Published in Jan-Feb 2023
In general, most Pakistani brands do an average job of managing their brand’s reputation online. Multinationals usually are better at it because they follow global guidelines in terms of dealing with negative comments. However, most local brands, and smaller international brands led by local teams, are not trained to handle such situations and often do not realise the long-term implications bad press has on a brand.
Here are three types of brand managers locally when it comes to managing online reputation.
1. The Deniers: If you scroll through KAMN on Meta, a common piece of immature local wisdom among marketers stands out. It suggests that any press is good press… and therefore, even if the entire country is bashing you, somehow it works in your brand’s favour. The Pakistani equivalent of flat earthers, these people remain unmoved by the long list of brands that have gone under because of a bad reputation. They tend to confuse strategically designed campaigns carefully crafted to generate heavy engagement by being edgy and controversial with bad press. When Asim Jofa ran his ‘Why drive when I am driven’ campaign, he created an absurd amount of engagement and a lot of it was negative. The campaign, in fact, is a good example of how to differentiate between a bad press and an edgy campaign: there were proponents to both sides of the argument in the Jofa campaign. In a bad press situation, everyone is on one side, bashing the brand.
2. The Jittery: These brand managers tend to overreact and panic every time there is a negative comment. They delete negative comments thinking this will make the problem go away – the ostrich with its head in the sand syndrome. Jittery brand teams need to hire professionally trained agencies to manage their brand reputation and empower them.
3. The Pros: Pro teams are recognised by the fact that they already have well thought-out protocols in place about how to handle negative comments. They don’t wait for things to go wrong and then come up with half-baked plans to deal with them.
So where does the Eat Food Festival (formerly known as Karachi Eat) fall among these categories?
In my opinion – The Jittery. While they recognised the bad press and moved quickly to address it, they did a poor job of managing negative comments. Rather than take ownership of what went wrong in terms of poor planning, they opted for the blame game. It was almost comical to find an organiser complaining about gate crashers! Of course, you are going to have gatecrashers at such a huge event. The recent concerts in London had gate crashers.
As an organiser, you have to be able to pre-empt such things. The inadequate number of security staff, the fact that the boundary walls were made from wedding tents, and the failure of the staff to protect the women who were being harassed prove how badly managed the event was. Kaifi Khalil had better sense than the organisers when he called off his concert when the crowd started misbehaving with women.
Coming back to the impact of negative comments, how badly will this damage the brand? It is difficult to predict. Certainly, the competition, Soul Fest, will benefit and people who initially expressed their irritation with the strict security at Soul Fest will now realise the organisers were doing a better job.
Due to the lack of entertainment opportunities, Eat Food will survive this and may even come out stronger if they focus on security at their next event. However, people, especially parents, will remember what happened this year so they may not get the numbers they want.
Syed Amir Haleem is CEO, Skale Interactive.