Kryptonite II – I blinked and missed it

I hate to rehash what amounts to an enormous and severely beaten topic, but I just have to know. Where did I miss the second half of this debacle? From a PR standpoint, this certainly takes a revisit. Apologies if you’re tired of the subject.

For those of you who don’t know (and I imagine a fair many of you don’t, so that’s okay), I’ll try to sum it up for you.

This is an incredibly simplified version. See the links below for more detailed information.

Kryponite Lock is a company that makes, you guessed it, bike locks. In 2004 several videos circulated across the Internet demonstrating how to defeat a certain type of lock style with a typical ballpoint pen. The news originally broke on an “online forum,” and this is important later on. This spells bad news for Kryptonite, right? Well, the blogosphere went crazy and there was quite an uproar even in some traditional mediums. Things got blown out of proportion – as I hope to detail in later posts – because of the mob mentality of parts of the blogosphere. I say “parts of the blogosphere” not all. But I’m digressing.

So to make a long story longer, this went on for some time and finally Kryptonite offered a lock exchange program to replace (here’s a interesting note) not only the pickable locks, but many other locks as well at a significant cost to the company. Sounds great. Word is that Kryptonite suffered irrepairable losses because of this crisis, which could have been avoided if only they had been monitoring the blogosphere. Is this true? Could it have been avoided? Were they not being constantly vigilant?

Well guess what, maybe they were.

Kryptonite has become the poster child for “Blogosphere Monitoring, how NOT to do it,” and why not? Well, because Donna Tocci, Public Relations Manager for Kryponite, argues that they were watching, they knew about it from day one. I did some online snooping and came across several blog interviews with Tocci that range from April 2005, to December 2005 (see the links below for more information). Here are my new thoughts about the issue:

  • Too slow to see? No. Tocci indicates they knew about it from day one. The interviews go into chronological detail (especially the Naked Conversations blog post). Good eye, but it’s what you do with that information that matters.
  • Too slow to talk? I say yes. Donna admits that maybe they could have communicated better. It’s a relatively small company and they had various angles to contend with during this and it affected their communications. Could be trouble.
  • Too slow to act? I don’t think so. Donna makes some great cases for not implementing a plan until they had every aspect covered. Sounds good and I agree. You can’t institute a lock replacement program until you can figure out distribution, storage, costs, etc. This takes time.
  • Too slow to get the real story out? I might have to agree. The initial story broke in September, 2004. The first mention I see of Tocci out in the blogosphere trying to get the real story out is April 2005, then July 2005, then December 2005, and into 2006. In my email conversation with Donna she wrote, “This was just the time frame that we were able to start some conversations.” Again, back to the fact that they had scads to do during the crisis. Is that a good reason to drop the communication ball? No one would agree if asked, but it’s the pressure of the situation that really determines what kind of communicator you are. Let’s all remember this: no matter what happens, you must still communicate. Either way, Tocci did go out and get the truth out. Maybe late, but she was tenacious about telling Kryptonite’s story. All last year she was doing interviews, on blogs, posting comments, replying to emails, being available. That’s good communication. She even answered my email to rehash what they consider a closed topic. And who am I? Just a student, trying to learn the truth, trying to share a case study that everyone already assumed had gone wrong. But I maintain this: It wasn’t as wrong as people said it was, not by a long shot.

I posit that the blogosphere is like TV or Radio News at times. If it isn’t sensational, it’s not going to make the cut. Bad news is always news, but good news is fluff. (At least that’s how some journalists make communicators feel at times – oops, my PR is showing). My point? When it hit the fan for Kryptonite everyone and their grandmother was writing about it, but when the real story comes out, people don’t care. I indicated this to Tocci who wrote, “This is a very big generalization. The news of our lock exchange program did get out lots and lots of people through the internet and traditional media sources. But, yes, as in most mediums controversy ‘sells’.” And that’s why I actually had to search to find the second half of this story. You couldn’t read a PR blog, listen to a PR podcast, or read books about the blogosphere without hearing about this mess when it first came out. But after that I had to search for it. And – oh boy – it’s out there.
There is also a thread of information in the following posts that Kryptonite knew about the faulty locks since 1992 when a British publication wrote about it. I’ve read enough articles to gather that Kryptonite Locks weren’t specifically mentioned, so people are putting too much emphasis on that article. However, brand name listed or not, why didn’t they check it out? Do we have a problem here? In crisis PR we call that a prodrome, noticing circumstances that have the potential to become crises. None of the Tocci interviews go into detail about that, she states the article never mentioned Kryptonite Locks.

