For AOL’s Armstrong, It’s “Ready, Fire, Aim”

tim armstrong For AOLs Armstrong, Its Ready, Fire, Aim

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full FIasco) for AOL’s Tim Armstrong.

The pressure is on AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong to turn things around at Patch, the micro-local news site that has been a money loser for the giant media company. Unfortunately for Armstrong, he let the pressure show in an embarrassing way last week, prompting observers to question his management.

On Friday, a day after telling Wall Street that Patch would close down one-third of its 900 sites to cut costs, Armstrong held a conference call with 1,000 Patch employees to lay out the reorganization plan and rally the faithful to the task at hand. To his credit, he took full responsibility for the current wobbly state of affairs. But he also handed out a tough-talking, slightly derisive admonishment to employees: work harder, or work elsewhere. If you are “not invested in Patch, you owe it to everybody else at Patch to leave,” he said, as can be heard in the widely-circulated tape of the call.

The harangue got worse. Two minutes in, Armstrong called out Patch’s creative director who, as is his custom, was taking pictures in the meeting room where the call originated. “Put that camera down. You’re fired. Out,” Armstrong said, scarcely pausing before continuing his “motivational” talk. Given the audience size, it was only a matter of time before the story at the local news site went national. Ironically, Armstrong later said he fired the creative head because he was tired of media leaks.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for AOL’s Tim Armstrong, for a tyrannical tirade that sullied not only his personal brand but spoke poorly of how the business is run.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Mind your message, your medium, and your manners. Chief executives, whether by temperament or for effect, will occasionally turn to the tantrum to motivate the troops. But Armstrong’s erratic histrionics missed the mark, even if he hadn’t made things worse with an “Off with his head!” fit of pique. And in front of 1,000 people, no less. Remember: Unless you’re talking to yourself, what you say privately can always go public. Airing dirty laundry can result in losing your shirt.

Scrabble Players Have Choice Words for Mattel and EA

Scrabble 150x150 Scrabble Players Have Choice Words for Mattel and EA

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Mattel and Electronic Arts.

The British like a lot of things: gardens, a good cup of tea, cricket. What don’t they like? Apparently, their Scrabble game being messed with. Scrabble, of course, is the classic board game in which lettered tiles are put down to form words crossword puzzle-style. Created by American architect and game inventor Alfred Butts in 1938, it’s become a beloved pastime enjoyed by generations of players. In 2008, Mattel, Inc. launched what became a wildly popular on-line version through Facebook; users could play in realtime against friends or random opponents around the world, their statistics collated and ranked.

Until a few weeks ago. That’s when Electronic Arts (EA), the company to whom Mattel turned over the reins of online Scrabble, “upgraded” the game in Europe and Australia. Among other deeply unpopular changes, players must refresh their screens to see if an opponent has played, and score histories have been obliterated. Also removed was the ability to control time limits, making it difficult to play opponents on different schedules or in other time zones. The new version has been met with a torrent of criticism and the launch of boycotts and petitions. Thousands of players are raging against Mattel and EA on Facebook, all demanding that they bring back the original version.

The companies also lose major points for their PR prowess. EA declined to comment, while Mattel’s cringe-worthy response was “We are sorry we weren’t able to please everybody … We produce the board game but we’re not experts in electronics.”

THE PR VERDICT:  “F” (Full Fiasco) for Mattel and EA, who don’t seem to know the Number One rule of successful products: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: The client is always right. It’s true you can’t make everyone happy all the time, but there is a difference between that and enraging your entire customer base. When contemplating major changes to an iconic product, common sense dictates that decisions should be based on extensive research. Had the corporate powers-that-be asked players what was important to them, they might have seen that a move like this could only spell CATASTROPHE.