We’ve seen all kinds of business crises in the past several weeks, from the #Amazonfail glitch that took over Twitter to the Domino’s Pizza social media storm. But, from a PR perspective, it doesn’t get much worse than having your brand be the descriptor for a horrifying crime. Yes, it’s happened before to Craigslist, and maybe it comes with the territory, but the recent case of a Boston University med student being charged with murdering a woman he met through an “erotic services” ad on the site has triggered scrutiny of Craigslist business practices as well as its crisis management methods.
Craigslist has been the target of scathing remarks by law enforcement officials and legislators; the Connecticut Attorney General demanded that the site stop “pimping and prostitution.” In marketing circles, its PR strategy has been questioned, in particular its choice to put its CEO out in front of the story, rather than popular and visible founder Craig Newmark. It’s also been accused of a too-tepid response to the situation.
I don’t blame the team for not wanting Newmark to bear the brunt of the corporate response here (although he has appeared in some national TV interviews about the incident); why risk squandering his equity by making him the Defender in Chief? And, it’s critically important that any business crisis involving a death (no matter how removed) be handled with caution and sensitivity, lest it look like the company’s blaming the victim. Craigslist should keep channeling its response to those who would use its classified services to commit criminal acts, as it did in a BusinessWeek report. But, the bottom line is, it will obviously continue to be vulnerable to crimes against its brand due to the nature of its business.
It needs to rethink its erotic services business, or consider far greater security measures than it has in the past, and to trumpet them loudly. This is a case where a business decision must be made, and the PR strategy will follow.