Earlier this week, I was helping my daughter with a project she is working on for PRSSA and we were discussing the recent resignation of, and subsequent extrication of John Schnatter from his company, Papa John’s Pizza. For those living in a hole, he used a racial slur during an internal sales call that was leaked. Within hours, he had resigned from the company. Within days, the decision was made to remove his iconic image from all marketing, donated monies were returned and his name was removed from the University of Louisville’s 65,000 seat football stadium formerly known as Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Of course there have been other instances of words getting people in trouble. Justine Sacco boarded a flight to South Africa and a “harmless” tweet sent before boarding caused a worldwide uproar (NYT, subscription req’d but 3 freebies per month) and she had lost her job as a PR exec right after landing.
And we are not immune. John Schnatter’s slur was back in May and came to light in July so past words are not “water under the bridge” by any means.
Thankfully, I grew up in a pre-Internet (read: there is no evidence stored on some server forever) world because I am quite sure that I have said and done things that would put me and my business in the hot seat. But today, not so much. We are publicly recorded nearly everywhere we go. Audio and video can be subtly captured on telephones. I try to go through life with the assumption that I only have true privacy in a rest room (and that may be naïve) and my own home.
And let’s face it; as a business owner, we are public personalities. OK, so none of us are Kim Kardashian (thankfully), but as members of our local business community, we are public personalities. We speak to Rotary and Chamber events. We exhibit at conventions. We put on travel shows. Some may be on radio or television. Most have been quoted as an expert in local papers.
So imagine a night out with a group of friends and an off-color joke is told. All it takes is someone nearby to overhear it and become offended and you could be facing a public backlash. It does not take much.
And we all know that public backlash travels like wildfire. Look at Yelp, Facebook reviews, Google reviews, Trip Advisor, etc. Heck, look to your own customer service! A dissatisfied (or offended) client (or eavesdropping stranger) will tell a hundred people. A satisfied one will tell one. But the thing is that the Internet with all its anonymity, allows for embellishments and mis-remembering* of the facts. I can’t begin to recall the number of people that have come to me with “the trip from hell” in their mind only to find out that the eggs one morning were cold. Unfortunately, we rarely get a chance to get on top of that.
So, mind your Ps and Qs and really take stock of the language you use. My own language, amongst friends, used to be peppered with …. shall we say …. colorful language. I made it a point to get that in check. On a personal note, I think we have become a society that is too outraged over too many things. I do not agree with it, but it is what it is and we need to adapt. It is probably for the better as a whole; but it does present a minefield to navigate because you never know when the next one might explode in your face.
* Mis-remembering. OK so it sounds like some politician weaseling out of a cheating scandal, but there is some meat behind it. I am a podcast junkie (and actually produce two non-travel related ones) and Revisionist History is one of my favorites. Listen to this one from Malcolm Gladwell called Free Brian Williams to get an idea of mis-remembering. Not sure I buy it entirely, but worth a listen.