So, when a Vancouver-based real estate marketing firm was caught passing off its employees as potential condo buyers in a TV report, there were red faces all around.
Unbeknownst to the TV station that aired the item
, the condo buyers were employees of Mac Marketing Solutions
, a company specializing in resort and residential sales in this Canadian west coast city. For the piece, the employees posed as Chinese women hoping to buy high-end condos in Vancouver if their parents were willing to pay for the homes. According to the story, the parents were en route to Vancouver during the Chinese New Year—a holiday in which real estate companies cater to off-shore buyers.
While this may have been a convenient strategy to incite sales in a slow market, a local blogger
did some digging and discovered the true identity of the women.
CTV British Columbia News, which aired the report, issued a statement to Canadian news site TheProvince.com
saying they were “surprised” at the situation, but were also planning a follow-up story.
“Both Mac Marketing and the news organization share some blame; the company for not getting to the bottom of the issue and the TV station for not doing some editorial review—or at least asking better questions,” said Lisa Brock, president of Brock Communications
in Tampa, Fla.
As any PR pro knows, providing the human-interest element is key to rounding out a news item. It can also be one of the hardest elements to find. Yet finding someone whose experience substantiates the news can be a powerful testimonial.
But that doesn’t mean create fake personas.
“It may take time and effort to find authentic testimony, but not as long as it will take to restore your reputation if you’re portrayed as a con or a fraud,” said Brock.
When news leaked about the phony “buyers,” angry consumers took to social media to voice their displeasure.
Company president Cameron McNeill reacted by issuing an immediate apology:
“I don’t know how the situation came about. I deeply regret the fact that two … employees ended up being interviewed, and without us being forthright about their connection.”
The apology, which is still up on the company’s Facebook page
, incited more fury; comments range from outright anger to general dissatisfaction of the company’s motives.
“Their reputation was seriously damaged through social media,” said Jennifer Spencer, vice president at Thornley Fallis
in Toronto. “The employees did a blatantly dishonest thing, yet there doesn’t seem to have been any consequences.”
In an interview with TheProvince.com
, McNeill said he “didn’t believe” the fake-job came from the top, suggesting the employees acted alone.
“Going forward, this company needs to act transparently and regain people’s trust,” said Spencer. “They also need to demonstrate the consequences and measures this will never happen again.
“It comes down to values. Do they matter to you and your organization or not?”