How Not to Do an Apology

Wow.  I’ve been away from this blog a LONG TIME.  I’m sorry about that.  I don’t even have a good excuse. Unless you count Saints Row as a valid excuse.  It was just the sort of thing I was trying to avoid when I created this blog, and I let myself down, and others. But I have resolved to do better in 2012 in both quantity (not hard) and quality (also probably not hard). Thank you for sticking with me. I’m sorry.

You see? That wasn’t so hard.  I said I was sorry, and meant it.  I did my best to be humble, acknowledge the particular failings of my actions, and stated how I intended to improve. I took the injured parties into account.  This is how apologies work.  It is how customer service works.

It is also something that Paul Christoforo is completely incapable of doing.  I would link to Paul’s Twitter feed, or his web page, but I know that if the last 24 hours are any indication, he’ll probably have changed them by the time you read this.

I won’t go into the particulars of Paul’s monumental sins. You either are aware of them already or can read about them at the source that set it free on the Internet — Penny Arcade. Here you can find a series of e-mails that represent either the worst or the second worst instance of PR/customer service I’ve ever seen.  I could go on about all the particulars of how Paul got it OH SO WRONG in this exchange, and maybe someday I will.  But not today.

Today is about his “apology.”

As with his other comments, nearly EVERY SINGLE THING he says in his own defense is foolish at best, and an invitation to continued punishment at worst.  I say continued because the collective wrath of the Internet essentially crushed his business hopes and dreams for at least the next half decade by engulfing him in a backlash so immense that he literally (I imagine) crawled on his hands and knees to his keyboard and begged a person he had openly mocked about twelve hours before to please just make it stop.

For a person who claims, nay ADVERTISES, to be an expert at fixing online reputation, working with people, creating a positive image, and honest professionalism, he continues to fail at all counts.  So here, in my blogging return, is my dissection of his apology in a way that he (unlikely) or at least someone (slightly more likely) can learn from, by breaking down a majority of his on the record responses.

“I want to clear my name.”
– You clear your name when you are falsely accused. You screwed the pooch publicly and on the record. Unless you can somehow demonstrate that a one-armed man broke into your home and typed all of those idiotic rantings at Dave and Mike (and others, as we’ll see), your name cannot be cleared.  By some miracle, perhaps it can be forgotten, or your misdeeds expunged.  I hope you meant “wipe the slate clean,” but I doubt it.

“I want to get these people to stop bothering me.”
– Again, YOU CAN’T.  You can’t get them to do anything.  You can’t control them one bit. At best you can embrace, deflect, misdirect, or just ride out the OMGDRAMA.  You can say “I’d like….”  or “I wish…”  but you haven’t the power.  As someone who, again, advertises that he can manipulate the internet and social media, you continue to show a basic lack of understanding of how the internet works.  You can no sooner get it to do something than you can get the ocean to do something.  You can only understand the tides, ride the wind and waves where you want to go, and try not to drown.

“Caught on a bad day.”
-You should already know that no one will buy this.  Since you have been made aware that people are unearthing everything about you, you probably are already aware that other people have already publicized your previous infantile form of customer interaction.  Since you wrote Nate during the event, obviously you know it’s out there.  So claiming that you had “one bad day” is not going to fly when you have the Internet troll pantheon digging up evidence that this is your natural state of being.

“They’ve pretty much ruined me in the past 24 hours.” / “You don’t bring [my two-month old son] into this.”
-These are probably the most perceptive things you have said yet.

“It was humbling a little bit…”
-You wouldn’t know it by reading your quotes and sites, because you fail to demonstrate this everywhere you have a presence online, and have yet to acknowledge the full depth of your missteps.

“It hasn’t affected my business yet; clients have brought it up, but they’ve mainly laughed about it. I haven’t lost any clients.”
-The Internet will probably take this as a personal challenge, especially if you suggest that your clients are “laughing” at the situation. Trust me, any laughter you hear is nervous laughter. Luckily for them, most of your online detractors doubt you have other clients. The rest want to know who they are so they can boycott them.  I would wager that if you have any additional clients, the worst possible thing you could do for them is disclose them at any point within the next three months, because if those clients get ONE SNIFF of the odor coming off you and think your stink might land on their company, you will be gone without hesitation. It would have been smarter to not mention the existence of other clients at all. Suggesting that you will be strong and get through this is one thing, but to put up a tough front and suggest it’s not really affecting you too much, mostly “annoyance” when you JUST SAID they’d “ruined you in the last 24 hours”?  Your perceptions of reality can’t even co-exist with each other for one interview.

