Gini Dietrich

The Chrysler Tweet: The Take from An Agency Owner

By: Gini Dietrich | March 14, 2011 | 
144

When I was 23, I was a freshly promoted account executive. I had just led a very successful campaign for potato farmers across the country. We created Franklin planners for them so they would not only be organized, but have all of the information they needed for controlling weeds, insects, and fungus in their fields. It was for BASF and it was so far out of my wheelhouse (other than I ate potatoes), it wasn’t easy to pretend I knew what I was doing.

But that campaign deemed my promotion and began my “from the farm to the fork” career. I was added to the Bayer Agriculture account to work on horticulture, having oh so much experience through my potato farmer work.

This was when websites were first coming to fruition so you had to include an address, a toll-free number, and a URL to all printed materials. It was my job to work with a trade magazine to write, design, proof, and print an advertorial. It was a big job – it was costing the client $60,000 for this one little piece.

I worked really hard on the advertorial – I wanted my bosses and the client to know that I deserved that promotion I’d just gotten.

And then the advertorial came out. It was gorgeous! I can still picture it. Heck! It’s probably still in a box somewhere in an old portfolio. I was really proud of myself and I knew I had earned that promotion.

And then my boss walked into my office and said, “Did you call the number on the back of this piece?”

My heart sank. I had not called it. It was a wrong number – I had two of the numbers transposed.

Frantically, I called the magazine (who hadn’t called the number either) and they said they only thing they could do was reprint which, thankfully, was in time before it ran in the publication. But, because they should have caught it too, they were willing to split the cost of reprinting with me.

It was going to be $30,000 to reprint.

I was certain I was going to be fired. Then I was certain they were going to dock my pay to pay for it.

I’ll never forget that feeling of being in my boss’s office, with the client on the phone, telling them both what the solution was. We all agreed it needed to be done and that the client wouldn’t be dinged for it. The conference call ended and I meekly said, “So what do you want me to do?”

She said, and I’ll never forget this, “You’ve done exactly what you should have done. We’ll eat this cost and I can guarantee you’ll never make this mistake again.”

She was right. I never have.

Owning An Agency

My 24-year-old, AE self is what I think about when clients get mad at someone on my team and ask for them to be removed from their account. It doesn’t happen often, but it has happened a few times. Clients have relationships with agencies and, sometimes, the person or people on the account, no matter how much or how little experience they have, just don’t jive.

I’ve fired only one person because a client asked her off an account. But I did it because he was the third client to ask her off an account and I realized it wasn’t the clients, it was her.

Sure, we all make mistakes and sometimes the relationship doesn’t work, but I’ve never had a client tell me we had to fire someone in order to keep the account. If we did have a client who demanded that, we’d resign the account. I tend to get overly protective of my team even if, sometimes, they deserve what the client is asking.

But I also believe a client doesn’t run my agency. I do.

Enter Chrysler

This is what I thought about when I read about the fateful F bomb tweet from a New Media Strategies employee on behalf of Chrysler last week.

When I heard the NMS employee was fired, my first reaction was, “Oh no! A client doesn’t get to determine whether or not an agency fires an employee.”

Plus, it definitely seems like  a mistake. How many of you have accidentally tweeted from two accounts? I don’t  personally manage more than my own account, but I know it happens. Heck! I’ve seen it happen. It’s a mistake. Should the person be using the F word in a tweet, no matter which account? No. Was it a mistake? Yes.

Then, as I began to dig into it some more, it began to look as though Chrysler didn’t demand it (maybe more suggested it) and NMS took the initiative on their own. Likely because they were afraid of being fired.

But then Chrysler came out and said they didn’t ask that the employee be fired, but they had made the decision to fire the agency.

My Take

More and more information is coming out about this. And we may never know the full story. We don’t know if the employee was on thin ice. Maybe the agency was on thin ice. Or perhaps Chrysler just overreacted.

The bigger issue, though, is that the agency is tweeting for Chrysler. Why aren’t they managing that one piece of their social media in-house?

