Wow. This one is hard to believe. Authors of PR textbooks, get ready to add to your "Bad PR Case Studies" chapter.
Stuart Dorland, founder of 24 Hours of Adrenaline, a race promotion company, has decided to suspend professional endurance racer Jeff Kerkove for one year. The reason? Jeff expressed his opinions about the high-price of Stuart's events in an MTBR forum. Dorland, afraid Jeff's comments would hurt his company's image, engaged Jeff in series of personal emails that ended up in Jeff being suspended immediately...just days before the 24 hour world championships. (Read more on Kerkove's blog).
Given what I've heard and read, this is a bad decision by Dorland. Kerkove is influential and respected in the endurance racing community. Along with being one of the top racers in the country and a true evangelist for 24 hour racing, he has a popular blog, he's a shop mechanic, he's active in Internet forums and he's a race promoter. Kerkove is the archetypal opinion leader, an influencer, a network hub, he's all the marketing buzzwords rolled up into one. He is the LAST guy any company should alienate.
The painful irony for Dorland is that he suspended Kerkove out of fear that his comments would influence a lot of people...but now it's that same influence that will damage the brand and bottom line of Dorland's company. Just read the posts to the MTBR thread...the dog-pile has already begun.
Note to Dorland and others:
There is a new reality in the marketplace. It's called a conversation and you don't own it any longer. Your customers are not just passive recipients of your goods and services. They have a voice that is more powerful than ever because of blogs, forums and the rise of consumer generated media. You have the choice to either engage, respect and listen to your customers, or ignore them and treat them like dirt. If you want to make money and be successful, I strongly recommend the former.
My advice to Dorland. If you think your decision is justified, explain it to the community, but if you think you made a bad decision, it's not too late to change it. If I were you I'd apologize to Jeff then send him a first class plane ticket to Worlds and buy him a few pints when he gets there.