“I didn’t know who that guy at Penny Arcade was. If I had known, I would have treated the situation a little better.”
– This is the cream of the crop.  This is something that has stood out from the very first moment, the blackest eye upon you in this whole event. I am flabbergasted that you can be such an unrepentant name-dropper and yet have absolutely no idea of the weight of the very names you are both anteing in with, and up against. To claim to be an industry insider, to claim familiarity of the inner workings of PAX East, to claim that everybody knows everybody and it’s “who you know” in the same instant that you are showing who you clearly DON’T know is the death knell for your credibility. It’s like telling Mickey Mantle that he better watch his mouth because he’s talking to the guy who knows the guy who punches the tickets at the gate at Cooperstown.
And what’s worse, it SHOULDN’T MATTER. It is painfully obvious that power (which you clearly don’t understand) and prestige (which you have lost all hope for) is what is important to you (As horribly demonstrated by “He has a lot of connections. Ones I want, too.” [emphasis added]) Your customers, your clients, your potential clients, and the field of beings known as the public, that you claim to be able to attract and direct, should all be worthy of your respect ALL THE TIME. It is a central weave in the very fabric of customer relations and PR.

“PAX is a great show. What he does is what I’ve been idolizing since I was a kid. It’s admirable he’s put that together.”
-Sucking up is not going to save you, and no one really believes you are in any position to judge how great a show PAX is because you demonstrated your utter lack of awareness regarding it and its origins.

“He called me a bully, but he was being a bully … especially when he emailed me out of the blue, saying ‘That’s f***ing s***ty, you’re banned from PAX,'”
-This, and all the other expletive-laden quotes you attribute to Mike show that you are either A.) deluded, B.) in a constant aggressive state of adrenaline-filled fight or flight response all the time (which is not helpful in PR or customer relations), or C.) flat out lying to try to save your ass.  Because, you see, the e-mails are all right there on Penny Arcade’s website from the get-go. Mike swears once. In amazement at your contemptuous behavior. All the swearing, all the hostility, all the “IN YOUR FACE” is IN YOUR HEAD. You are the one who responds with insults and chest-thumping. And it’s all right there for the world to read.
I also am amazed that you cannot see the disconnect between your taking Mike’s right of refusal to let you take part in an event of which he is the proprietor as a disrespectful threat and your supposition that it would be only proper that YOUR clientele in the form of Dave should sit down and shut up because if he doesn’t, you’re going to take his Avenger controllers and sell them on eBay or not let him re-order at the lower price.  If that sort of behavior is uncalled for, why are you doing it to people as a matter of course?

Name-dropping meant to “impress, not to threaten”
-This only has a snowball’s chance of working if you ACTUALLY know these people, ACTUALLY have their support, and don’t have them publicly disavowing you moments after becoming uncomfortably aware of you.

“you can’t see tone of voice in email”
-Huh.  You’d think somebody whose business is internet dealings would be better at getting their true point across.

“I don’t know the mayor of Boston,” he admitted. “…I am from Boston, though, and I know a lot of people who own clubs. I know some influential people, like the guy who runs the door at the convention center.
-If you had any credibility left, it would die of starvation here. You have slid in your sphere of influence from the mayor of Boston to ‘the guy who runs the door.’ If anyone actually cared about that, that person wouldn’t even believe you at this point. I would like to take a moment to offer you a grasp at true humanity here.  Please, please PLEASE give up on your quest for “influence.” You come off as someone who desperately wants to “be somebody.”  And the more you broadcast this, the more it shows that you clearly aren’t, at least not somebody anybody WANTS to be associated with. Arguments about “who you know” aside (and we’ve already diagnosed that one), the most valuable person you should be able to offer anyone is yourself. If all you can offer is access, then you are merely a middle man, a gatekeeper at the best of times, and no one will honestly respect you for it. The only truly unique thing you can offer your clients is you, and that is what you have to build up from these ashes.

“Maybe it was because it was email, maybe on the phone it would have been different story … it would have nipped everything in the bud.”
“If this didn’t get escalated to Penny Arcade, it would have never gone viral like it did.”
-Probably because it would have been harder to publish on the Internet and turn you into a lightning rod. In other words, you wouldn’t have been called out.  But as far as a phone call goes, given that you had a name, an e-mail address, and information that could have verified Mike’s identity, I find it hard to believe that you would have been any less condescending or belittling, able or willing to recognize Mike’s unique position of actual power and authenticity in a phone call.  In fact, I imagine it would have gone far worse for everyone.

