Those that don't learn from the past, are doomed to fail again

Back in October 2003, Ben Silverman wrote about PR hits and misses. One of the companies he highlighted was Sunncomm, the company that works on DRM protection for music CDs. Back at the time, the company's wonderful protection from copying was disengaged with ... the shift key.

What Ben wrote at the time was ...

Thumbs Down: SunnComm Technologies needs a lesson in PR. SunnComm produces copyright protection software that is somewhat controversial and is currently being tested by BMG Records. A rather savvy graduate student at Princeton however has found two easy ways around the copyright protection software, which is supposed to make it impossible for consumers to copy the CD and illegally distribute it. The grad student wrote a paper about the holes in the software -- one way to disable it is by holding down the "shift" key for a few seconds -- and posted it online. Within hours, the paper was the talk of the tech community. Witness now SunnComm President Peter Jacobs' quote about the student's work in this passage from a San Jose Mercury News story: "Jacobs said he had no intention of suing Halderman under the copyright act, and that the student should spend his time researching something more worthwhile. He said, 'This just isn't one of the weighty issues of the world.'" Now witness what Bill Whitmore, also described as SunnComm's President, told The Boston Globe: "There's nothing in his report that's surprising. There's nothing in the report that I'm concerned about." Do these comments strike anyone else as funny? First, Jacobs blows apart the idea that his own company is relevant. And Whitmore admits that his company's product is flawed and that he's not concerned about it. These guys need to learn about messaging points -- and how to make effective software.
Back in 2003, Ben suggested I contact Sunncomm because it was painfully obvious that they needed PR counsel and help, plus it is a local company. I did ... and they were pretty self-assured that they were handling the situation with great skill.

Well, Sunncomm is in the dog house again, but somehow has let Sony take the brunt of Sunncomm's incompetence during the Rootkit spyware incidence. Why SonyBMG did not learn its lesson during the first round of tests with Sunncomm DRM is a question best left to them - I guess they like to give companies a few chances to sully the Sony corporate reputation. Good job! You have!

Now, you think Sunncomm would learn from the past, and have messaging on its Website, but the Website has not changed since 2003 ... or from the looks of it, not since the 1980's. And, if you check out the news archives from C/Net, hardly any reporting on the company has been positive. And, yet, the company (maybe in delusions of disclosure) posts all the bad news in its newsroom - well, not all.

Well, this latest issue makes it painfully obvious that the company has not learned from the past, to the point that it issued a press release denying a parody. Yes, a parody.

Now, I have gone on the record many times that not every company needs a blog, but for Sunncomm, it makes sense. There are so many problems for the company, that they need a proactive communications strategy that is timely and reactive. Something that a blog could do. Plus, come on, Flash corporate sites are so over. Get with the times, and have a Website that says something, looks professional (because, damn, that one sure does not) and actually has information, like, oh press releases.

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  1. This client needs help, but not the kind we give. You're better off.

  2. Wow, what an amusing case! Reading about this just makes me cringe. Do they honestly not have someone in PR advising them? It sure doesn't seem like it. Hmm ... just a series of bad choices.

  3. Up to now, one of the things that I found odd about the whole Sunncomm/Sony fiasco was the lack of people imploring those parties to blog their way out of a disaster. For a while I wondered: can you be too evil to blog? Has DRM ticked off enough bloggers to separate them out from the rest of the corporate world? Now you've gone and blown that theory.

    However, even if you were able to advise them on website design etc, the current one should be preserved. From the Flash intro (no skip-intro to boot), through the cod film-promo voiceover on the home page to the badly coded dropdowns, it's beyond parody. Someone has to save it for posterity.

    Or maybe the whole thing is a parody. What could be better? Write some badly behaved software, convince a major record label to use it, have the whole thing exposed as a scandal and leave the client in the poo. And then at some point in the future turn around and say it was all some situationist gag on the futility of DRM on CDs.