Lindsay Bell

PR, Charles Dickens, and A Tale of Two Cities

By: Lindsay Bell | January 22, 2014 | 
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PR, Charles Dickens, and A Tale of Two CitiesBy Lindsay Bell

PR, Charles Dickens, and A Tale of Two Cities? Are you nuts?

Trust me, in some roundabout way, it will all come together.

It’s safe to say that Charles Dickens was the man.

A keen social critic, Dickens, with dark humor and pathos, churned out stories about really miserable people, living miserable lives, during the fairly miserable Victorian era.

He pioneered the ‘serialization’ of fictional literature, and, unlike many other early artists, was actually famous while he was still alive.

Dickens also did what we tell content creators in every field to do today: He wrote from the heart, and he wrote what he knew. He came from an impoverished background, and after his father was thrown in debtor’s prison (phew, thankfully those days are over!), he was forced to leave school, and work in a factory to help support the family. It’s no surprise that as an adult he fought for children’s rights and social equality.

Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is perhaps his most famous work.

The tale: “…the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, the corresponding brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution, and many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same time period,” loosely (very loosely) corresponds to the tale of two cities I’m about to share with you, dear readers.

Minus the angry middle bits with the revolutionaries, of course.

So now, A Tale of Two Cities, PR style.

How two shop owners chose two very different ways to publicly address their business problems, and why, not surprisingly, the results for each were quite different.

PR, the French Peasantry, and the French Aristocracy

In today’s modern retelling of A Tale of Two Cities, we replace “French” with Chicago.

Apparently, a Chicago peasant – oops! I mean store owner! – is fed up and downright demoralized by her treatment recently by the Chicago Aristocracy (also known as: The people who live in the neighborhood where her store resides).

In a recent article from DNAinfo Chicago, children’s store owner Katherine Dyon expressed her disappointment in the denizens of Southport. Don’t forget, these are her customers she’s talking about.

Using words like “snobby” and “privileged,” she told stories of mothers with attitude recruiting children to yell at employees, having merchandise thrown at her when sizes weren’t available, and how one disgruntled customer stood outside her door and advised potential customers not to enter.

“People are rude. Nasty,” Dyon said. “Nobody appreciates anything. We’re tired of being yelled at. We’re tired of being treated like slaves. That’s it. It’s nasty over here.”

Not surprisingly, the article’s comments section was a mishmash of “Yes, she’s right, the hood DID change!” to comments from other area business owners stating tactfully that working with the public inevitably brings annoying, difficult customers.

One commenter, who has spent decades in customer service, added, “I know nothing about Southport, but “snobby residents” are everywhere….I hope Katie B’s owner can be successful in another venue, but I wonder if she’s taken any responsibility in the way she’s been treated by residents and how her business has suffered.” Bingo.

Either way, it was a shocking attack on an entire neighborhood of people. And a definite black mark on her reputation as a future small business owner.

PR and Social Parallels with Life in London

Which brings us to the next modern city in our tale. Saltaire, West Yorkshire.

David Ford runs a local second-hand book store in Saltaire, and, between the rise of online book selling and some rather unfortunate roadwork issues during the all important holiday season, his store was suffering. Badly.

So, he took to Facebook, and made a public plea.

I put something on our Facebook site to say this is the reality of it, this is what we earn, to try and encourage people to use their local shops and services. I didn’t really expect any response, apart from a couple of likes, but it was a very positive response.

In fact, according to The Daily Mail, the response was more than just a bit positive. In fact, in just one day, his profits rose from his recent daily takings of just less than eight pounds, to a whopping 300 pounds (remember, this is a second-hand book store!). His customers rallied, and made a point to stop in, buy local, and help out their beloved book store owner.

With close to one third of independent bookshops in Britain having closed in the last seven years, Lisa Campbell, a journalist at The Bookseller noted, “They (independent booksellers) rely on customer loyalty to thrive and many work hard on this aspect and do buck trend for independent booksellers when they get this right.”

Key Words: Customer Loyalty

David Ford is a PR dream. He was honest, humble, human, and transparent when he posted his accounts to Facebook. He asked his loyal customers for help. And help they did. His is the feel-good ‘small business’ story of January 2014.

On the other hand, Katherine Dyon is a PR nightmare. Whether her stories were true or not, she aired her dirty laundry, and came across sounding arrogant, entitled, petulant, and downright rude. The exact traits she lashed out at her shop customers for having.

I’ll give the last quote to Dyon, “Things just completely changed,” she said. “I literally could write a book on the stories that I have.”

