[UPDATE] A friend initially shared this story with me recently, and I have delayed posting it until confirmation. It’s a story about a PR account executive/vice president named James Andrews from Ketchum in Atlanta who flew to Memphis to visit FedEx, one of the agency’s biggest clients. Andrews’ mission was to — now, this is important — talk with the corporate communications people at FedEx about social media.
Upon landing in Memphis, Andrews posted this message on the popular social media, mini-blogging service, Twitter, that’s widely followed by business people worldwide:
“True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here.’”
Andrews (right) openly used his Twitter monicker – @keyinfluencer. Someone inside FedEx was following Andrews, and that person shared the post among the top executives at the FedEx front office, and the company’s corporate communications staff. At that point, a person in the FedEx corporate communications staff apparently took umbrage to the post by Andrews and responded with this personal message to Mr. “KeyInfluencer:”
Mr. Andrews, If I interpret your post correctly, these are your comments about Memphis a few hours after arriving in the global headquarters city of one of your key and lucrative clients, and the home of arguably one of the most important entrepreneurs in the history of business, FedEx founder Fred Smith. Many of my peers and I feel this is inappropriate. We do not know the total millions of dollars FedEx Corporation pays Ketchum annually for the valuable and important work your company does for us around the globe. We are confident however, it is enough to expect a greater level of respect and awareness from someone in your position as a vice president at a major global player in your industry. A hazard of social networking is people will read what you write. Not knowing exactly what prompted your comments, I will admit the area around our airport is a bit of an eyesore, not without crime, prostitution, commercial decay, and a few potholes. But there is a major political, community, religious, and business effort underway, that includes FedEx, to transform that area. We’re hopeful that over time, our city will have a better “face” to present to visitors. James, everyone participating in today’s event, including those in the auditorium with you this morning, just received their first paycheck of 2009 containing a 5% pay cut … which we wholeheartedly support because it continued the tradition established by Mr. Smith of doing whatever it takes to protect jobs. Considering that we just entered the second year of a U.S. recession, and we are experiencing significant business loss due to the global economic downturn, many of my peers and I question the expense of paying Ketchum to produce the video open for today’s event; work that could have been achieved by internal, award-winning professionals with decades of experience in television production. Additionally Mr. Andrews, with all due respect, to continue the context of your post; true confession: many of my peers and I don’t see much relevance between your presentation this morning and the work we do in Employee Communications.
(Signed as a personal message by a member of the FedEx Corporate Communications team)
I attempted to get a comment from Andrews and Ray Kotcher, CEO of Ketchum, but no response.* The corporate communications department at FedEx, however, was immediately open and transparent in confirming the story, names and events. FedEx has issued this statement:
“This is an unfortunate situation and demonstrates very poor judgment by Mr. Andrews. The reaction by our employees proves once again that FedEx takes great pride in our hometown of Memphis. This lapse in judgment also demonstrates the need to apply fundamental communications principles in the evolving social networking environment: Think before you speak; be careful of you what you say and how you say it. Mr. Andrews made a mistake, and he has apologized. We are moving on.”
Andrews … remember … had flown to Memphis to coach FedEx on using online social media.
Makes one wonder what he knows. Big agencies, in general, are new to many of the evolving online communications tools, like social media.
* [Add to this post at 7:53 p.m EST: At 5:03 p.m. this evening - 2 hours after I had asked Ketchum CEO Ray Kotcher via email for comment - a fellow called from Ketchum on Kotcher's behalf. He said Ketchum had a statement; I asked him to send it by email, and I would run verbatim. The statement has not arrived, even though I asked Kotcher again via email to have it sent. From a journalist's perspective ... heck, for that matter, from anyone's perspective ... this lack of transparency and openness is troubling, in my opinion, especially for a large public relations firm. dh]
[8:46 p.m. update - Ketchum comments] Just received this statement via email from Ketchum PR, New York:
It was a lapse in judgment and we’ve apologized to our client. We greatly value this long standing client relationship. It is our privilege to work with them.
[Signed:] Marv Gellman, VP, Director Media Relations, New York Technology Practice