Opinion

How Grey Singapore could have saved face

RefugeesIn this guest post, Rodd Chant has some ideas for how Grey might have responded differently after handing back its Bronze Lion for the ‘I Sea’ app that was proven to be a fake.

It’s been a rough week or two for Grey Singapore with all that has transpired over their dubious and non-working app that claimed to save the lives of refugees, only to be uncovered as a non-functioning prototype. But no matter how hard it must have been for them I have no sympathy, sorry. Why? Well they should have owned the blunder from the moment it was reported.

Grey Singapore could have saved face; instead they now have egg on their face, globally.

The news of the ‘scam’ app swept around the world and the advertising and marketing community like a Whirling Dervish on steroids.

Within a blink of an eye Apple had pulled it from the app store, and the client involved, MOAS, distanced themselves from Grey immediately as they had not even approved the app and had declared it was not functional.

Rodd Chant

Rodd Chant

But this didn’t seem to be enough for the powers that be at the agency to take decisive action and work at a feverish pace to make amends. In other words – own it. Put their hand in the air and say – “Yes, we screwed up, we’re sorry.” No, all we got was radio silence.

Then, after what seemed like an eternity, and in these situations even a day can be too long, they released a statement trying to defend the whole debacle and what that press release said was just as embarrassing as the incident itself.

“During Cannes we said the app was real and its creator, Grey for Good in Singapore, is a highly respected philanthropic unit that has helped numerous non-profit organizations,” the statement says. “Moreover, Grey is one of the most creatively awarded agencies in the world with the highest ethical standards. We won over 90 Cannes Lions this year alone so there is no need for scam projects. However, given the unwarranted, unfair, unrelenting attacks by unnamed bloggers, we are putting an end to this and returning the Bronze Lion so there is not even the hint of impropriety or a question of our integrity. The saying no good deed goes unpunished is apt in this case.”

It seems Grey Singapore have hired whoever does Donald Trump’s damage control to write for them now, or maybe it is Trump himself as it reflects the same attitude he does.

To clarify, I have never heard of The Guardian being referred to as an unnamed blogger, nor the numerous other media outlets that covered this story. But that’s neither here nor there now. Let’s move on.

As someone who has been in management of a few agencies in my career I have some sage advice for Grey Singapore about what they could have done to lessen the embarrassing impact of this egregious incident.

Here are my thoughts and a three-point plan for possible redemption.

Announce that they will work tirelessly night and day to develop something that actually works. Explore every possible option. Call in the best digital people in the WPP network to help. Bring in freelance specialists and consultants, the best of the best, go talk to Google, go talk to NASA, whatever it takes. Show that you truly have passion for fixing this problem (not the Cannes problem but the rescuing of refugees problem) and put your money where your mouth is. (Oh and if you do manage to create the most amazing app ever built that saves countless lives, don’t, under any circumstances, enter it in any award shows…ever. Try and learn a bit of humility from this, please. In fact, you should also take a break from entering Cannes for a year or two to show that you truly regret your mistake.)

Add up the amount of money it cost to get the app to the stage you got it to, the cost to pull together the case study video, the Cannes entry fees and how much it cost to send your people to Cannes, now multiply that by the amount of people involved in the project at the agency (yes everyone) and donate that sum to the rescue efforts.

Send the staff responsible for this mess over to actually volunteer for a week to see first hand just how desperate this situation is and how far removed they are sitting in an air conditioned office thinking of ways to win a shelf ornament, and I am talking about everyone from the top down, after all, good management and leadership is all about leading by example.

I remember many years ago working on a pitch for the armed forces in Australia, we worked long hours and developed a lot of what we all considered to be great and hopefully pitch winning work, but we lost. One reason we found out was that the agency that won actually sent the agency staff working on the pitch to go and train with the Army for a week with new enlistees; the pitch was after all a recruitment drive campaign and how better to understand the mindset of those who enroll voluntarily in the Army than go and train with them, we all had to tip our hats in respect to that move. When you are hands on and knee deep in a client’s business or a situation such as rescuing refugees I dare say you will have a much different perspective of the job at hand and hopefully you would have much more respect for what you are doing.

Again, these are just my thoughts and suggestions, there may be many more and better ones out there, and I would love to hear them. But the fact of the matter is they should do something as opposed to nothing.

But the problem is the longer Grey Singapore waits to do any damage control the worse it looks, and no, just handing back the Lion and sending out a terribly worded press release is not damage control. They should retract that press release and rethink this whole situation. They could, if they truly wanted to, make this right, but the clock is ticking. We all make mistakes, nobody is omnipotent or perfect, but you have to want to correct those mistakes.

I wonder what their clients must be thinking right about now. And I would hate to think what Sir Martin Sorrell is thinking.

As my Mother would say when I was a child and would do something stupid that usually resulted in me being injured in some way or another – lessons learned; fingers burned.

Rodd Chant works for creative collective Chant. He has previously worked as ECD of Publicis Singapore, creative director of BBDO Singapore and creative group head at Batey. This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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