We talk a lot about the things organizations do wrong and what they could have done differently to avoid backlash or a PR crisis.

It’s all in the spirit of learning from other’s mistakes (although, admittedly, I do love a good train wreck as much as anyone else).

What we don’t talk about a lot are the organizations that are handling things well.

Perhaps that’s because no one talks about them or because, as Mike Mullet discussed a couple of weeks ago, you’ll never hear about a well-managed issue.

I likely never would have heard about the very public debate between OXO and Quirky had Rieva Lesonsky not sent along a letter, so you can thank her.

OXO Open Letter

They wrote an open letter to their customers that begins like this:

Earlier this week a consumer products company located two blocks from OXO started a very public campaign accusing us of stealing a product idea. After thoughtful consideration, we decided we need to clarify the situation. It is not our practice to defend ourselves publicly. In fact, this is the first time in the history of our company we have ever taken a public stand like this. But sometimes, you just need to set the record straight.

Below is our full response.

They go on to tell the story of how, on January 21, Quirky accused OXO and their design partner, Smart Design, of stealing a feature from a product called the Broom Groomer, which was submitted to their community in 2009 by an independent inventor and launched in 2010. Their product includes “rubber teeth on the back of the dustpan [that] … quickly and easily comb out dust bunnies.”

The story continues with where rubber teeth on dustpans come from, which dates clear back to 1919 when Addison F. Kelley applied for – and received – a patent for the very thing. His patent expired in 1936 and, to this very day, when a dustpan has a “teeth” feature, it is relying on that patent.

Then they explain to Quirky how the inventor community works, they show some photos of product features the company seems to have stolen from OXO, and then they talk to the people who submit ideas through the Quirky crowdsourcing platform.

You can read the full letter here. It’s long, but it’s worth the read.

What OXO Did Well

This is a great example of communications done well for six reasons.

  1. Not defensive. It’s human nature to get defensive in situations like this (cough, Applebee’s, cough). Perhaps this wasn’t the first draft, but what eventually came out was laid out very well and not defensive in the least. In fact, it’s so calm and level-headed, you can almost hear someone telling you this story in a very collected way.
  2. Well-researched. I really love how they stick it to Quirky with the story of the “rubber teeth” inventor, the images and captions of features Quirky uses in their products that are similar to OXO, and the example of the Quirky Pluck Egg Yolk Separator that clearly came from an Asian product.
  3. Personal and emotional. While they did not get defensive, they still were able to hit your emotions by describing how the Quirky offices are only two blocks away from them, they have the same number of employees, some of the employees know one another, their leaders run in the same circles and have spoken before. They appeal to your emotions by asking, “Isn’t it a little strange Quirky didn’t think to pick up the phone and call first? Wouldn’t that have been the right thing to do?”
  4. Educational. By reading this, I got a great lesson in both inventor Kelley, how patents and inventions work in the real world, and what you should consider if you submit an idea to a company they end up using.
  5. Fact-based. The letter is long, but they were very careful to tell a story based on facts. They cited 13 sources so as not to leave the argument up to chance.
  6. Timely. It took OXO four days after the first Quirky billboard went up to issue this letter. While that may seem like an eternity in today’s 24/7, fast-paced, digital world, because it was so well researched, it works.

When Quirky responded, it was none of these six things, it was written (and posted) quickly, and it comes across as extremely defensive – “We do not plan on further engaging in a tit for tat open letter writing campaign.” (I guess that’s their last word.)

Whether or not this has legs in court is another thing, but in the court of public opinion? OXO wins.

What do you think?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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