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 social scape 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 nowhere 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