But the myth remains, blogs nearly destroyed Kryptonite, blogs discovered the ineptitude of a shoddy company, you have to monitor the blogosphere, Kryptonite did a lousy job, etc etc. You can think whatever you like, I don’t care. What I care about is researching the truth. How many other people did that? From a PR standpoint, It’s true that you need to monitor the Internet, it’s true you need to know what your publics are saying about you. But it’s also true that you need to communicate as often as possible, especially during a crisis. Maybe Kryptonite knew from day one, maybe they could have done more, been better communicators. Even in the aftermath, why does it take so long to get the real story out, over so many channels, over so long a period of time? PR is about communicating effectively, right?

Check out the links below to read interviews with Tocci, opinions and all. If you read on, make sure you read all the comments as Tocci usually follows up to people’s questions. PR flack or honest communicator? I’ve formed my opinion, but let me know your thoughts.

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4 Responses

  1. When attempting to put into context what is really going on here, I think back to what we are taught when dealing with a crisis BI (Before Internet). Lets say you have a room full of media for a press conference during a crisis. Empathy, Relate, Structure, Plan of action, Call to action. Cold Facts. No speculation. Timeliness. Take all these things and apply them to the blogosphere. The traditional news media doesn’t stop becuase the PR dept. is still thinking, so even though Kryptonite Locks attempted to solve the problem, I don’t think ‘Better Late, than Never’ is appropriate here. Especially when you take under consideration this is NOT the traditional news media and you have to multiply sensationalism, reach and impression by double and divide time by half.

    In the motorsports realm, we have message boards that we contend with on a daily basis. Rumors run wild, speculation gets tripled and alot of the wrong messages have been disseminated. I’ve watched a number of sanctioning bodies and local racetracks deal with their online rumor mill in a number of ways, the best being still up for debate. One way is to respond to each and every false information post. Another way is to shut the board down completely. The ARCA Series uses a moderator in a way that is e-mailed to an admin, and then posted. Personally, I’ve picked my battles. If something is potentially harmful to a sponsor in a public light, I have defended. If they are debating the color boxers I had on when I won a race, I have laughed it off.

    In realization that msg boards are different that blogs, I still see a similarity in crisis situations. The fact still remains, if the PR staff is effective, they are accepting and seeking out feedback from their publics. If and when a crisis such as Kryptonite arises, you still have to be timely and effective with your message.

    Thanks again for the presentation in PRSSA on Wednesday!

    ~jd

  2. Joey,
    You make some great points. “Pick your battles” is an excellent PR mantra (really, a good life motto, as well). Everyone knows that reacting in some physical way (new distribution issue, replacement programs, recalls, etc) takes more time than communicating. But you have to get a message out. Crafting that message properly is, of course, the trick.
    Now if you get caught with your pants down (no reference to your underwear, mind you), sometimes you don’t have the ability to properly craft a clever, appropriate, effective message on the spot. But as soon as you do, get the message out.
    Like I wrote in the original post, talking about this is easy, but when you’re in the moment and your sky is falling around you – I’ll bet it’s a little harder to stay focused and be cool. That’s where experience comes in, and a little forethought before the deal goes down (can we say Crisis Communication Plan?) Check out this great read from Steve Rubel about this topic.

  3. […] a different situation but it reminds me of the Kryptonite Lock PR fiasco which has become a case study in PR textbooks and frequently quoted on the Internet. Briefly the […]

  4. […] and HP’s use of social media for two-way communication is exemplary.  As seen from the Kryptonite bicycle lock case study, we know what can happen if you choose to ignore customers’ reactions on the […]

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