Archive for September, 2012

Flash Mobs – Not in Public Relations/Marketing

September 28, 2012

On Saturday, Sept. 22, hundreds of police confronted rioters in a small Dutch town where a girl’s 16th birthday party invitation on Facebook spawned a gathering of an estimated 3,000 person turnout for the event. At least 36 people were injured, including one police officer.

According to CNN, the mayor had persuaded the girl’s family not to hold the party and unsuccessfully urged revelers not to attend.

Tom Scott actually predicted a similar scenario to this incident back in March 2010 in his Excite presentation (Similar to TED Talks). His two-year-old video predicts the worst case scenario of a riot that can spawn from a viral video, but the scenario is too similar to ignore.

I once attempted to organize a flash mob with astudent organization on campus. The invites were sent on Facebook and we had about 45 people confirm they were going to attend the event.  Everything was planned for a quick five minute pillow fight club/flash mob.

Unfortunately, only 15 people showed up. Five of those were people who planned the event and the camera we brought didn’t take any decent shots. The plan was to used branded pillow cases to get our name out there or at least get a decent shot to submit to the school newspaper and put up on websites. It didn’t work and everyone involved lost interest.

Flash mobs do not work in a public relations setting. There is no way to predict what people will do. The larger the group of people, the harder it is to predict. Plus, there is no way to guarantee that people will actually attend. It is an easy way to set yourself up for a lawsuit.

There are too many variables. Even if everything comes together, there is no guarantee that you will get any press for it.

This is not to say  staged events can’t work. On the contrary, the American Airlines Center did one recently to set the world record for the Largest Shaving Cream Pie fight  to promote the Ringling Brothers Circus coming to town. It was fun. People showed up and everyone was as safe as a pie to the face can be.

Last week I wrote about Cain’s Arcade. At the heart of it was a flash mob gone right. There was no way to predict the magnitude that a cardboard arcade could grow into. A little bit of heart, a lot of social media and one filmmaker’s dedication developed one child’s idea into inspiration and learning for other children.

Not all flash mobs are bad. At the best of times they spread goodwill and put smiles on peoples faces.  The incident last weekend was the culmination of a worst-case scenario and a few ring leaders inciting problems. Some truly are benevolent… or at least bring some smiles.

One of my favorite groups is Improv Everywhere. They describe themselves as a New York City-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places. Check out the video where Improv Everywhere turned a little league baseball game into a professional quality production.


Caine’s Cardboard Arcade Creates Cavalcade of Creativity

September 21, 2012

The Imagination Foundation is hosting the beta  Global Cardboard Challenge on Oct. 6.  The Global Cardboard Challenge invites the world to “build anything awesome out of cardboard, recycled materials and imagination. There are currently over 100 events planned in over 25 countries.

This was all inspired by Caine Monroy, a 9-year old boy who spent last summer building an elaborate DIY cardboard arcade in his father’s used auto parts store.


Nirvan Mullick was one of the first customers to Caine’s Arcade. His short film tells the story of Caine’s Arcade and the flash mob that made Caine’s day. The film viewed over 7 million times. It is motivational and I highly recommend watching. it.

The film was posted to the Internet with the goal of raising $25,000 for a scholarship fund for Caine. Within the first day, more than $60,000 was raised. A week later the Goldhirsh Foundation offered a funding grant of $250,000 matching dollar-for-dollar to help start the Caine’s Arcade Imagination Foundation to help more innovative kids.

Caine’s Arcade was trending all over Twitter. It was picked up by celebrities. It hit the front page or Reddit. People came from around the world to visit Caine’s Arcade.  Hollywood actor Jack Black even came by with his kids to play. You can find out more in the follow video, Caine’s Arcade 2. This Oct. 6, he Imagination Foundation is inviting you for a global day of play. “Just imagine what we can build.”

After the Foundation was established, a school pilot program began. Within the first two months, over 100 schools in 9 countries participated using project based learning teaching kids math and science.

“The idea is to not only give kids the tools to build the things they can imagine, but to also to imagine the world they can build.” Mullick said in his second film.

The Lab at Lakewood in Dallas, TX is hosting an afternoon of free play inspired by Caine’s Arcade on Oct. 6 at 2:00 pm. You can also find a local event.

Progressive Insurance overwhelmed by Twitter backlash.

September 10, 2012


On August 13, Matt Fisher released a blog post titled “My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to defend her killer in court.” Fisher wrote the article in response to his sister Kate’s death by a reckless driver. In the post, Fisher claims that the insurance company paid for a lawyer to come to the defense of the negligent drive in the case. The Fisher family originally tried to sue Progressive in hopes of alleviating  Kaitlynn’s student loans. However, the State of Maryland does not allow claimants to sue an insurance company. One must first sue the person who did not have sufficient insurance to establish negligence.

Progressive’s next day response denied the claim all together.  The negative comments on the site go on for pages. Fisher responded to Progressives clams. Official court documents appear to back up his claims. Progressive provided the defendant of the civil trial with an additional lawyer. There were nearly 16,000 negative tweets about Progressive by day after Fishers original post. That’s up nearly 50,000 percent from the previous week, according to General Sentiment, a firm which tracks social media chatter.

Progressive’s Twitter responses kept saying the same message:


Progressive for the most part appeared to be giving non-responses or non-apologies.

The link on the tweet goes to the Facebook page of their spokesperson, Flo, on a flying horse with a rainbow.

As a future public relations specialist (and graduating undergraduate), here’s my advice to Progressive:

  • Progressive is going to have to say they are sorry. The standard line of “our thoughts and prayers go out…” is not going to work in this case.
  • “We are sorry” is not the same thing as “our sympathies.” What Progressive is doing is a non-apology-apology. This is a common practice in both politics and public relations. Progressive is going to have to own up to the fact that the company tried to keep from paying out the defendants claim and your statements were not factual. (From my understanding, this isn’t an uncommon practice, but the company got caught.)
  • It would make sense to say something to the effect that sometimes large corporations do not know what the other hand is doing. It may not be completely true, but it is better than what you are doing now.
  • Then, the insurance company is going to have to pay the settlement. The jury awarded the family $760,000 in damages after the driver was found to be negligent. This is what should have been happening in the first place.
  • Progressive also needs to put a professional social media manager on your Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/LinkedIn accounts and pull of any interns if you haven’t already. You are in crisis mode and you need to make sure that you have someone to deliver an understanding tone to your customers and general public.

Today’s Progressive Tweet seems to be the exact opposite, “Have you daydreamed today?” The link on the tweet takes you to a Facebook page of their spokesperson, Flo, on a flying horse with a rainbow. They seem to be off message, or ignoring the situation all together.

Now the problem has gone viral and Progressive has a cacophony of tweets in their direction. The insurance company is going to need some good will to smooth over the feathers of this angry horde.

Start with a scholarship fund in Kaitlynn Fisher’s name to her alma mater, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Then make a public announcement that you are reviewing any policy procedures that could cause this situation to happen. YouTube a public apology and don’t use Flo. This public relations crisis is no place for humor.


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