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Any right-minded person would have been disgusted to hear that the News Of The World phone hacking scandal has taken its ugliest turn, with the revelation that Milly Dowler’s mobile phone was interfered with while she was still missing.

The story marks a watershed moment for the phone hacking investigation, where the general public’s apathy has turned to rage. There is the sense that D-list celebrities and arrogant footballers are fair game for phone hacking. But a murdered schoolgirl is most definitely not. 

As such, and inspired by this web page, thousands of Twitter users have started to ask the brands that prop up the News Of The World with their advertising budgets whether they will continue to do so. The implication is clear.

Many brands, including Virgin Media, WHSmith, Easyjet and PC World have been targeted and are seeing many hundreds of tweets an hour directed at them, along the following lines:

“Dear @easyJet, will you be reconsidering your advertising spend with #notw given that we now know they hacked Milly Dowler's phone?”

So far it appears that none of the brands have responded to these queries.

Crisis management requires the correct response

Listening is of course vastly overrated if sounds go in one ear and come straight back out of the other. What’s important is what you learn from what you hear, and how you adjust your behaviour, and how you respond.

PRs cannot paper over the cracks as they used to do. We’ve seen many examples of situations where a crisis becomes a full-blown customer services issue, such as the travel chaos in winter, when many passengers were turning to Twitter to find answers. This is of course one very good reason why the Twitter accounts of large companies should be owned by their service teams. But while there is lots of volume here, this is most certainly one for the corporate comms and branding director to take control of.

In this case, the question is how should you react to this type of lobbying? There are only two scenarios as far as I can see: either you don’t respond, or you do.

In the first case, you can put your fingers in your ears and hope that the baying mob goes away. They might, or then again more people might join in, as tends to be the way when things start to trend on Twitter. When that happens the noise will grow louder and more frenetic. 

Alternatively, you can choose to respond. It can be impractical (and misguided) to reply to everybody personally, but in this kind of situation there needs to be a decision, and a statement put out. And perhaps one that is pinned to the top of your Twitter feed for a while. 

What the brands choose to do as far as the News Of The World goes is another matter entirely, but if sentiment analysis and caring about customer opinion actually matters then there may be some risks involved in doing nothing. 

It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out for all concerned.

Chris Lake

Published 5 July, 2011 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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Mike Essex

Mike Essex, Marketing & Comms Manager at Petrofac

If PR's can pull their advertising when a celebrity involved in a scandal (e.g. Tiger Woods), then they certainly should be staying well away from the NOTW in this case.

about 5 years ago

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Lisa Gillingham

I agree that brands should at least put a holding statement out on social media, but the reality is that unless the notw's circulation is adversely affected (which I don't think it will be in the long term) then the advertisers will keep on coming regardless.

about 5 years ago

Mike Essex

Mike Essex, Marketing & Comms Manager at Petrofac

You're right Lisa, as a long term view people will forget, which is quite sad really.

As with the celebrity example, advertisers will abandon the paper, and then in time will come back. Just look at Kate Moss: she lost nearly all her advertisers and now has more than ever.

about 5 years ago

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Luke

As a consumer I expect/demand that the brand responds, but from the brand perspective I can't help wondering if 'ignore' is a more effective quelling strategy.

Like dealing with trolls, each response often just fuels the debate and provides further points to attack. Discussion eventually stops when you stop responding.

(Not that anti-NOTW campaigners are trolling - I support them).

Those brands that respond could encourage more dialogue and attention than those that don't, although perhaps there is a chance for kudos if one is the first to make a boycott statement. If that happens, others will surely feel pressure to follow suit.

When Claire's faced a Twitter crisis they ignored it and you could say they came out with a better result than Paperchase before them, who responded and got picked up by mainstream press: http://www.reachstudents.co.uk/blog/2011/01/25/social-media-pr-and-claires-crisis-what-crisis/

about 5 years ago

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Derek Parkinson

Good comment Chris.

about 5 years ago

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Juddlinski

I wonder how many of those people jumping on the re-tweet bandwagon will buy a copy of the New of the World this week? quite a few I would imagine.