They seem to have not missed a beat in their Twitter stream (even tweeting from SXSW this past weekend) so maybe they learned their lesson. And I’d be willing to bet that employee never makes that same mistake again. It’s too bad he/she had to learn the lesson by being fired.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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144 Comments on "The Chrysler Tweet: The Take from An Agency Owner"

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KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 2 months ago

I really like your take on this one, particularly the part about who’s doing the Tweeting. Though I don’t think they are alone in terms of the big auto makers. I know that Scott Monty “sometimes” tweets from the main Ford account, I believe an agency does most of the other tweets.

Additionally, if an agency is responsible for Chrysler’s tweets, I assume they are also responsible for growing the account. I find it surprising they only have about 7,600 followers. I know small local businesses with far more!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 2 months ago

@KenMueller I guess, if the agency is going to tweet for the business, it should say so in the profile. And I agree, they should be growing the account with the right followers.

KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 2 months ago

@ginidietrich I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a profile that said the agency was doing the tweeting. And I know quite a few examples where that should be the case.

bar2cci
bar2cci
5 years 2 months ago

Nice post, Gini. What I take from this whole thing is that Chrysler should’ve been managing their own account from the start. Too busy? Not enough resources? I doubt that. The only thing that has been exposed is a lack of transparency. And with social media, that’s probably the biggest blow to a brand…. not F-bombs.

(ps. love your Farm to Fork campaign)  

TorontoLouise
TorontoLouise
5 years 2 months ago
Hi Gini, I think if you’ve been in this business long enough you’ve experienced that heart-pounding chill surge through your stomach as you realize you’ve made one of those horrible, potentially relationship-ending mistakes and it’s your responsibility even though multiple sets of eyes reviewed the text in question. And in most cases, they happen as a result of frantic deadlines and last-minute changes rather than carelessness. And in most cases, profuse apologies are made to the client, the employee is reminded that the devil is in the details, everyone goes out for drinks and a mistake like that is never… Read more »
davevandewalle
davevandewalle
5 years 2 months ago

I applaud Chrysler for decisive leadership. They did exactly what they should have done, IMHO.

patrickreyes
patrickreyes
5 years 2 months ago
Gini, I love the question that you posed at the end. I personally think companies should be integrating the social tools in all aspects of there business. This includes interacting with consumers and not having an agency do it for them. Chrysler knows its business and personality and be in a position, organizationally, to do so. Coming from GM, I know this isn’t the case and agencies are brought on (Big Fuel for GM) to handle social media for them. I’ve always disagreed with this strategy. The company itself should be handling interaction. I can understand an agency being brought… Read more »
patrickreyes
patrickreyes
5 years 2 months ago

@davevandewalle I’m with you Dave!

DarenWms
DarenWms
5 years 2 months ago

Gini, I think the key, which you and several of the commenters touched on, is the source of the Tweet. I’ve written many a talking point, speech or even quotes for a press release that appeared under a client’s name, but social media is different. It should be authentic. People don’t follow celebs, athletes or even companies expecting to read the words/thoughts of a PR account exec. What’s the point?

Daren

P.S. I remember that BASF campaign 🙂

Nylons
Nylons
5 years 2 months ago
I think it was Charlene Li, in her book Groundswell, who urges her readers to accept the fact that, when you make your way into the uncharted waters of social, ‘mistakes WILL happen.’ We refer to that all the time in our discussions with clients. They expect that social will change everything and be the magic elixir for their business. At the very same time they want to think of it like they have thought about everything they’ve ever done on the marketing side of their business — messaging that is ‘done’, edited, polished and perfect. Unfortunately the thing about… Read more »
KratzPR
KratzPR
5 years 2 months ago
I really like this post Gini, I love how you connected your own past experiences to what is going on today. As a young entrepreneurial leader and former soccer captain I always look at leadership. I totally agree with you that one mistake shouldn’t result in a firing or drastic reactions. We all make mistakes and this one could happen to anybody. Its tough to judge Chrysler though because of the unknown background and gravity of the situation. You’re absolutely right that there may be pre-existing info that we are unaware of, and the burden of reacting in real-time may… Read more »
johnfalchetto
5 years 2 months ago
Mistakes happen, sometime it’s a wrong number, other times an engineer decides 0-joints will hold on a booster rocket for the space shuttle. What really matters is the end result. Your boss was smart Gini, she realized you learned a great lesson, managed expectations with the client and you survived to fight another day. She could have fired you and hired a new AE who would have made the same mistake a month latter, she kept you and as you said you learned your lesson. Often we overblow the consequences of some actions, and sometimes we really underestimate them. The… Read more »
jgwhitt
jgwhitt
5 years 2 months ago
I loved this post! We’ve all had those times when our stomachs drop realizing we have made a potentially serious mistake. It’s great to hear that your boss showed you some mercy. Any PR pro worth her/his salt would not make these kind of mistakes twice and it is refreshing to hear examples of those who realize this. Further to your other point, I was working at an agency for one of the large German brands a couple of years ago and we were advising them on social media. Although we had an in-house presence at their offices in Germany,… Read more »
Makkansson
Makkansson
5 years 2 months ago

