Written by Neil McLeod • Published 14th March 2014 • 3 minute read

The tweeted response from Argos to a customer making a complaint in written ‘street slang’ worked like a charm – although it was a risk.

In case you haven’t heard the story, a customer called Imran Bugti tweeted the high street store’s official Twitter feed moaning about the lack of PlayStation 4 consoles for sale.

His message read:

Rather than send a perfectly structured, corporate tweet in reply, Argos decided to talk Imran’s language and replied with:

The strategy was not a safe route. Far from it. It could have quite easily back-fired.

The customer could have seen it as an insult, or even worse. The mainstream media could have seen it as offensive. It could have come back to haunt Argos.

It didn’t.

One newspaper described it as: “Argos in tweet win.”
The messages were retweeted thousands of times, while even Imran replied: “Respect. Sick guy.”

Had it gone wrong, the person who sanctioned the tweet would have been answerable to the Head of PR or Marketing, and quite possibly, the CEO and board.

But it’s a great example of how dealing with a complaint or negative ‘coverage’ can win the day in the PR stakes.

We hear a great deal of the #PRfails that are made, so it is time to focus on the successes – Argos are not the only example of some smart PR thinking recently.

When Wolves fan Richard John Gough spotted a club shirt on sale at a knockdown price, he wasn’t expecting it to arrive with the famous badge printed the wrong way around.

Like Imran, he took to Twitter to complain.

The Wolves response was simply hilarious – a letter of apology printed upside down on headed paper, just to show they had a sense of humour.

Part of the letter read: “Although we’ve been riding the crest of a wave recently in terms of results, we pride ourselves on the quality of our shirts and we certainly don’t get a badge of honour this time.”

This response was backed up with the offer of two match tickets to round off the customer service.

The result of Wolves response was a slew of positive coverage with other media praising the Wolves press office.

It’s not just social media where this smart PR technique can be deployed. The German football club, Schalke 04 recently had cause to respond to a claim in The Times that Adolf Hitler was a fan of the Gelsenkirchen-based outfit.

Gerd Voss, the head of the club’s Media and PR team, chose to respond by letter. The correspondence was later despatched via social media.

Instead of going in two-footed, Gerd made a gentle play on the prejudice that Germans have a poor sense of humour, saying: “So we checked and double-checked whether club board between 1933 and 1945 had named a stand the “Fuhrer Stand”, for example, and we watched every episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo in a bid to find a clue. Nothing.”

It ends with the paragraph: “To conclude Hitler was a fan of Schalke 04 because they won most of the titles during his regime must make Margaret Thatcher a Liverpool fan. Funnily enough, she didn’t make the list.”

While this was a criticism and not a response to a problem, the benefit to Schalke 04 was dealing with a potentially very sensitive issue for German people in a way no one expected, whilst still pulling no punches. It turned the bad into some positive PR for the club.

The point of all examples that humour, with a self-deprecating, calm tone, can win the day.

Not all situations are right and the response must be careful not to mock or make light.

Ultimately, it must absolutely address the problem, and be well-researched. It should offer a solution and get to the heart of the matter rather than having no direction.

The response should always be bounced off a colleague to gauge an initial reaction.

Although humorous, deploying similar responses should be taken very seriously.