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.

Would You Call Yourself a Close Friend of Rajat Gupta?

rajat gupta Would You Call Yourself a Close Friend of Rajat Gupta?

The PR Verdict: “B” for Rajat Gupta and friends

For those who missed it, yesterday was day one of the trial of Rajat Gupta the former managing director of McKinsey & Company and former board member of Goldman Sachs.  He is charged with passing on secret tips to convicted hedge funder Raj Rajaratnam who is now serving a lengthy sentence for insider dealing.  Gupta is accused of leaking price sensitive information to Rajaratnam about Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble.

Not everyone agrees.  Gupta’s attorneys describe him as a man of “great integrity,” a philanthropist and a victim of prosecutorial overreach.  As part of his PR campaign Gupta’s friends have rallied a high flying list of supporters who point to his social, civic and business record.  Author Deepak Chopra and one of India’s richest men are among those who have signed an open letter defending Gupta’s record at a website simply called,

“He’s like a dolphin caught up in a tuna net,” says a high powered friend who manages the website. “The government refuses to admit it’s a dolphin and not a big fat tuna, and they’re not going to give up. That’s what my website is trying to do, tell the story about the other Rajat.”  Friends have turned out in force but are they the right ones?

The PR Verdict: “B” for Rajat Gupta and his friends.  They have made their case well, arguing they want to counterbalance negative prejudicial coverage by presenting a fuller version of Gupta’s business pedigree.  Next time why not find a move diverse group of supporters?

The PR Takeaway:  Diversity broadens reach and lowers risk.  For a man steeped in the business affairs of corporate America it is surprising how few non-south Asian names have signed the letter.  The insider-dealing network of convicted Raj Rajaratnam was partly based on a series of close ties with people who shared the same cultural background.  A few more non-Indian names from big-shot corporate America might have improved the chances of providing Gupta the air cover and distance from the Rajaratnam case that his well meaning friends have stepped in to provide.