By Fraser P. Seitel
Samsung is having a tough month.
First, the technology company lost a billon big ones to everybody’s arch enemy Apple, when the jury in its landmark case found that many of Samsung's phones and tablets copied Apple's iPhone and iPad.
Second, the Samsung public relations department and its agency, Weber Shandwick, were raked over the coals by New York Times writer David Segal, who writes something called “The Haggler” column, which airs complaint letters from disgruntled product buyers.
The particular Haggler item in question concerned a Samsung printer that went defective right after the expiration of the warranty.
When “Haggler” Segal followed up with Samsung, he got a public relations person named Rachel Quinlan, who worked for Weber Shandwick. Quinlan, as a good public relations representative, was polite and agreed to research Segal’s inquiry. She asked, however, that she be referred to in print as a “spokesperson.”
And that’s when the Haggler went haywire.
As Segal put it in his column, “Really? A spokesperson – a person who speaks for a living – who wants to be anonymous? Not only does this sound ridiculous, it also makes Samsung seem tin-eared. Actually, that is unfair to tin which is far more supple than Samsung in this circumstance.”
Now clearly, Segal is not the second coming of Chris Rock, his attempt at humor only slightly funnier than Mitt Romney’s recent knee slappers. But that’s understandable.
What is less understandable is his instant revulsion at the use of “spokesperson” by a public relations person who, hopefully, is trying diligently to get answers to a journalist’s query.
PR people desire the anonymity as “spokespersons” for numerous bureaucratic reasons, some of which may or may not make sense to reporters. The company has policies that the agency can’t speak for it. Their boss is a jerk, who doesn’t like seeing your name in print. Whatever.
The real point is that as long as the PR person provides the reporter with a fair and accurate and truthful answer to his query – who cares who gave him the information? The fact is that PR people can be a lot more candid if they know they can trust a journalist to honor their request for some degree of anonymity.
In this case, the fact that Quinlan agreed to be quoted as a “Samsung spokesperson” should have been perfectly acceptable to Segal
Here is Segal’s cockamamie logic to explain his chagrin at the anonymous term.
“What consumers and the Haggler want when products break is some sense that human beings are trying to fix them.”
The question that follows, of course, is what does Quinlan’s request for anonymity have to do with “human beings” fixing the product? As savvy as Quinlan might be, I suspect that she is not a trained fixer of printers. But one would hope that as Samsung’s PR representative, she would attempt to have “human beings” at the company investigate the problem and indeed, try to “fix them.”
At the very least, she should follow up with Segal and try to satisfy the customer who lodged the complaint in the first place.
Which, as it turned out, is exactly what Quinlan did.
As quoted by Segal in the column, the Weber Shandwick executive promised to call the customer and send a technician – also presumably a “human being” – to investigate the problem.
When the technician’s visit didn’t result in success, Quinlan reported, again as quoted by Segal, that the customer “has accepted our offer of an exchange unit so that we can bring this printer and cartridge to our labs and conduct tests to investigate the problem.”
Now if I were a Samsung customer and the company made that offer to me – especially after it just lost $1 billion clams to Apple – I’d be ecstatic.
But not, Segal. “The Haggler detects a lawyerly quality to the wording here,” he wrote, and he went on with additional questions about additional models, which had nothing to do with the original complainant and his original complaint.
Quinlan ended the correspondence with a terse, “At this point we have nothing more to share.”
And who can blame her – besides, no surprise, Segal?
Alas, the issue of PR anonymity has been around for decades.
It’s unlikely that any holier-than-thou reporter will ever understand why a PR person might prefer to be referred to as “spokesperson.”
And it’s probably equally unlikely that any unsophisticated, mouth-breathing PR creep will ever understand why a learned journalist would choose to call himself, “the Haggler.”