One question that comes to my mind is this: is it possible that the person who wrote the Tweet merely used ‘common’ language [for this generation] and didn’t see the ‘F’ word as something unusual?

I think taht we may have an age/generation-gap here?

I’m 48 and strongly dislike to use foul language, however, what is foul language today?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this!

jgwhitt
jgwhitt
5 years 2 months ago

@Makkansson I’m closer to that younger age group and think foul language is still foul. I am always, 100 percent unimpressed by foul language and I am certain I am not alone. When I hear someone use bad language, it makes me think: uncouth, uneducated, cannot find a more intelligent way to express his/her ideas. I favor a return to decency in our language.

a_greenwood
a_greenwood
5 years 2 months ago

Your anecdote reminds me of a similar printing job I managed.–It was pulped because of certain questionable photo choices and one ridiculous typo. I’ve never been so nauseated in my life as when I saw that piece. My boss didn’t fire me, but I knew he wasn’t happy for some time afterward…

timjahn
timjahn
5 years 2 months ago
I’ve never understood the censoring of fowl language in general. When we watch broadcast television and somebody swears, it’s bleeped out. Except it’s not ENTIRELY bleeped out. The slight beginning and end of the word are still spoked. Kinda like the way we type it. F**k. In both the spoken word and written text versions of the swear word above, everybody knows exactly what is meant. There is no question which four letter F word I “meant” to use above. Yet we still “censor” it on television and in written text. If there is little to NO doubt as to… Read more »
patrickreyes
patrickreyes
5 years 2 months ago

@timjahn Tim, I would respectfully disagree with you. I personally don’t think profanity has any place in the language of a brand or brand communication. The fact that it is on TV now is because we’ve “let things slide” and TV today (as an example) is far more lax in letting other words be ok for air and censorship of it becomes less and less.

timjahn
timjahn
5 years 2 months ago

@patrickreyes You don’t preach the idea of being authentic and brands having personality instead of just being logos then, do you?

patrickreyes
patrickreyes
5 years 2 months ago

@timjahn I definitely preach authenticity for brands and having a personality. I just personally feel the use of profanity to do so is unnecessary.

faybiz
5 years 2 months ago

great lesson learned story G – thanks!

timjahn
timjahn
5 years 2 months ago

@patrickreyes I think we can both agree there are brands and organizations that profanity has a place in the language of. There’s a whole spectrum there and whether you and I personally like it or not, profanity has a place.

timjahn
timjahn
5 years 2 months ago

@ginidietrich @KenMueller I don’t think the general public really cares about who’s tweeting for the brand/business, except for “social media consultants”.

Joe Schome doesn’t care whether it’s intern Sally or SVP Mark talking to him on the Brand X Facebook page. Or on the Brand X Twitter account.

Makes for great blog posts but I’m not sure certain consumer groups pay attention to that whole idea.

My four cents. 😉

patrickreyes
patrickreyes
5 years 2 months ago

@timjahn I can’t agree with you on that. I choose not to use profanity in any situation, whether personally or professionally and don’t feel it has a place anywhere. Am I in the minority, probably, but that is just my belief.

timjahn
timjahn
5 years 2 months ago

@patrickreyes Interesting. So you don’t think there’s a single brand in the entire spectrum of the world of business that profanity would fit with?

