PR Corner: Tragedy as hook

Posted by Rob Walker on December 3, 2008
Posted Under: Annals of publicity

Is it just me, or is this pitch a bit disturbing?

Dear Rob,

In light of the recent Wal-Mart tragedy, I would like to offer a conversation with [redacted; name of consultant], who can offer tips on holiday shopping etiquette during the craziest shopping days of the year.

[Redacted] can discuss best practices consumers should consider when venturing out to the major shopping centers in the weeks leading up to the holidays.

Put aside the fact that there’s absolutely no relation between the suggested story and the stuff I write about. I’m curious about the notion that someone getting killed in a Wal-Mart sales frenzy is a good jumping-off point for a list of “tips on holiday shopping etiquette.”

I mean, etiquette? “Tip One: Trampling a man to death is very poor etiquette.”

I’m also a little disturbed at the idea that it’s consumers who are supposed to take away some kind of lesson about “best practices” after that incident. Maybe the retailers ought to be thinking about and improving, or at least reviewing, their “best practices” for handling Black Friday “door buster” promotions, no? Or are we now down to a sort of “shop at your own risk” scenario when it comes to the big holiday sales?

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

I agree that shopping etiquette is far more than knowing when to stop being a raging consumer. I wonder, those that trampled him to death, were the sales worth taking someone’s life right before the holiday season? One family won’t be having a good holiday. Perhaps major retailers such as Wal-Mart should have security for it’s heaviest shopping days, because apparently, people cannot contain themselves. Since when did shopping become a dangerous event?

#1 
Written By Glorianne on December 3rd, 2008 @ 5:59 pm

The Wal-Mart incident is a perfect storm of wrongness. Hey store manager, how about calling the police when you saw so many people lined up outside. Hey consumers, violence for $10 off a George Forman grill? Really?

To Rob’s point, I think retailers need to take a better look at what these doorbuster sales say about their brands and their customer service policies. Right now the story retailers are telling consumers is: Please stand in the cold at 4am so you can have the privelage of shopping at my store for a real bargain. That’s the way you want to treat your customers?

I just wrote about this earlier this week on my blog, but basically my suggestion is: Reward consumers who have been loyal to year all year long. Send them an email to a special website, let them select their deals online and come in to the store at their convenience to pick the items up.

Regarding the intial point of this post – yeah, that’s poor PR practice on a couple of levels. Wrong outlet; insensitive and bad timing. If you’ve got a holiday shopping expert, the time to pitch the story was before Black Thursday, not after.

#2 
Written By Rick Liebling on December 4th, 2008 @ 1:56 pm

You’re right, there’s no correlation and why would ANYONE want to pitch with that sort of tone, regardless of the fact that’s it not on message for your beat anyways. There’s nothing worse than sloppy and lazy PR people.

#3 
Written By bigguyd on December 8th, 2008 @ 8:43 am

I think you’re on to something here – the idea that shopping etiquette has “best practices” is hilarious in that black comedy kind of way. Every tragedy can now be seen as an opportunity. Unfortunately, I can easily see this kind of commentary making its way on to the Today show, if not the evening news.

#4 
Written By Natron on December 11th, 2008 @ 1:21 pm

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