David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision PR Group
One of the worst times for a crisis to hit is over the holidays as the holidays are a slow news time. This means that the crisis will generate more media coverage than it might during another time of the year. Add into this factor also the power of social media to drive the narrative and magnify it. The Hallmark Channel found this out through a crisis of its own making.
Saturday, the Hallmark Channel announced that it would stop running ads from Zola.com, a wedding planning website because two of the commercials depicted two women kissing during the marriage ceremony. The network had been pressured by the conservative group One Million Moms to pull the ads. The network claimed that the ads had become a distraction.
The reaction was immediate and harsh. The network was pilloried on Saturday Night Live. Social media was attacking it and calling for a boycott of the network which would have been devastating as its holiday movies are its biggest ratings winners. Celebrities from Ellen DeGeneres on denounced Hallmark. A petition to boycott the network had 60,000 signatures. The Hallmark Network was overwhelmed with phone calls. On Sunday, the Hallmark Channel changed course and announced that it would again air the commercials.
From a crisis communications standpoint the Hallmark Channel has to defuse the crisis as it was dominating media coverage. The potential damage in ratings and advertisers pulling ads in the face of the social media outcry and negative media coverage would have been devastating. The network admitted that it made a mistake in pulling the ads and the crisis is abating. This was a textbook case of what to do when a crisis hits even if it is a self-inflicted crisis.
But more importantly this crisis was another example of the power of social media. Social media galvanized call to actions against the Hallmark Channel. Traditional media had been unaware of the action until social media issued its battle cry. The lesson that must be learned from this is that social media more than even traditional media drives the narrative of a crisis and can be ignored at a brand’s peril.
About the Author: David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision PR Group, a public relations and public affairs agency. Additional information on him and company may be obtained at www.strategicvisionpr.com.