We interrupt your regularly scheduled #FollowFriday to bring you the Kenneth Cole Twitter fiasco. Typically I would wait until Monday to write about it, but it’s unfolding as I write this and it’s too important to wait. Plus…it’s a PR nightmare and you all know how much I love a good crisis!

But, first. Allow me to tell you a story about Habitat, the furniture company based in the U.K.

In July 2009, they hired an intern to help them with their social media efforts. And the intern, rightfully so, thought he/she would look at the trending topics to see if there was something he/she could use in tweets.

Turns out there was. And it was big!

The company began tweeting a chance to win a gift card (worth about $2,000) with a link to some pretty juicy news… the deadly protests in Iran after the disputed presidential election. Bad enough in its own right. But they used the hashtag #mousavi, so when people were searching for information on the protests, they instead found the Habitat contest. To say people were angry is putting it mildly. And Habitat was put on serious defense.

Now. Fast forward 18 months and another well-known brand has made the same mistake.

Yesterday morning we had a Project Jack Bauer team meeting and, when I got back to my desk, Sean McGinnis had DM’d me a tweet from Kenneth Cole. Thinking he was trying to get on my good side and sending me a shoe sale, I clicked on it (he called me Gumby on Facebook and I threatened to egg his house – don’t ask).

What I found, instead, is the tweet below.

Um. What? Using what’s happening in Egypt to promote your new spring collection? Seriously?

I know a lot of people will argue that this did exactly what the company intended – to get us all talking. And others will say I’m playing into that strategy by blogging about it. And others will say there is no such thing as bad PR.

But there is such a thing as bad PR. Even if Kenneth Cole, himself, posts a mea culpa.

This is a perfect example of why Spin Sucks. People have a horrible perception of the PR industry because of crap like this. And that’s what it is. C-R-A-P.

Public relations is meant to build awareness that drives sales. It is not meant to build awareness for the sake of people saying your name. Or blogging about you. Bad PR is BAD PR. It’s not good.

Maybe it won’t hurt sales. Maybe some people will be grateful to be reminded of how much they love his shoes and clothes. Maybe it won’t bother people outside the social media bubble one bit. But maybe it will create boycotts. And maybe it will decrease sales. And that, folks, is BAD PR.

Anytime you have to issue an apology and interrupt your work growing your business, that is bad PR. No matter how many people are talking about you.

I’m not going to give Kenneth Cole a lesson in crisis driven by something stupid said on Twitter. Lots of people have already done that. Instead I recommend doing your flipping research so you don’t make the same mistakes as an intern did 18 months ago.

Update: 8:14 a.m. on Friday, February 4: Someone found a window decal in a Kenneth Cole store of the tweet. It seems Dino Dogan is correct…this was planned and I have now lost all faith in humanity. Bad PR sucks. Spin Sucks. And Kenneth Cole sucks.

Update: 8:19 a.m. on Friday, February 4 (I’m obsessed): Jeremiah Owyang is asking some intelligent questions and not getting a response from anyone, including Kenneth Cole. They might return his call – he’s a big deal. They’d just ignore me. So go, Jeremiah, go!

Can you help confirm how this was done? I’m having a hard time believing they would do this for a few reasons:

1) why would they put campaign copy on a window with the Twitter chrome?

2) The corporate website didn’t reflect the Cario language.

3) I’m not seeing any other images online that confirm this.

4) in the second picture (see top right) the copy interferes with visualization of the product display –advertising-wise, it just doesn’t make sense for the store front.

5) Given the trauma to the brand, no chance the store would have kept this up for a full day and into the night.

This could be: A decal someone slapped on the window (the coloring is a bit off from the KC logo) or a photoshop (per Hugger below), or a real KC campaign (which I doubt)

(I’m often wrong, but just want to double check before drawing conclusions)

Update: 12:18 p.m. on Friday, February 4: Decal is Photoshopped on to the store window. My view of humanity is beginning to be restored…a bit.

Update: 5:37 p.m. on Friday, February 4: Turns out the decal was NOT Photoshopped and this seems to be an intentional campaign to get people talking. Now I have an entirely different blog post to write. It’s going to be titled: Dear Kenneth Cole, SPIN SUCKS and so do you.

Update: 6:22 p.m. on Friday, February 4: The photos were real, but pranksters put them up, not Kenneth Cole. My head hurts now.

P.S. I’ll do this week’s #FollowFriday at noon today and the Top Five tomorrow for your weekend reading.

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.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich