World Cup PR woes as fans catch ART offside

ART’s failure to address customers’ World Cup complaints could do long term damage to its image, writes Steve Wrelton

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By  Steve Wrelton Published  June 25, 2006

World Cup PR woes as fans catch ART offside|~|TRACCS200.jpg|~|TRACCS’ Mohamed Al Ayed|~|World Cup broadcaster ART has got everyone who loves football in the Middle East talking for the wrong reasons. Whether it’s broadcasts that cut out, an aggressive pricing policy, a lack of on-screen clocks and scorelines, or problems with subscriptions and the customer call centre, ART has managed to alienate a lot of people. In the Saudi city of Madinah, a crowd of angry fans reportedly turned up outside ART’s offices to protest about signal disruptions. And in Dubai, tabloid newspaper 7Days was prompted into launching a campaign because English-speaking viewers complained that they couldn’t see the time or the score on screen. But instead of engaging with customers and the media to help communicate its messages successfully, ART appears to have adopted a head-in-the-sand approach. According to Mohamed Al Ayed, CEO of TRACCS in Saudi Arabia, PR preparations that took into account any technological or customer service fears should have been made well in advance. “It’s been a major catastrophe. When you have something like the World Cup that people wait every four years to see, obviously somewhere in the chain they should have known that some things were going to be an issue and whether they were going to be prepared from a PR point of view,” he says. “PR is about managing expectations and when these things happen you have to create solutions. Also, a lot of companies here, not just ART, respond to a crisis when it happens, when in actual fact you have to anticipate it before it happens.” “You have to communicate from the beginning,” he adds, “I’d say that 70% of crises are not because the crisis itself takes place, it’s because of a late response to the crisis — that’s why they blow up.” Louay Al Samarrai, managing director of Active PR in Dubai, says that one reason why so many viewers have become angered so easily is because ART was too aggressive in its pre-match media relations. “I think it’s very unfortunate that they seem to have spent a lot of money in securing the rights, but haven’t thought it through from A-Z in terms of the customer’s perspective and experience,” he says. “They were so self-congratulatory when they got the World Cup and then they issued edicts about not watching it on pirate stations, it was all very aggressive and not very well handled from the start. What they should have been doing is working with the media and communicating what the difficulties a broadcaster can face during an event like this — they should be communicating how people can maximise their viewing experience.” ART’s customer woes have been widely reported by the newspapers, but often with no response from ART. ART’s marketing director Maher Bardawil, admits that relations with the media could have been better conducted. He says: “I wished that we had used the media more effectively, but we did what we did in the given circumstances. The media is very important, it reflects the customers and I would like to have more dialogue in the future.” Stephen Worsley, general manmager at Polaris Public Relations, says it is important for companies not to adopt a siege mentality towards the media. “When questions are put to you that relate to customer service and performance you need to demonstrate that there’s an open channel of communication, that you’re seen to be responding and you’re seen to be concerned. That is definitely a PR failing — it’s one of the PR basics.” According to Eileen Wallis, managing director of The Portsmouth Group, the episode has revealed how important it is for companies to have designated spokesmen who can be properly quoted in the press. “Every company needs to have a spokesman because in every business there is the potential for things to go wrong, it’s very straightforward, and we have seen from this ART issue that when things go wrong they go wrong in a big way and then they get reported on. It’s like waving a red flag at the regional media.” For some, the damage done to ART’s image will be long term. Customers will remember their World Cup experience and look for services from other providers, although ART’s monopoly hold on broadcasting the World Cup, which it has secured for the next two tournaments, makes this difficult. “Ultimately, I think that ART will suffer, especially when all the subscription packages die in a year’s time — they’re not going to get many renewals, in fact a lot of people will migrate to other bouquets,” says Al Samarrai. “The next World Cup won’t be for another four years, but I think there could be a backlash and someone will say to FIFA, ‘look, these guys bungled it last time, let’s have somebody else much better’.” Worsley says that while a lack of competitive urgency may have been behind ART’s lacklustre response, it is short-sighted for a firm to assume that it will always be the exclusive provider of a service. “You never know how the market will change, it might well become more competitive and sometimes people have long memories. If there’s more choice next time around then maybe people won’t go flooding to ART and the others that have let them down. “People who are dissatisfied with services can also club together,” he adds. “We’ve seen this in the real estate industry. If people aren’t satisfied with the information they’re getting, then they can club together to make their voice more powerful. Then companies find that they have to make even more concessions in order to placate everybody.” Wallis argues that it is never too late for a company to repair the damage, which she believes should sometimes start with an apology. “It’s difficult in this market to admit fault over anything,” she says. “But it’s a really powerful gesture for the head of a company to stand up and say ‘we’re sorry we’ve not met your expectations — and this is what we’re going to do to fix it or this is why we can’t fix it’. “If everyday there are customers feeling aggrieved, then you have to act to resurrect as many of those relationships as you can. Once you lose people’s goodwill, then potentially it’s gone forever.” ||**||

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