloured by a sense of righteous indignation.

But the bulk of the responsibility rests with the president. It was her initial comments on facebook that fanned the flames, and her failure to intervene earlier in the thread that resulted in the fire storm.

The president needs to make a sincere, very public apology. No back peddling. No trying to explain things away. Not trying to mitigate what she said. Just: “What I said was wrong. It was wrong to threaten the community in that way. I’m sorry that my comments instigated a lot of hateful comments about the residents of that community and aboriginal people in general. And I’m sorry I didn’t step in earlier to stop it. I was upset about what had happened to the puppy, but that doesn’t excuse my behaviour.” Full stop.

She started it. She has to end it.

Things won’t be perfect, but they’ll be better.