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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 Arment Dietrich, 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.

65 comments
Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Oh no. She's going to be a bear to work with now.

corinamanea
corinamanea

Really great story Lindsay! As Robin Sharma said and I paraphrase "be thankful for each client that opens your door. He/she pays for your food, home...fill in the blanks".

If you are in business thinking that people should buy from you (products, services, etc) and you think that you do them a favor, well you´re better off. There are gazillions out there, doing probably a better job than you do. 

Thumbs up for David Ford! 

Disclosure: I liked his store FB page. This kind of people have to be supported.

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

Great read & follow up discussions. (And nice to hear your voice in the follow up video Lindsay!)

T60Productions
T60Productions

Good stuff Lindsay... it's why I always preach "authenticity" to clients when they produce videos.

--Tony Gnau

bdorman264
bdorman264

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, yikes...you know what the NFL stands for, right? Not For Long; that's how long her doors will be staying open w/ that kind of attitude. 

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

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 is that what matters is the actions and content of their work and product(s). Anyone can have a great idea, anyone can have an awful idea or product. Treating your customers poorly and lashing out is an awful idea. 

lizreusswig
lizreusswig

@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 on the book store...will he be able to survive in the long run?  Hopefully he can maximize his social media to develop a plan for getting his customers in on a more regular basis and score new customers.  Hopefully, his better attitude will help.


PS - I don't agree that the Buy Local/Buy Indie movement is "guilt" based, but would enjoy reading a post from @jasonkonopinskion why he does...

jdrobertson
jdrobertson

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 on him/her at the same time putting down little junior who is tired and driving his parents (your customers) nuts. So what now? Naturally, they take the Ford rather than the Chevy and tell all their friends what a great place to shop you have. But! Bite your tongue in such a circumstance; never, never, never use the word "NO" even if you don't have what the customer wants - - - - - I learned this from a very fine boss I had years ago. His admonition to me was, "Remember, we are merchants - if someone wants to buy your cash register - call me and I l'll make him think he's getting a bargain. That goes for the light bulbs in the ceiling or my car for that matter. He also had this tip: Never say to  a customer, "You don't want to buy a shirt do you?" Say to the customer, "One shirt or two." Let the customer decide. 

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

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. 

BillSmith3
BillSmith3

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. 

RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

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.

LauraPetrolino
LauraPetrolino

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 with. How does our messaging, brand image and the like affect, change or resonate with those different perspectives and world views. 


It's all a very interesting realm and hammers home how much the frame we see the world through completely alters the world we live in.

belllindsay
belllindsay

@corinamanea HA! Thanks Corina, and as a bonus? He was a really super nice guy! That made me happy. :) 

belllindsay
belllindsay

@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
belllindsay

@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 customers (or clients, depending on the business). If you can't build a strong base, than eventually your top will...well...topple! 

belllindsay
belllindsay

@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
belllindsay

@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
belllindsay

@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
belllindsay

@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. :)

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@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
belllindsay

@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
belllindsay

@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. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

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

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@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. 

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

@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. 

jdrobertson
jdrobertson

@belllindsay@jdrobertson 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
JoeCardillo

@belllindsay @JoeCardillo  May neither of us ever get to the point where we think otherwise....that's what happens right before you drive your Wagon Queen Family Truckster right into the Grand Canyon. 

belllindsay
belllindsay

@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!

LauraPetrolino
LauraPetrolino

@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)