Before you read my blog post: Since writing this post this morning, I’ve read some comments on Twitter and on blogs complaining about “misguided outrage” related to this story. But as someone who has been observing the online conversation evolve over the past 24 hours, I don’t see any “outrage” about the whole thing at all. What I have seen since I first blogged about this early in the day on Saturday is a limited amount of fairly mild critical commentary from those who simply believe Nikon handled this wrong. Some of the criticism is from the perspective of mom-consumers, but in my own case, I was really interested in it primarily as a mini case study in how brands can do a better job at creating relationships with niche online communities, and that’s the way I offered my views.
So let me reiterate what I said in my original post; just because I think Nikon fumbled this one in terms of PR, I am in no way suggesting that anyone avoid buying Nikon’s products, and I am certainly not saying that Nikon meant any harm, or that anyone was harmed. My point was very limited in scope, and it addressed only one thing – my opinion that Nikon bungled the planning and execution of this single promotional event for bloggers. In my view, any time a corporate party host ends up having to literally turn away one or more of its INVITED media guests, there has been a planning misfire somewhere. And when you do it at the premiere national event for women bloggers, that misfire is going to give that corporate party host some degree of negative viral conversation, which is something no company wants. Certainly, some may disagree with my assessment that Nikon should have handled this differently in order to achieve better return on their investment in this promotional event, but please don’t mischaracterize my tone or intent in expressing my take on the matter. Thanks – Katie
I’ve blogged previously about how brands and PR agencies continue to struggle with how to effectively connect with the mombloggers whose audience and influence they want to tap into. The most common bungle is a poorly targeted or badly executed pitch, along the lines of the one I got recently from a marketing firm who emailed me (ME!!!) to ask if I’d be interested in promoting infant formula on this blog.
But last night, at the big BlogHer conference in Chicago, where many of the world’s best-known and most-read mombloggers are meeting up, and where many big brands are vying for the bloggers’ attention with parties and swag, Nikon offered up a wholly new kind of mom-related PR bungle. It seems that several women attending the conference were literally turned away from the Nikon party to which they had been invited. Why? Because the restaurant at which Nikon decided to hold the party has a “no babies allowed” policy, and these invited bloggers had the nerve to actually show up with babes in arms. Nikon’s people even declined to let at least one of these baby-totin’ bloggers so much as get into the limo that the brand had sent over to the BlogHer hotel to pick up their “guests.”
So to recap, Nikon held an invitation-only, evening event to promote their brand to, and curry favor with high-influence MOMMYbloggers, but then the brand’s event planners literally disallowed women with babies from attending, even though the whole point of Nikon’s party was to make friends with the bloggers and encourage them to promote Nikon products. When planning their party, did Nikon maybe think that BlogHer was actually a conference for 62-year old male bloggers who mostly write about the stock market? Because to be sure, those guys wouldn’t likely have babies with them, or need/want to bring them to a party. But mombloggers? Women who blog about their babies for their readers who have babies? Uh, yeah. Some of these women are pretty likely to have babies on board. Duh.
It would have been ill-advised enough had Nikon simply suggested to invitees that they leave their babies behind (you know, maybe back at the hotel bar, tossing back a few cosmopolitans with the other babies whom Nikon shut out). But Nikon took it a step further and actually refused to let women into the limo and party if they showed up with a baby.
Because Nikon’s PR firm, or maybe their own internal marketing staff made this careless mistake, the promotional money Nikon spent on that event, and on BlogHer in general may have bought them instead a growing buzz of negative viral conversation about Nikon, spiraling out from the very group of high-influence mombloggers they were trying to impress with the fancy party and swag. Not only did the brand fail to gain any goodwill with these important mombloggers, the “No Babies Allowed” incident is now gaining an online audience this morning, as BlogHer attendees Tweet about it, and the huge audience of women who read them begin re-tweeting and blogging it. There is even a new Twitter hashtag since last night, devoted entirely to discussion of Nikon’s baby-banning ways. It’s #NikonHatesBabies. (NOTE: to clarify, the blogger who started the #NikonHatesBabies hashtag says in the comments below this post that she actually meant it as a tongue in cheek thing, but then other Twitterers took it and ran with it. From the perspective of Nikon’s PR efforts, the second part of that series of events is the one that really matters.)
Let me be clear that I am not trying to paint Nikon as some sort of corporate bad guy. I’m not suggesting that anyone avoid their products or badmouth the brand, and I have no idea whether Nikon is or is not a company that in general does a good job supporting family-friendly events and promotions. However, I am saying that the single example of the brand’s social media outreach efforts that I’m criticizing was very badly planned and executed. Period. Maybe it was a one-off mistake -albeit a very public one – but if I ran Nikon’s PR efforts, I’d be asking some questions today.
If I had been in charge of planning Nikon’s BlogHer event, it would have been held at a restaurant that not only allows babies, but welcomes them. Because, really, telling moms – whom you have only invited in the first place so you can try to get them to say nice things about you – that they can’t bring their babies with them isn’t very social at all.
Addendum: in the comments below, a very good point is made (one I should have addressed in my post), and that is that, as both an event and a company, BlogHer is VERY baby-friendly and mother-friendly. The very progressive, smart women who run BlogHer should not in any way be tied to the Nikon flub.
As the commenter astutely notes:
“BlogHer’s conference is both very baby-friendly and inclusive. The conference offers a lactation lounge and childcare, and last year one of the panelists breastfed while speaking on her panel. What a company chooses to do off-site is NOT representative of the conference on the whole, and I hope Nikon’s mistake isn’t viewed as BlogHer’s mistake.”
Of course, the fact that Nikon’s event was held within the context of a conference that IS so explicitly and proactively welcoming of women with babies and children who want to attend and participate makes Nikon’s PR screw-up even more difficult to figure out.