(photo: Samsung booth at IFA, Robert Scoble)
Hard times at Samsung PR the last weeks: first, Samsung lost a major intellectual property lawsuit against Apple, then Samsung was (unjustly, it turned out) accused of child labour. And as if that wasn't enough, Samsung got into a messy situation with some tech bloggers.
Two Indian bloggers, who won a competition organised by Samsung Mob!lers, were invited by Samsung to go to the IFA conference in Berlin. The IFA conference is an annual trade fair where the season’s biggest tech announcements are made. Samsung promised both bloggers to pay for their flights and accommodation. So far, so good, but according to those bloggers everything that happened after that went wrong.
1. Bloggers hate to be treated like branded stewards; love to be treated like journalists.
Although the tech bloggers (allegedly) specifically asked to attend the trade fair as reporters, and not as promoters of the brand, they say they were more or less forced to man a Samsung booth dressed in a Samsung uniform while showing the devices to the members of the press. The bloggers refused to do so, leading a Samsung rep to cancel their return tickets and hotel stay. Which left the bloggers stranded thousands of miles from home. (You can read the entire story at The Next Web).
Now, one of the 10 commandments of blogger outreach that FINN gathered from a survey among the bloggers themselves is: "don't try to control the bloggers' opinion on the product". Another is: "do not give bloggers the feeling they should feel honoured to be contacted". So maybe sending out those bloggers as brand reps, wasn’t the best idea. From a PR perspective, I also think it's a bit strange to expect bloggers to dress as Samsung hosts. You wouldn't dress a journalist up as a host, would you? You invite bloggers and press because you want them to report favorably about your products - true. But you do that because you know that the public sees them as independent from your brand. That's what makes their (hopefully) positive coverage valuable.
And of course, communication is a two way street.
2. The bloggers forgot they’re just little fish in a big pond of bloggers fighting against high-leverage companies.
Even major media outlets will be cautious when brands offer to pay for travel expenses. I know of some media that accept "sponsorship deals" for travel, but they will stipulate (in writing) that the journalist can write an objective article - it's very tricky terrain. As in every negotiation, you need to tackle the hard issues first. In this case, it was: will we be able to operate unsupervised?
So when Samsung called our two heroes , asking them about their clothing measurements (oh why would they do that?) and asking them to bring a local gift they could exchange with other Mob!lers, some kind of alarm should have rung. Instead of asking Samsung why they were getting such strange requests, they just went along with it and were totally surprised to find themselves sitting at the ‘Samsung Orientation’ where they got their instructions for their booth-duties at the trade fair.
Lesson learned for these bloggers: look before you leap. Don’t except an offer like this without getting some things on paper. If you want to attend the fair as an independent reporter and not as one of the brand ambassadors, make it clear and get it in writing.
3. Communication, communication, communication.
Lastly, I think Samsung could have done a better job at managing this PR crisis. While Samsung said ‘mea culpa’ to the bloggers…
“I would like to reach out to you and deeply apologize to you for your experience in Berlin at IFA. We put you through undue hardship and we are trying to rectify the situation”.
…..they wrote this incident off to the public as a ‘misunderstanding’:
“Samsung Mob!lers is a voluntary community of active Samsung mobile device users, who are offered the opportunity to participate in our marketing events across the world. At these events, all activities they undertake are on a voluntary basis. No activities are forced upon them.
We regret there was a misunderstanding between the Samsung Mob!lers coordinators and the relevant blogger, as we understand he was not sufficiently briefed on the nature of Samsung Mob!lers’ activities at IFA 2012. We have been attempting to get in touch with him.
We respect the independence of bloggers to publish their own stories.”
It seems Samsung kind off had a shortfall in its communication strategy. When Samsung internally acknowledged they handled things wrong, they should have communicated it to the world in the same manner, I think. Especially in the fiercely competitive tech blogging world, with so many bloggers vying for attention, message discipline is key. You can read what Twitter has to say about it here: