Misjudgment or Transparency? How a Single Tweet Caused a Stir With a Client

It’s entertaining to watch how the PR industry self-spins, in this latest dust up regarding a tweet by James Andrews, an executive who works at Ketchum, a well known PR agency.

James is accused of bad form, and his company had to backtrack when he posted this tweet on the way to visit his client Fedex: “True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say “I would die if I h ad to live here!” it caused angst with the ‘location sensitive’ client, and they issued this comment, apparently on this blog (update: this may have been an email from Fedex to Ketchum), after it was run up the Fedex flagpole. (via David, and Peter)

Mr. Andrews,

If I interpret your post correctly, these are your comments about Memphis a few hours after arriving in the global headquarters city of one of your key and lucrative clients, and the home of arguably one of the most important entrepreneurs in the history of business, FedEx founder Fred Smith.

Many of my peers and I feel this is inappropriate. We do not know the total millions of dollars FedEx Corporation pays Ketchum annually for the valuable and important work your company does for us around the globe. We are confident however, it is enough to expect a greater level of respect and awareness from someone in your position as a vice president at a major global player in your industry. A hazard of social networking is people will read what you write.

Not knowing exactly what prompted your comments, I will admit the area around our airport is a bit of an eyesore, not without crime, prostitution, commercial decay, and a few potholes. But there is a major political, community, religious, and business effort underway, that includes FedEx, to transform that area. We’re hopeful that over time, our city will have a better “face” to present to visitors.

James, everyone participating in today’s event, including those in the auditorium with you this morning, just received their first paycheck of 2009 containing a 5% pay cut… which we wholeheartedly support because it continued the tradition established by Mr. Smith of doing whatever it takes to protect jobs.

Considering that we just entered the second year of a U.S. recession, and we are experiencing significant business loss due to the global economic downturn, many of my peers and I question the expense of paying Ketchum to produce the video open for today’s event; work that could have been achieved by internal, award-winning professionals with decades of experience in television production.

Additionally Mr. Andrews, with all due respect, to continue the context of your post; true confession: many of my peers and I don’t see much relevance between your presentation this morning and the work we do in Employee Communications.

(Signed as a personal message by a member of the FedEx Corporate Communications team)

Apparently, some took offense, and tweeted and an interesting exchange started to happen, as the conversation ensued also on twitter. James then stood by his guns, explained his stance and apologized and helped explain what happened on this own blog (followed by a post by his own wife).

A few takeaways

  • While showing a bit of misjudgment, (there are many other ways he could have expressed his opinion) I’d rather hire someone who was honest and transparent first. Gawker agrees
  • Fedex employees need to have some fun with the online conversation, the reaction was a brutal and excessive, but it’s clear that this was a trigger for other axes to grind.
  • Personal opinions must be kept in check when it involves clients and customers.
  • Twitter is often taken out of context, it’s happened to me. Intent isn’t always clear.
  • The PR industry likes to spin it’s own top, and I’m adding to it right now.
  • James Andrews is better off for this, and I admire him for weathering this storm.
  • Rule of thumb: (fitting, if you tweet from a mobile device). When you tweet, you’re publishing, don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face, and assume that your current and future boss, wife, and mother are reading it.

    Thanks to Jennifer Doctor (update: who calls for context of the situation) for spurring me along to comment on this topic.

    UJpdate: I like Eric’s take on this, and suggests that James didn’t represent himself well as a PR professional, regardless of anyone who should have an opinion.