Netflix: From Doghouse to Darling

netflix Netflix: From Doghouse to Darling

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Netflix, for making its own luck.

Sometimes, the famously fickle PR gods send you a gift, and if you’re lucky, smart, or both, you’ll get a chance to use it. This week’s beneficiary: Netflix. Two years ago, the video streaming and DVD rental company was a case study – literally – on how to fail a thriving enterprise, with questionable pricing and business decisions that sent subscribers stampeding for the exits. Netflix became the poster child for PR ignorance and customer neglect, losing nearly one million subscribers over a matter of months.

Then, a chastened Netflix started to turn it around. It reversed unpopular business decisions and issued a sincere (and persistent) mea culpa. It aligned its communications strategy with its business plan, breaking new ground for a streaming service by providing original content. Today, its subscriber base surpasses HBO’s and its stock price is six times what it was only a year ago. Quarterly earnings are next week.

And the gift? Just a humorous online chat between a funny, friendly, and helpful Netflix customer service representative and a user with a video playback problem. A screenshot of the Star Trek-themed dialogue was posted online on Imgur and Reddit and is getting wider attention. Netflix is getting free publicity from it – earned the hard way, and through hard work.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Netflix, for a turnaround in tone, culture, and attitude that turned around its business.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Good communication is contagious. Netflix’s earnest soul-searching two years ago, translated into words and actions, now appears to touch even the most routine business activities. Granted, maybe not all of Netflix’s help calls end as happily – customer service is a weak spot for many firms. But this exchange garnered publicity precisely because it speaks to a prevailing positive mindset that has formed about the company, one that seems to attract great employees as well as loyal, happy customers. Netflix provides an object lesson in how good conmunications helps throughout an organization. Its little PR gift also confirms that luck doesn’t just happen; you make your own.

IRS’s Reputation Taxed by Scandal

 IRSs Reputation Taxed by Scandal

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the IRS.

The United States Internal Revenue Service has never been the most popular government entity, but lately its reputation has taken a severe shellacking. The first problem came to light a few months ago, when it was revealed that the IRS had been targeting the Tea Party and other conservative political groups, putting their finances under close scrutiny. But on the PR embarrassment scale, that was nothing compared to the Star Trek video.

As the IRS finds itself under close scrutiny, a series of mortifying gaffes are now on public display. An astounding $50 million, all taxpayer money, was spent during 2010 and 2012 on 225 IRS conferences. The expenditures included training – or, rather, a rah-rah ha-ha training video with a Star Trek theme. And line dancing classes at the conferences. And baseball tickets, and stays in presidential suites for conference attendees, and a “happiness expert” who cost over $11,000. The list goes on and, unfortunately, on.

The congressional hearings investigating the conservative targeting are the equivalent of an audit for the IRS, and as with anyone else, the unpleasant receipts are being discovered. Daniel Werfel, the new IRS head, said he took the job because he thought he could be helpful. “The IRS is an agency in need right now,” he said in an understatement, in between apologies and explanations that can’t begin to defray the damage.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the IRS. The government entity will have a long road of recovery after shooting itself in the foot.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Think before you line dance – or make a video of it. The scrutiny of conservative groups is now being blamed on orders “from Washington”; if true, the resulting issues were unavoidable. But the silly, expensive training videos, the line dancing, the happiness expert? Someone along the way must have asked what this would look like to the outside world, or should have. In PR, an ounce of prevention is far more effective than ten pounds of damage control. At this point, confession and sincere apologies won’t make a dent in the IRS’s accounts.

To see the IRS Star Trek video, click here.