I think she should. It just might end up in David Ford’s second-hand bookstore. And I don’t think Dickens is quaking in his boots at the competition.

Note from Gini: Dyon’s store is in my neighborhood. I’ve never met her – only her staff – but it’s a shame she has to close because of me and my rude neighbors. We’re clearly all jerks.

About Lindsay Bell


Lindsay Bell is the content director at V3 Marketing, and works in Toronto. A former TV producer, she’s a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. She has a cool kid, a patient husband, two annoying cats, and Hank Dawge, a Vizsla/Foxhound/moose hybrid. Ok, maybe not moose.

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66 Comments on "PR, Charles Dickens, and A Tale of Two Cities"

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ClayMorgan
2 years 4 months ago
Mrs. Dyon lashed out, probably from the embarrassment, pain and sting of having a business that failed. Rather than try to figure out what went wrong (and it is never just one thing), she lashed out at what was supposed to be her customer base. One of my concerns with people is they lack tact. Hers went out the window when she criticized the neighborhood that could have supported her but for whatever reasons didn’t. While I try to hold some compassion due to the fact that she’s surely hurting, it is very likely another example of people doing themselves… Read more »
ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

You already know I think this is one of your best pieces. The creativity and careful comparisons you took are excellent.

I said this to the team and I’ll say it here – if a client of ours behaved the way Dyon did in lashing out at her customers, we’d fire them in about three seconds. Even if it’s true, that’s communications 101. It’s a shame, too, because her store had super cute baby clothes.

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich Yay!! #notfired 😀

LauraPetrolino
2 years 4 months ago
Love this! And it extends beyond PR, entrepreneurship and any of the like, it’s the basic law of attraction. We create the worlds we live in. Our expectations govern our experiences. Endless social science experiments show that pessimistic people report a much higher incidence of negative events and interactions vs. optimistic people. It’s truly amazing how our perspective on something can completely affect our futures and is a good reminder to all of us.  To take another angle on this, as communications professionals it is important for us to understand the many different perspectives our consumers are coming to us… Read more »
EdenSpodek
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay ginidietrich Agreed! I loved reading this post. The lesson is an important one to all business owners (and their teams) but it was the way it was written I enjoyed the most.

EdenSpodek
2 years 4 months ago

ClayMorgan Agree with your point about David Ford. Hopefully, his temporary success will allow him the time to reflect and make improvements to his future business plan.

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 4 months ago
EdenSpodekbelllindsayginidietrichI think the Lady was living in delusion. If I open a shop in a poor section and complain about my poor customers, or open in a rich neighborhood and complain of snobbiness…who’s fault is that. Be accountable. I also think that we do that typical passive aggressive non-accountable self denial for most everything that doesn’t go right. I got an F on the test ‘The teacher sucked’. My business failed ‘it was the customer’s fault’ My lawn is filled with weeds ‘The lazy grass isn’t keeping them out’ You weren’t accepted at the college you wanted to go to… Read more »
Howie Goldfarb
2 years 4 months ago

ClayMorganthe problem with being first to comment is if I comment before I read yours Clay I often waste valuable time from my day spent crafting my exemplary comment vs just saying ‘What Clay said’ and moving on to deeper things like the Oatmeal and Ask a Ninja.
http://youtu.be/IR68W56DCBU

RobBiesenbach
2 years 4 months ago

Ha ha! I live in the neighborhood, too, and we do have our share of entitled jerks. But as one of the other storeowners said, essentially, “Welcome to the world of customer service.”
I always marvel at the number of mom-and-pop shops and restaurants that open and close in the neighborhood. Rents are sky high and margins have to be ridiculously thin, so many of them are either vanity projects run by bored people or people just getting in way over their heads.

BillSmith3
BillSmith3
2 years 4 months ago

Good piece and a great contrast using the Tale of Two Cities metaphor. Never been to Southport during my Chicago stays in years past but it sounds a lot like where I live in Oakville just outside of Toronto.

jasonkonopinski
2 years 4 months ago

The Dyon story rings particularly true, because I’ve seen a few retailers locally say very much the same things. It’s sad that so many business owners blame the city, the neighborhood, the day of the week for a failure to thrive.  

I’m with ginidietrich — it’s COMM101 type stuff. 

While Ford’s tactic was successful in the short term, I don’t think it has legs beyond a few days. As a consumer, I don’t want to be guilted into supporting your local business. There’s a subtext to the “buy local, buy indie” movement that operates, at some minute level, on guilt.