We can agree to disagree.

patrickreyes
patrickreyes
5 years 2 months ago

@timjahn My sentiments exactly. Very enjoyable dialogue with you!

timjahn
timjahn
5 years 2 months ago

@patrickreyes Likewise. 🙂

ryanknapp
ryanknapp
5 years 2 months ago
@jgwhitt @Makkansson I’d disagree. What inherently makes a word ‘foul’? The connotation given to that word and the stigma that it has. While I might agree with what you said, the way you present it puts you on a pretty high horse. Some of the smartest PhD’s I know swear all the time, while some of the ‘uneducated’ people don’t. Swearing is a personal choice. How we chose to use and manipulate language to communicate is up to us. What is okay to one person is not okay to someone else and that should be respected. There are also certain… Read more »
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[…] Gini Dietrich and others have already weighed in on this issue, but I have my own take that I thought I should share. […]

ryanknapp
ryanknapp
5 years 2 months ago
@jgwhitt@Makkansson I’d disagree. What inherently makes a word ‘foul’? It originated in unwritten languages where words where thought to be ‘magic’ and saying the word would bring harm to the person who used it or about the topic of the conversation. The way you present it puts you on a pretty high horse. Some of the smartest PhD’s I know swear all the time, while some of the more ‘uneducated’ people don’t. Be careful how you tie education into the ability to use language, it’s not as clear as you may think. Swearing is a personal choice. How we chose… Read more »
3HatsComm
3HatsComm
5 years 2 months ago
I like your story of lessons learned. Mine from the design side is always, always have clients initial the proof before it goes to print, clear they are responsible for final review. Anyway good discussion here about whether or not the tweets should be in house and if not, should that be disclosed. Good stuff. Because we don’t know all the particulars and probably never will, it’s unsure to me if this was an error sent from the wrong account or miscalculation by the now fired tweeter. Reading the thoughts from @Makkansson about audience and language; then the great exchange… Read more »
jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem
5 years 2 months ago

I would like to meet the person who hasn’t done this, but not work with them or hire them. It’s so much better to get that first mistake out of the way!

That said, every single mistake I’ve made in my comms career haunts me. Fortunately there’s not THAT many of them.

timjahn
timjahn
5 years 2 months ago

@ryanknapp @jgwhitt @Makkansson Great points Ryan!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 2 months ago

@timjahn @KenMueller I’m not sure I agree, Tim. If the general public thinks they’re tweeting with the company and then find out it’s really the PR firm, their trust is broken. No one wants the middle man. They want to go straight to the source…and they expect it. If, however, you are transparent about who is tweeting and trust is built that way, they don’t care if it’s the company or agency, as long as they’re being heard.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 2 months ago

@bar2cci I looked this morning to be sure it doesn’t say who’s tweeting and it doesn’t say it. So I’m with you…that is the biggest blow to their brand.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 2 months ago

@TorontoLouise I agree with you that tweets should be kept clean. I know we throw around the F bomb internally here, but we never say it in front of clients or online. It’s enough that I use F bomb here…makes me pretty uncomfortable. 🙂

BTW…it’s awesome seeing you here! How are you?!?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 2 months ago

@patrickreyes @davevandewalle And I disagree. Sure it’s decisive, but isn’t everyone entitled to a mistake?