I would ignore them.

G. Ratner

about 5 years ago

Michael Stewart

Michael Stewart, Freelance Digital and Ecommerce Consultant at 52art Ltd

It's hard to see how the future of the NotW is at all rosy.

Obviously these are only allegations at this time, but if they're proven to be true I'd expect brands to drop the NotW as an advertising platform like a stone... unless their response rates are so great that they can't afford to. If that's their view then my view is, shame on them.

It's hard to feel anything but disgust for an entity that would do such a thing, and I really feel there is no longer a place for such a publication.

With a declining readership and declining advertising revenues then it's future could be limited. That would be a demise that I'd not lose any sleep over but I do hesitate for a second and think of the majority of decent and honest people involved with the NotW that may well lose their jobs if it closes.

My feeling is that they'll ride the storm and be back to full strength in 12 months... pity!

Just don't buy the paper or advertise with it if these allegations are proven and if you've an ounce of decency.

about 5 years ago

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Puffin

Great article,

I've set up a site that lists NOTW advertisers here https://sites.google.com/site/notwad/

It's in a spreadsheet so you can download and mail-merge.

Sorry if this posts twice but seems to have vanished.

about 5 years ago

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James Robertson, Web Marketing Manager at www.venuebirmingham.com

Very thorny dilemma indeed; as a consumer I am livid and I will be taking conscious action; as an online marketing professional I am profoundly glad my brand has not achieved the size to consider advertising in the NoTW.
I think that they're now toxic; to advertise with them is seen as supporting them.
If I was in charge of the brand at any of these advertisers I would engage ASAP; autoreply to everyone tweeting you; include a link to a page where you state unequivocally that you will hold off on advertising on all Murdoch brands until they are cleared in court; if they are convicted you'll never go there again. I think this is going to unleash a tsunami of disgust at these tactics that will taint any brand in any way associated.

about 5 years ago

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Tim

The people who are angry with the newspaper aren't the ones who bought it, and I doubt a majority of the people who bought it base their purchasing decision on ethical and accurate journalism.

The impact of any boycott will be tiny, and as such the paper will remain one of the best ways to reach a mass audience. Companies who buy direct will still need the platform and media buying agencies will still want their cut.

I think what the News of the World did was absolutely disgusting, but there will be no lasting damage as a commercial entity.

about 5 years ago

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Sebastian James

Tim,

You're officially a cynical person. You weren't always this way. Try hard to get over it, because your response seems as if you have no humanity anymore.

Generally,
This is one of those events that changes a company forever; and not for the good. Just because you knew they were sleazy isn't an excuse for accepting this kind of behaviour.

How should brands respond? Pile on the weight, drive NSFW out of business. What's the upside of sticking with them? OF course you can protect yourself, pull your ads and stay silent; but there's more upside in terms of brand equity by advocating for the scuttling of the ship.

How does NSFW get our of this? File bankruptcy and reorganize as a completely new entity.

about 5 years ago

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jason @ marketing websites

It's an interesting dilemma that brands find themselves in.

Corporate responsibility and social image vs money (after all the NOTW is the UK's biggest selling Sunday paper).

But today's news is tomorrow's fish'n'chip paper. And it will be interesting what sales they have on Sunday. Today people will never buy it again - Sunday we'll see (depending on the free giveaway: I wouldn't bet on a a free hacking kit though!)

about 5 years ago

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Spo101

I'd say string up Murdoch but he lives in China now where the PEOPLE can't get to him... Like I always tell my Conservative wacko friends:
This ain't no Tea Party this is a full scale Class War and the aristocrats are kicking the American PEOPLE in the gutter with the help of the Republican Party. Eat the rich, NOW!

about 5 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

Good post. There's no need for such meta-analysis on the part of the people responsible for these brands though. All they've got to do is ask themselves whether money is more important than morality. Then they will either continue to do business with that disgraceful rag or they won't.

about 5 years ago

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Tim

Did NOT see that coming...

about 5 years ago

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