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 4 months ago

RobBiesenbachI saw you throw an egg at her store window.

jdrobertson
2 years 4 months ago
There is an axiom – old and well worn: “The customer is always right” – even when wrong. A customer comes in and you ain’t got what that customer expects you to have. Score one for him zip for you. Never, never, never say NO to him. How about, “hey, we ain’t got what you’re looking for but we got a cup of coffee, fresh brewed. Why don’t you help yourself while we see if something else will do – or maybe find some one on the street who can help you out. So now you got a little guilt trip laid… Read more »
lizreusswig
2 years 4 months ago
belllindsay This is are really, really excellent post.  The whole customer service/customer behaviour (yes, spell check I meant to add the “u”) issue today is totally out-of-control and there’s much blame to be laid on both sides.  However, for Dyon to spout off in such a public way about the Real Housewives of Southport has no upside, IF she were interested in having any type of public persona going forward.  Based on the article, it doesn’t look like she does and just wanted to get a parting shot in before leaving the area – bridge burned. I do think jasonkonopinski may be right… Read more »
belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

BillSmith3 Bill, us downtown Torontonians call Oakville “Joke’ville” – LOL But in reality, it’s because we’re all jealous of your big houses and expansive yards. 🙂

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

lizreusswig belllindsay jasonkonopinski Thanks Liz! Hard to say whether Mr. Ford will survive in the long run, but I think he’s got a far better chance at it than that other gal. See, I don’t even recall her name she left me with SUCH a bad taste. 😉

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

jdrobertson Perfect comment and right on the money. That was my thinking re: the lady from Chicago. I mean, who in their right mind thinks serving the public is an easy job…? It isn’t! But if that’s the route you’ve chosen, then you have to play the game and deal with the idiots the best way possible. Also, it doesn’t matter what industry you work in – there are bad eggs and people who love to rock the boat. That’s life! But if you’re running your own business, you best be prepared to rise above it, and find the positive.

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

jasonkonopinski ginidietrich I’ve heard people recently saying the “buy local” thing is a guilt trip – but I don’t agree. Sometimes, in all of our busy lives, all we need is a reminder “Hey, we’re still here!” – and you say “Oh, right! I forgot how much I love what I get at that butcher, baker, bookstore!” – Perhaps it won’t have legs for Mr. Ford, but I appreciate the bravery it took for him to reach out and ask for help. And it seems other people have appreciated it also, based on the feedback he’s been getting. 🙂

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

RobBiesenbach Oh. You live there too? Um, I think we have to cancel tomorrow’s webinar. 😉 Seriously though, sheesh, blaming a neighbourhood for your business short-comings is just so lazy. I think she’s a tired and fed up business owner who couldn’t handle the heat any longer. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t lash out at your customer base, I don’t care where your shop is located. It just reeks of “excuses excuses” – and makes her look worse than the so called privileged people she’s complaining about.

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

LauraPetrolino Hmmmmm. Much food for thought here, Grasshopper! Said the most negative person in the world. LOL!! But you’re so right. You get back what you put out. I would have LOVED to have been a fly on the wall in that Chicago shop, to have witnessed the whole truth behind some of her complaints.

jasonkonopinski
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay lizreusswig jasonkonopinski I definitely wouldn’t say that the entire movement is based on guilt, only that I’ve seen some examples here in York. 🙂 

I’m incredibly supportive of Buy Local/Buy Indie, however a business being local isn’t enough for me to support them. I’ll definitely have to explore this in a blog post.

BillSmith3
BillSmith3
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay BillSmith3  I grew up in Oakville back in the 1980s and it was like I was living in a John Hughes movie.

jdrobertson
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsayjdrobertson I might add – what feeling of accomplishment do you (impersonal pronoun) get from closing an easy sale? On the other hand, Old Grouch requires all your –  – skill and experience – there is a challenge here! And once  (if) closed think of the bragging rights. To those of us who were in the business life suddenly became worthwhile.

JoeCardillo
2 years 4 months ago

RobBiesenbach Of course it proves the point, marketing / communications strategy is hard. I run into this all the time w/startups. It doesn’t matter how amazing your product might be, you still have to communicate with people who buy.

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

jasonkonopinski belllindsay lizreusswig Well, you’re just a bunch of hippies down in York, anyhow! 😉

JoeCardillo
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay LauraPetrolino Laura FTW. Beat me to the “build a model you want to live within” comment =)

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

jdrobertson Bingo!! I used to work in TV, as a producer, with on-camera hosts. Man, I could tell you stories. Egos and big personalities. But coming home at the end of the day saying “Wow, I really nailed it today, and everyone walked away happy!” was a great feeling!

