Hallmark’s painful PR lesson
I’ve written before about the necessity of having your PR team at the table when big decisions are being made. I can’t help but believe the executives at The Hallmark Channel forgot this. If I am wrong and someone from PR was present, then they made a terrible error in judgment or they simply weren’t listened to. In 2019, I just cannot imagine how any company could have thought it was a good idea to cave to complaints from a conservative group offended by advertising for the wedding planning site Zola that ended with a short kiss between two gay women.
A check of the website for the One Million Moms group that complained about the ad finds them launching boycotts and petition drives against other TV networks and businesses almost monthly. The list of their targets is long and includes ABC, Fox, The CW, VH1, Kit Kat, Hotels.com and Chick-fil-A.
Faced with the OMM petition, Hallmark pulled the ad, then flip flopped and put it back on the air. The about face was the right move, but by then the damage had been done. Ignoring the complaint or fighting back from the get-go would have been better choices.
Choosing to ignore a situation is a strategic PR move that should not be made without first conducting a risk assessment to determine if the controversy has the potential to cause real damage or quickly fade with the next news cycle. It’s so very hard to stay quiet when being attacked, but sometimes it is the best way to avoid a big PR crisis, especially if granting the remedy sought by the complaint would compromise company principles, image or brand.
Fighting back is also a strategic PR move, but when used appropriately it can turn the situation in your favor. Just imagine how things would have gone down if Hallmark had stood by its initial decision to air the ads. OMM would still not be happy, but there would have been no counter campaign. Instead, influencers like Ellen DeGeneres, William Shatner and others who took to social media to condemn Hallmark for removing the ads, would have probably commended the popular cable network for standing firm and being transparent.
In this instance, I would have recommended fighting back. Implementation would have included a video statement from Hallmark’s CEO aired on…