When Ocean Marketing's Paul Christoforo went off on a PS3 customer via email, he probably thought no one else would ever read his boastful, bullying and highly misspelled rant. As a lesson to customer service and PR pros everywhere, he was wrong.
In a PR debacle that must be heightening schadenfreude everywhere, undoubtedly PR pros and customer service aficionados are saying, "Our service may not be that great, but at least we're not Christoforo at Ocean Marketing." If there were a PR blooper reel entitled How to Frak Up Your PR Career, this guy would be all over it.
The kerfuffle began blandly enough, with a customer Dave emailing Paul Christoforo at Ocean Marketing to determine if his pre-ordered and fully pre-paid PS3 controllers would be shipped in early December as promised. However, at Christoforo's first cryptic response of "december 17" and following messages, it became clear that not only would Dave not be receiving his pre-paid order by Christmas, but Ocean Marketing would not be handling the query with aplomb. Christoforo tore into Dave in response to his questions:
so put on your big boy hat and wait it out like everyone else. The benefit is a token of our appreaciation for everyone no one is special including you or any first time buyer . Feel free to cancel we need the units were back ordered 11,000 units so your 2 will be gone fast. Maybe I’ll put them on eBay for 150.00 myself. Have a good day Dan.
You just got told bitch … welcome to the real internet check kotaku in 2 weeks when they are reviewing free PS3 Avengers we send them as well as G4 and all the other majors hell yeah , don’t forget to check Amazon, gamestop.com, play n trade , Myers , Frys and a ton of other local stores coming your way you think you speak for billions son your just a kid you speak for yourself no one cares what you think that’s why were growing and moving 20-50 thousand controllers a month. We do value our customers but sometimes we get children like you we just have to put you in the corner with your im stupid hat on. See you at CES , E3 , Pax East ….? Oh wait you have to ask mom and pa dukes your not an industry professional and you have no money on snap you just got told.
At this point, Dave had already forwarded the email conversation to Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade, who got involved, saying "Dave, if this guy has a booth at Pax east we will cancel it." Christoforo's response to Krahulik (also the producer of PAX) was, predictably and yet incredibly, still more posturing and bullying threats:
Were in 6 countries and you’re not going to take my money for a booth that’s a crock I can guarantee I’ll get a booth if I want one money buys a lot and connections go even further. He’s a native Bostonian from Little Italy . Who are you again ? [Note: he's writing the organizer of the PAX conference]
I’ll see space where ever I want , with who I want when I want and where I want so many ways around you and so many connections in this industry its silly. Anyway , I have no issue with you Sean Buckley Engadget, Scott Lowe IGN and the list goes on and on. Little kids unhappy with a PRE ORDER starting trouble and you email that to us , he’s a customer unless you’re his boyfriend then you should side with the company not the customer. Be Careful
Christoforo would have done well to take his own advice. Every name he dropped (including Kotaku and IGN) has disavowed him, and David Kotkin, the inventor of the controller that Dave originally ordered, has publicly fired Christoforo and Ocean Marketing: “We apologize for our poor representation from Ocean Marketing. We wanted to give Paul a chance. He was rough around the edges, but he had drive and enthusiasm. However his behavior was unprovoked, unnecessary, and unforgivable. We are no longer represented by Ocean Marketing.”
Not surprisingly, Christoforo did not show wisdom or restraint in response to IGN's public disavowal:
The Examiner has an excellent timeline of the kerfuffle, which is still unfolding. In spite of half-hearted apologies Christoforo ended up making to both Dave and Krahulik, he continues to spew braggadocio from his public Twitter account (since changed to @OceanStratagy), rising to the bait that his detractors throw at him. Christoforo's take all along seems to be that he is important and well-connected and therefore under no obligation to treat end users with any level of respect. He is out making these big deals, so anyone who disagrees with him is a nobody. Um... except every name he's dropped has dropped him. The Examiner concludes:
Regardless of how savvy or connected one thinks they may be, the internet has a way of leveraging enough fury to shatter even the most foolproof business plan - even if that plan seems centered on defrauding customers of their pre-purchased products and then being a complete asshat about it when failing to deliver.
I don't know about you, but I'm wondering if there is any defense for Christoforo's actions. The initial email exchange could be written off as having a bad day and presumably a lack of education regarding grammar, punctuation and basic communication skills. But to stick to one's guns, even after the entire Internet, gaming blogs, gaming conference organizers, and his own cited sales connections have gone against one is a little crazy. What could he be thinking? He told Gamerfront that his job "isn’t really to deal with individual customers like Dave, but rather to strike deals with companies like GameStop and BestBuy. Those companies are buying his wares, so he 'doesn’t care about anyone else.' Why? Because as long as his products are on store shelves, people will buy them."
That may be true, but they won't buy you. Your reputation is all you have, because no one is buying the bluster any more.
Even after insincere apologies to Krahulik at Penny Arcade/PAX, Christoforo just doesn't seem to get that he did anything wrong. After begging Krahulik to "make it [the Internet] stop," Christoforo pulls out his wife and newborn as a reason for his actions--a dirty and unconvincing tactic. I have to agree with Krahulik's assessment of the situation:
I think there is a big difference between being sorry and being sorry you got caught. I have a real problem with bullies. I spent my childhood moving from school to school and I got made fun of everyplace I landed. I feel like Paul is a bully and maybe that’s why I have no sympathy here. Someday every bully meets and even bigger bully and maybe that’s me in this case.
It's not just you; it's public opinion in general. Sometimes, putting a bully's idiotic actions in the spotlight is exactly what needs to be done.
Update 12:20 PM 12-28-11: There is now a meme based on Christoforo
Update 12:26 PM 12-28-11: In response to a query from Joel Johnson, editorial director of Kotaku, Brandon Leidel, director of marketing at Avenger Controller, wrote:
I have been following this story since this morning when someone notified me about what was going on. I did not write that response to you.
Yes, in the past I received email at email@example.com but even then we were an outsourced marketing agency for N-Control. I no longer receive email at that address because we fired N-Control as a client about 8 months ago due to constant shipping delays (which we had to deal with) and their association with Paul Cristoforo who is a street thug masquerading as a self proclaimed "Marketing Professional". This guy is a complete fool and somehow strong armed his way into working with the company so we walked away. I am not surprised in the slightest bit by what's going on right now. In fact, we told the owners of the company on many occasions that this would eventually happen.
I wasn't going to chime in but since he is replying as me, I can't resist. I personally can't stand him.
Brandon Leidel - CEO, Director of Operations
The HAND Media, Inc.
Update 1:35 PM 12-28-11: Geico riffs on the kerfuffle, turning the PR laughingstock to their own PR advantage (via Twitter, of course). Now this is how to have a sense of humor via social media. PR folks, take note.
Update 1:41 PM 12-28-11: Now Cheezburger has its own dedicated Paul the PR Guy site. Seriously.
Update 4:37 PM 12-29-11: I wrote a follow up to this post at Spoken Communications from the customer service point of view with suggestions as to how to chose a marketing/customer service rep to avoid big fails like this one.
Update 9:51 AM 1-2-12: Christoforo is still at it and still doesn't seem to understand that no, NOT all publicity is good publicity. He's taken to holding N-Control's social media and internet sites hostage, trying to extort a settlement from the company's new (and far more ethical) PR rep, Moisés Chiullan.