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

BillSmith3 HAHAHAHA! That’s so amazing!!

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

JoeCardillo RobBiesenbach And frankly, a lot of people suck. 😉

JoeCardillo
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay JoeCardillo RobBiesenbach Ha! Goodness. Isn’t that the truth.

jasonkonopinski
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay jasonkonopinski lizreusswig You spelled “hipsters” wrong. 🙂

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

JoeCardillo belllindsay LauraPetrolino  This is beginning to sound suspiciously like an Eckhart Tolle conventions! 😉

JoeCardillo
2 years 4 months ago
Great read Lindsay.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Justine Sacco type implosions, as well as the social media experts who seem to overextend (Amber Naslund wrote something about this recently). One of the things that happens is that people become bigger than the content of their lives. By this I mean their importance as a figure starts to outweigh the things they say and do. There is an inevitable free pass for a while, until someone really screws things up. This happens with brands also, and one of the things I tell clients I do freelance for… Read more »
JoeCardillo
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay JoeCardillo LauraPetrolino If it ain’t broke don’t fix it

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

JoeCardillo Cheers, Joe. I think, as Gini mentioned already, it’s such 101 stuff that it’s doubly shocking when people flame out. But I agree completely with what you’ve said here, no matter who you are or what you do (or represent) – it all starts at the bottom really, with customer (or clients, depending on the business). If you can’t build a strong base, than eventually your top will…well…topple!

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

JoeCardillo belllindsay LauraPetrolino 
Sigh. I knew it. 😉

bdorman264
2 years 4 months ago
Was ginidietrich the snobby shopper? Ya know, ever since she got that Bones gig I wondered if she would keep her friends who made her what she is today… How heavy is 300 pounds BTW? Is it the same in the US? Now that my hand is broken and I can’t play outside I think I’m pushing 3 bills. Great stories and certainly has a feel good quality to it. My question would be, is the increased awareness for the book shop owner sustainable; or how can he capitalize on this event and make it sustainable?  As for the Chicago store owner,… Read more »
JoeCardillo
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay JoeCardillo Isn’t that the truth. 
I should add that wasn’t a knock on social media strategists or Amber (I like a lot of what she has to say). I believe we are best and most capable when we come from a place of being honest that we are capable of great and not so great things, and when we become hyped (internally or externally) it can be dangerous ground.

T60Productions
2 years 4 months ago

Good stuff Lindsay… it’s why I always preach “authenticity” to clients when they produce videos.
–Tony Gnau

RobBiesenbach
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay Yes, I live a stone’s throw from Gini. I’ve been meaning to ask you how to get her to stop throwing those stones—they hurt!

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

JoeCardillo Trust me, I am capable of *epically terrible* things. 😉

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

Howie Goldfarb EdenSpodek belllindsay ginidietrich Agree, completely – though she *does* say that the neighbourhood has changed since she set up shop there. That said, I would think if you’re selling boutique worthy baby clothes and whatnot, you would want to be in an area of yuppie-wealth….right? But maybe that’s just me. 😉

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 4 months ago

RobBiesenbachbelllindsayyou said you lived by ginidietrichlike it is a good thing. In the summer guess what the cops get more calls about? guess! Gangs? no. Crime? no. Streetwalkers? no. While all a very big % of the calls…it’s that crazy bonzai bike rider that scares pedestrians, small children and large pets, and forces cars off the road.

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

T60Productions Cheers Tony!! I miss video. 🙁

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsayHowie GoldfarbEdenSpodekginidietrichof course it did! ginidietrichmoved in. Walks some dog by the place and never scooper pooppers!

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

bdorman264 ginidietrich HA! I can just see Gini stamping her little feet! And up here in Canada, NFL means something else *altogether* – something that won’t get through the Spin Sucks Comment Censors! Also, I spoke with David from the bookstore this morning, as a follow-up – the video’s on Facebook. 🙂

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

bdorman264 ginidietrich  Here’s the video of my follow up, Bill!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy5_cAQoBxI

bdorman264
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay Goof follow up; the double-edged sword of the internet, huh? I will definitely check his page out.

bobledrew
bobledrew
2 years 4 months ago

ClayMorgan I really resent you having the exact same thoughts I had before I had mine and putting them in a comment under your name.

LauraPetrolino
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay JoeCardillo LauraPetrolino Hahaha! Gracias Jose, and it really is true. And how we perceive things says a whole heck of a lot about us. Much more than the *thing* itself. I find I can gain the most insight into someone’s nature by asking them about their perception of certain events or things (and into myself as well)

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