Finger-pointing Shapes Public Spat

As novice public relations professionals, we are aware of setbacks we may potentially face with clients. However, possibly the worst case scenario would be working hard to create a new public perception of a client… and then not getting paid!

Such was the case for a small media company. Frank Jonen claimed that he wasn’t paid by one of his clients for a website re-design. Instead of staying silent, Jonen took matters into his own hands. He replaced the copy on the Fitness SF website with an angry letter, according to AdWeek. Here’s what it looked like:

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Would you hire someone like Jonen who is willing to bash a client in the public eye for payment? If you worked with him, how would this make you feel?

According to The Denver Egotist, Fitness SF disputed the claims and fought back, saying Jonen was engaging in blackmail and giving this statement.

“On Wednesday evening, our domain name Fitness SF was hacked and stolen by an individual named Frank Jonen. Frank was hired on May 16th, 2012 to develop a functional website for our brand. A $5,000 payment was made to him on the same date. In his proposal, he stated that the website would take 10 weeks to complete. He missed numerous deadlines including our brand launch in September. In December, he voluntarily passed the incomplete and non functioning website to our new design firm.

“Now, Frank is attempting to portray himself as the victim when truly the victim is Fitness SF as he attempts to get paid for work he did not complete and has decided that blackmail is the way to accomplish.”

Today, the SF Fitness website simply reads “Dear Fitness SF customer, please see us temporarily at fitnesssf.net thank you.” As PR professionals, what would your crisis communication plan look like in case your website is hacked?

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3 Responses to Finger-pointing Shapes Public Spat

  1. Devon Shaw says:

    I think that Fitness SF handled the problem as best they could. However, this is frustrating for customers because they are forced to choose sides. We probably will never know the truth behind this instance because both parties have two completely different stories. Unfortunately for Fitness SF, I think most consumers will side with Frank Jonen because Jonen was the first to strike and created a passionate, moving ad that any customer who visited their site would see. However, it is unlikely that most of their customers also read The Denver Egotist.

  2. Amy Villarreal says:

    This is such a frightening situation. It pits the company versus the hacker and leaves customers to decide for themselves what to believe. The best approach would be to be as transparent as possible. Publicly fighting with the hacker is not a good idea and comes off as defensive. I think Fitness SF’s comment in reply to the hacking was professional and transparent. It would be best from there to make sure customers’ communication is put back up as soon as possible. It would then be better not to involve customers in the dispute, but assure them that website hacking is being combatted.

  3. Nora Merza says:

    This is a very troubling situation to be found in. Frank Jonen has a right to be angry because allegedly his intellectual property was used without receiving a monetary exchange, however, it is unprofessional to handle the situation with an intention to publicly shame Fitness SF. In my opinion, Jonen came across very defensive when the context required diplomacy. According to PRSA, a public relations professional should, “Act in the best interest of clients or employers, Avoid conflicts between personal and professional interests and Report all ethical violations to the appropriate authority.” I strongly believe the ethics are put in place so we are better equipped to handle difficult situations like this without allowing an emotional hijacking. If Jonen were to refer to the Code guidelines before he vented his feelings to the world, he may have achieved measurable results.

    I recommend that for good professional practice we, as public relations professionals, document payments, deadlines and expectations in writing to protect ourselves and advocate on behalf of our industry.

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