“Ultimately, if I was able to control the customer, it never would have happened.”
-Again, “control.”  It’s all power and dominance to you. Try substituting for “control” the words “placate,” “satisfy,” “work with,” “resolve the problem for,” or even “answer the question of” and see how much better those sound. Your opportunity to “dictate terms” to a customer is at the onset of the transaction, when you make your claims as to what, when, and how much in regards to your product.  Once you fail in your obligation, you are on the penitent end of the stick.

“I’ve dealt with thousands and thousands of customers with similar complaints”
-WHY IN GOD’S NAME WOULD YOU ADMIT THIS?!  Do you know the very DEFINITION of P.R.?

“I still love the gaming community, and this is not going to change my mind.”
-Damn, cuz’ we were hoping.  Please do not suggest you are not going to change as a result of all this, because remember (actually, I’m not sure I can say that because it suggest that there was a first point where you realized you were wrong) that YOU are in the wrong. YOU NEED to be learning a lesson, and to change the way you think and do things, or NONE OF THIS WILL STOP, which is what you want, isn’t it?

“Not to put anyone down, but I don’t know what kind of lives these people have.”
“It’s like a parody of Barack Obama.”
-You may be hopeless. So much for humbling.  Again, you’re taking barely concealed shots at your “enemies,” while simultaneously likening yourself to the President of the United States. Noooo….. it’s like a parody of Rebecca Black. Or Richard Heene. These are people who on some level felt they deserved the spotlight they thought they were stepping into only to find the lights were really an oncoming truck. (To be fair, I personally feel Rebecca Black was unintentionally thrown into the public consciousness and has handled her situation with IMMENSE grace, poise, and self assurance, and I in fact wish her the very best).

“If it gets me somewhere else that I wouldn’t have been where this happened … it’s negative now, but controversy and bad news is news and that’s just the way it is. Look at all the bad press from people in [the] entertainment industry that turned into something good. Whether I do charity work or something good, I don’t know.”
– Fabulous.  Thanks for admitting that you are mulling over how to spin this or turn it to your advantage by possibly taking on some sort of token public service. Can’t wait to see you take and post two dozen pictures of yourself writing out a five-dollar check to Child’s Play.

“At the end of the day, I’m a human being, and it feels like the entire world was bullying me,” he said. “I want people to like me, I don’t want people to think I’m a bad person. … I made a mistake. … I hope I can make something positive out of it.
“Christoforo has entertained the idea of doing some Internet videos himself, and even considered going to PAX East, held in Boston this April, with a shirt tauntingly saying ‘I’m Paul Christoforo’ on it. ‘I’m not sure I’d actually do that, since I don’t want to get in any fights,’ he clarified.”
-There is one, AND ONLY ONE, way you can get into PAX in a way that will do you any good, and it is this: If you, with great humility and sincerity, pitch to Penny Arcade the idea of you sitting for fourteen hours a day, every day of the convention, in a dunk tank where people can buy softballs for $1 a pop for the chance to dunk you into a pool of water (if you’re lucky) and have ALL the proceeds go to charity. (Child’s Play, most likely). You’re a scuba guy, and you’re into the water themes, so it all makes sense even for your brand (what’s left of it). You want a shot at redemption and turning it around with the guys who have you by the balls? This is it.

——————

I realize that, should this blog entry cross your screen, this is probably the largest amount of text you have ever seen in blog form that you didn’t plagiarize for your own company’s blog (by the way, if you want to get out of your hole, you’re going to want to stop doing that). But if you do, you should know that even though you may not believe it, the Internet actually wants you to succeed — the right way. People love a train wreck, but they also love a deserved comeback.  Unless you learn lessons other than the ones you stated at the end of the MSNBC article, you will only ever be the first half of that equation.

Welcome to the Internet.

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Author of over sixty children's books, as well writer of textbook materials and standardized exam text. I may have helped teach your children...

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One comment on “How Not to Do an Apology
  1. Sara says:

    Bravo! Exactly my feelings upon reading the interview. “Controlling the customer” and the idea of controlling the internet… not only are these ideas impossibilities, they are delusional – almost megalomaniacal. He seems to have an utter lack of self-perception, other than perceiving himself as the demi-god of guys-that-run-doors-at-convention-centers.

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