Last year when Gap, the retail brand that for years has been the embodiment of the upscale suburban fashionably casual mall crowd, changed its classic logo, the backlash was so turbulent, you would have thought someone had outlawed the little black dress. Many in PR watched and pondered and tweeted about what could have gone so wrong with such a strong brand, but apparently no one at Netflix was paying attention.

With an email from CEO Reed Hastings, Netflix prematurely announced on Sunday its new Qwikster division, while apologizing for its price increase and lack of communication savvy. With shares falling and customers fleeing, the socialscape is once again lit up by the fury of brand-bashers; most of whom are actual customers who feel cheated, violated or at least irked by the email announcing the separation of the DVD and streaming businesses.

Again, I am left to wonder where PR was during this conversation? Were they down the hall, at the back of the room, or at the table?

If they were down the hall, that means the company did not even consider involving the PR folks in their decision, thereby missing the opportunity to gain huge insights to what the potential outcomes may have been. Experienced PR people would have immediately started thinking what the twittersphere would say about such a move and had a plan in place before the backlash started.

Clearly, with Netflix, that did not happen. As far as I can tell, the company has tweeted once about the event and from the generic @Netflix account. CEO Reed Hastings does not seem to have a social media account, but, never fear, a fake one has been set up for his new company Quickster (which already is being used in various forms online.) Lack of attention to social media (let alone customers and investors) clearly suggests that PR was not only left out of the conversation, but locked in a room down the hall and no where near the discussions on rolling this all out.

If they were invited to listen in at the back of the room, then shame on @Netflix for wasting investors money on a PR team that they were not going to use. Having a team in place, but denying them the ability to engage, educate and lead in a major business decision is a disaster waiting to happen.

The only way that companies, large and small, will be able to deal with or possibly avoid these viral flare-ups is by involving PR from the beginning. Yes, operations, development, and finance can take the lead in guiding a company, but without PR at the table there is no voice for the owner – the customer. And, as I said on Twitter, apparently CEOs still think they are running their companies, when clearly, it is their customers who hold all the cards. Or DVDs.

~ Jules

4 thoughts on “Netflix Goes Gap

    1. I would love to hear from someone on the PR team at Netflix – although that will probably have to come later as a tell-all. Thanks for visiting. ~ Jules

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  1. Trenchant and insightful analysis, Jules.

    Couple forces at work here. Publicly-held companies are attempting to maximize profit at the expense of common sense and market analysis. Ideas, products and their attempted launches are being rushed to market sans the input of experienced communications professionals. Social media has given neophytes the impression that everyone’s a communications artiste as people confuse Facebook liking, tumbling, tweeting, stumbling and shareaholicing with media and audience strategy. Finally (and this is purely speculative), PR folks are, perhaps, still seen as second-class citizens in the business hierarchy (at least at poorly-run or recently-inaugurated Web companies).

    One of the things communications professionals are seeing with largely Web-based companies (Facebook, Google, Zynga) is a complete lack of communications savvy. It’s an issue endemic to start-ups, this idea of going it alone and tacking on the communications function later, if at all. Misguided, but true.

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    1. Actually, surprisingly, I am going to disagree with you on one point: I would think that recently-inaugurated Web companies are better at incorporating PR than older, more established companies. Although I think that new companies rely too heavily on PR – or at least the idea of creating a buzz – early on and not enough on business structure. Netflix is mature enough though to have had it all – wild west style PR and old school PR savvy. What troubles me is that they operated without either. Communications still comes second in most organizations, but I bet the ones that are really category leaders are the ones that have the marketing mixed up just right. As always, thanks for stopping by. Always nice to chat and catch up with old school savvy friends. ~ J

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