patrickreyes
patrickreyes
5 years 2 months ago
@ginidietrich @davevandewalle Mistakes happen and I get that, however, in this case, there does need to be accountability. NMS was representing Chrysler (that is another topic being addressed here), a brand that received a lot of conversation on the Super Bowl ad. This is different from the experience you had as an AE. You saw the error and made every effort to correct it before anything was released to the public. In today’s world (Now Revolution…great book btw), things happen in real time that we can’t take back once we hit the ENTER button. It makes it even more important… Read more »
Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber
5 years 2 months ago
This is the social media gaffe (flavor) of the week and the firestorm is always in the reaction. Owning up to the mistake is the best way to diffuse the situation. Then we’d all be here talking about how wonderful Chrysler is. and the agency. Your story illustrates it perfectly and I am betting most of us know that feeling well. The first reaction is to find someone to whom you can’t point a finger, and then, the realization (hopefully) hits that you you have to step up and take accountability yourself. This may be one of those situations where… Read more »
Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber
5 years 2 months ago
This is the social media gaffe (flavor) of the week and the firestorm is always in the reaction. Owning up to the mistake is the best way to diffuse the situation. Then we’d all be here talking about how wonderful Chrysler is. and the agency. Your story illustrates it perfectly and I am betting most of us know that feeling well. The first reaction is to find someone to whom you can’t point a finger, and then, the realization (hopefully) hits that you you have to step up and take accountability yourself. This may be one of those situations where… Read more »
Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber
5 years 2 months ago
This is the social media gaffe (flavor) of the week and the firestorm is always in the reaction. Owning up to the mistake is the best way to diffuse the situation. Then we’d all be here talking about how wonderful Chrysler is. and the agency. Your story illustrates it perfectly and I am betting most of us know that feeling well. The first reaction is to find someone to whom you can’t point a finger, and then, the realization (hopefully) hits that you you have to step up and take accountability yourself. This may be one of those situations where… Read more »
jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem
5 years 2 months ago

@ginidietrich @timjahn @KenMueller Can I get an ‘amen.’ I think the ‘general public’ may not articulate their disappointment with having a middle man the same way a social media consultant would, but the disappointment is there. Just ask Hugh Jackman fans!

Gini advocates for transparency…if you’re going to fake it, be honest about it (quoting my buddy @3HatsComm here). That’s the right way to go.

martinwaxman
martinwaxman
5 years 2 months ago

@ginidietrich @TorontoLouise The thing I find intriguing about this are all various communications points the story touches on: use of language, taking responsibility, supporting your staff and above all good judgment. I agree the errant tweeter shouldn’t have been fired. However, I think the agency should have offered to resign.

timjahn
timjahn
5 years 2 months ago

@ginidietrich @KenMueller Agreed on the trust issue, Gini. Nobody likes to be lied to, nor have to deal with unnecessary middle men. And you’re right about being transparent, as that goes directly along with the trust.

KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 2 months ago

@timjahn @ginidietrich In general the public doesn’t care…until they find out. Transparency and authenticity are key, and these sorts of things are less likely to happen if you keep it in house.

jgwhitt
jgwhitt
5 years 2 months ago
@ryanknapp @MakkanssonGreat response – it is great to hear the other side. I was actually thinking of a very good PhD friend of mine who uses quite a bit of foul language and my comment to him would be that he is in danger of giving the impression he cannot think of anything else more intelligent to say. I love the guy but it’s true. I think especially in our profession, we need to be sensitve to the wider audience. We need to assume that that there will be someone out there who will be offended by profanity. We have… Read more »
barryrsilver
5 years 2 months ago
Anyone that has worked in any profession has one or two of those “OMIGOD, I’ve done it.” moments that hopefully we survive. I don’t know anything about NMS but I would assume whoever they had tweeting for Chrysler had experience because I assume Chrysler is a major account. So I ask NMS how is it possible that an experienced employee would “firebomb” drivers in Detroit on behalf of a car manufacturer HQ in Detroit, let alone use profanity publicly? What is broken in the NMS culture that allowed this to happen.?Yes something is broken. To hang it solely on the… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 2 months ago
I think your biggest point here, and btw @Griddy and I are proud of this post’s length and depth, is why does Chrysler not have this in house? Normally the reason this get’s outsourced is due to lack of resources not lack of know how. You already know my view of the F-n F-Bomb itself. They need more F-n F-Bombs or they have to fire F-n M&M or remove him from that F-n commercial. Actually after seeing the F-n U of Michigan Fab 5 documentary last night…street cred in F-n Detroit is all about the F-Bomb. So unless they are… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 2 months ago

@barryrsilver I had mentioned Friday the person was in the car and on their mobile. If using Hootsuite and managing a personal account and a client account like I do this can happen inadvertently. I did it 2 weeks ago. But since my personal account is my business account I am very tame at what I say. I think it was a technology snafu not an intent to use the Chysler account.

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 2 months ago

@Lisa Gerber Are you angling for 3 @livefyre points here Lisa! 8) lol

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