(Note: The following is a combined contribution from Chris Thilk, Christopher Barger and Doug Haslam)
It’s a pretty predictable pattern these days: A company of some sort gets called on the carpet for some pretty bad press outreach and the mistakes are blamed on an intern. In the most recent example, a national publication made the mistake of, in the process of reaching out to bloggers with an offer of some free samples, requesting that if the writers didn’t wind up having anything positive to say about what they were sent they should hold their tongues entirely. And apparently, according to the brand’s spokesperson, no one was reviewing the communications being sent out by the interns. Otherwise, we’re told, this request would never have been included.
We’ve all been involved in enough outreach and sampling programs to know that the idea messaging wouldn’t be reviewed by numerous people (especially after having been drafted by an intern) is completely ridiculous. And if an intern is solely responsible for this sort of activity or is going off the reservation and adding their own caveats to a program being run on behalf of an advertiser then there are bigger institutional problems that need to be dealt with. (Not to mention that they probably ought to be exercise better judgment in their intern hiring!)
More than that, though, this case should poke more than enough holes in one of the biggest notions some marketers have, which is that young people inherently know how to use social media and therefore should be running with near-autonomy those programs. Yes, they may be more adept at navigating social networks and are comfortable sharing things online than many older folks (myself included). But that doesn’t necessarily translate to an ability to use those media on behalf of corporate or client programs. That takes a level of training that doesn’t come naturally to many people. As what happened here shows us, there are still best practices to adhere to.
Another thing that stuck out in the example that inspired this post; the intern being blamed was an “advertising” intern. While we’re loathe to get into the territorial squabbles among PR, marketing and advertising partisans (and IT, HR, C-Suite, et al) when it comes to owning social media, for a program like this the goal of only positive coverage- a reality only in the world of paid media- is not a realistic one. Rather, it insults the intended sample recipients, rather than trusting that your products (and your selection of “ambassadors”) would be enough to get positive results, rather than faking it through brute force.