Old Tricks Just Don't Do It

On Thursday, right before the start of the Fourth of July weekend, Reddit let go of its communications person, Victoria Taylor. Beyond running communications - or as part of running communications - Taylor appeared to run point on the iAmA (Ask Me Anything) subreddit.

In such a tight-knit community as Reddit is, there's no surprise it turned into a shitshow with various subreddits going dark in support of Taylor. And not surprisingly, it also turned into blaming Interim CEO Ellen Pao for Taylor being let go, although there's no proof it was Pao or someone else who made the call.

Gawker has a good run-down with time-stamps of the whole debacle, including a statement from Pao sent by a PR executive, Heather Wilson. Who happens to be an executive vice president at Abernathy McGregor, a crisis communications specialty firm. And the firm has been working for Pao since her sexual harassment lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins.

So let's put that all together: traditional crisis communications firm is working with the interim CEO for a large, vocal, often controversial / free-speech debating community and lets go a well-liked communications employee hoping that the Fourth of July long weekend will hide the news.

Because that IS a traditional public relations trick. Got bad news or bad earnings? Release on a Friday! It's such a well-known trick that even The Atlantic wrote up a story on how ... it doesn't work anymore. That old PR trick just doesn't do it for clients anymore.

Should this be surprising? No, not at all.

The news media moved into a 24-hour cycle years ago with the Internet and social media. With social media and the Internet, communities popped up and cover everything and anything, and with the ease of publishing there are tons of niche news sites and news can be broken anywhere.

The PR industry is a bit slow to follow, but with its current love affair for all social things, it realized that the cycle isn't what it was, but nonstop. Being in-house PR counsel means always being on, always have the phone available. Doing crisis communications means always having that phone on, and email ready for situations that pop-up. This isn't new but for some reason it seems like it is.

With Reddit, there was no reason for its executives to think that the news of a well-liked executive and community member who handled one of its most popular and mainstream subreddits could be hidden. And, it's beyond obvious that neither Reddit nor the PR crisis firm had no plan in place for when it all did blow up. Come on, that's Crisis Communications 101, and for Reddit to ignore it is quite amazing - plus, for Reddit not to have its finger on the pulse of its own community is quite mind-boggling too.

Are there exceptions to the rule that you can't hide the news anymore? Of course, there are. In tech? Release bad news the same day Apple makes a product announcement. I've seen that done a few times recently, and while the news doesn't disappear it is overshadowed. But news isn't going away, and bad stuff bubbles up.

For the ironically challenged, I purposely published on Fourth of July (Happy Fourth all!!). And yes, I chose a dog giving that look because it seemed fitting.

Photo by Henry Faber.

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