PR Fail: ‘Cooks Source’ Stirs Up Crisis PR Broth

by coach on November 11, 2010

Cooks Source serves up an online PR crisis

Unless you were on an expedition to Mt. Everest, you will have read about Cooks Source, an internet magazine now embroiled in a bitter tasting online crisis. It’s a PR crisis that could have been easily avoided.

It’s a perfect intro to Part Two of our five-part Social Media for PR Pros series (Part 1 here).

In short, the for-profit, online magazine used another writer’s copyright material and published it on its website without attribution. Blogger Monica Gaudio wrote managing editor Judith Griggs to request attribution for her work and suggest a small payment of $130 in the form of a donation to the Columbia School of Journalism. Griggs declined testily in a snide email to Gaudio which quickly grew into a full-blown crisis.

The incident has since become an internet cause célèbre featuring hundreds of news stories, critical articles, much derision by journalists (TIME: ‘nerd rage’), writers and bloggers, rabid comments and eventual hijacking of the magazine’s Facebook site.

In terms of online crisis management, it’s been a dismal PR failure and the magazine and its managing editor have only themselves to blame.

They followed none of the simple, best practices to handle an impending crisis. Perhaps they’ll see this post and take time to read the valuable online crisis management advice that follows below?

The Cooks Source website is now down and in its place is a convoluted “Statement” which is a not so sincere and mostly reluctant apology for a crisis it created all by itself. Take a minute to read their statement and see what you think. For the record you can also view it here, in case it’s removed in the future.

In this statement, they claim their business has been damaged and their advertisers harassed unfairly. They’ve pledged to revise their editorial practices in the future:

“This issue has made certain changes here at Cooks Source. Starting with this month, we will now list all sources. Also we now request that all the articles and informational pieces will have been made with written consent of the writers, the book publishers and/or their agents or distributors, chefs and business owners. All submission authors and chefs and cooks will have emailed, and/or signed a release form for this material to Cooks Source and as such will have approved its final inclusion. Email submissions are considered consent, with a verbal/written follow-up.”

Of course, any business and professional journalists would have followed these common business and editorial practices in the first place. That way an article wouldn’t be placed “in error” as claimed by Griggs.

But here’s a telling example of how they still don’t get it. Part of their statement reads:

“We respectfully request this harassment be stopped immediately. If you or anyone knows of this abuse, you should go to the bogus Cooks Source (or other bogus pages) Facebook page, look to the left side of the page and press “Report Abuse,” or else go to How to Report Claims of Intellectual Property Infringement, http://www.facebook.com/legal/copyright.php The Facebook Corporate phone number are 650-543-4800, 650-853-1300 and 650-543-4811which hopefully will assist interested parties who feels these snipers who are perpetuating hate have gotten out of hand and want to report it. Interestingly, this phone number and any other contact info is not listed on the Facebook site, and has taken four people a number of days to track down.”

Now there’s a delicious irony. The plagiarists are asking their critics to “report claims of intellectual property infringement.”

The Cooks Source statement finally concludes:

“The misuse of Facebook discussed above also applies to Ms. Gaudio: she did what she felt was the right thing, and doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment, either. Regardless of what has been said, we liked her article very much.”

Apparently they didn’t like it enough to credit the writer or offer fair payment.

The unfortunate part of this self-perpetuated crisis is that local farms and producers may indeed have lost a good editorial vehicle to promote their products. But a magazine using poor judgment and sloppy editorial practices can hardly point fingers.

The editor and staff created this crisis and by their actions to this point are not out of the kitchen yet. Just think what could have been accomplished weeks ago with a simple, heartfelt apology and a small $130 donation compared to this crisis soufflé? Coulda, woulda, shoulda!

This incident will be a popular crisis management and journalism ethics case study for years to come. It’s a PR Fail that shouldn’t have happened!

This is the second in our five-part Social Media for PR Pros series (Part 1 here). Watch for future installments on Online Influencers, Facebook and Social Media Monitoring.

For more practical advice on how to manage online crises, we’ve included 22 excellent articles below. Let us know what you think of these resources and share how you’d handle a similar crisis. Our PR Library has another 300+ more crisis management tips and resources for further reference. You’ll also find a great selection of crisis communications books in our PR Bookstore.

Author:  Jeff Domansky is Editor, The PR Coach

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Friday PR Picks: Online Crisis PR Management

3 Easy Steps for Dealing with Social Media Hecklers [Social Media Today]
4 Reasons JetBlue Nailed Their Social Media Response To Crazy Flight Attendant [Social Times]
6 Ways to Avoid a Social Media Meltdown [GigaOm]
7 Best Practices for Crisis Management in Social Media [The Age of Metrics ]
10 Social Media Mistakes [Jeff Bullas]
Applying Risk Communication Principles to Social Media Crisis
[Conversation Agent]
How Do We Use Social Media In a Disaster? [Jeff Bullas]
HOW TO: Avoid a Social Media Disaster [Mashable]
How to Avoid Committing Social Media Gaffes [eSchoolNews]
How to Clean Up Your Social Media Mess in 5 Simple Steps [Opinion at Large]
In Case of Emergency, Update Your Facebook Status [Beth Kanter]
Live Crisis Scenarios in Digital [Conversation Agent]
Mind the Gap: PR When Things Go Bad [The PR Coach]
Practical, basics: Crisis Communications: Engagement in a Social World [Radian6]
Red Cross says “Web Users Increasingly Rely on Social Media to Seek Help in a Disaster” [Andrew Welch]
Six Tips for Responding to Online Brand Assaults [BulletProofBlog]
Social Media DO’s and DON’Ts: 6 Remedies for Any Emergency [ComMetrics]
Social Media Screw-Ups
[Content Management Connection]
YouTubing Your CEO [ReputationXchange]
Your Social Media Disaster Kit [iMedia Connection]

Visual: Cooks Source (August 2010 issue)

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