Strategy of the Week


This week's strategy: Gain new respect for the Web and its viral capabilities - whether they're working for or against you. B.L. Ochman, an independent marketing consultant, journalist and author working in New York City, already had tremendous respect for the Internet. But she gained a whole new perspective on the medium after she was displaced from her home and office on Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks left her injured and resulted in respiratory problems that prevented her from returning to her apartment. She was understandably horrified when pro bono attorneys appointed to her told her to forget about her $6,300 security deposit and move on. But she was even more horrified when Ocean Partners, a subsidiary of Moinian Group, which owned her building, sued her for a year's rent. "He sued because these landlords can," says Ochman. "One landlord has sued the estate of a Cantor Fitzgerald VP saying she failed to give 90 days notice. That's hard to do when you're dead." Ochman soon realized her legal representatives weren't doing much to further her cause. So she turned to the media. A local TV news station did a story and in less than 24 hours uncovered the fact that the landlord had re-leased the apartment by January 2002 and was attempting to "double-dip" by suing Ochman. But even the TV news story didn't sway Ocean Partners' pursuit of the year's rent. Ochman began waging a guerilla PR war, contacting everyone she could think of, including members of the email lists she uses on a regular basis. John Counsel, the moderator of I-Sales, a sales and marketing list, took up her cause. After getting the full story from Ochman, including the names of the companies and elected officials involved, he built a Web site, http://www.myway.com.au/enough. The Web site included background on the story as well as methods of contacting the landlord and his attorneys. Counsel emailed 100,000 subscribers to the I-Sales list, and within 24 hours, 3 million people had received emails about the story. The landlord and attorneys were shocked when they began receiving livid emails and phone calls from around the world. One angry supporter gained the rights to the URL "moiniangroupsucks.com" and threatened to build a site around it. About 48 hours later, the suit was withdrawn and Ochman got her money back. "This proves the Web has even more power than traditional media," Ochman says. She says the landlord and attorneys never saw this viral backlash coming, but should have been better prepared. "If you're a company doing business online, you need to look at this" and monitor lists, chat rooms and other online communications vehicles more carefully, she advises. Conversely, if you're a PR pro looking for a great way to spread the word about an important cause or message, the Web may just be your best bet. For more information on Ochman's story, see http://www.myway.com.au/enough, or go to her own site, http://www.whatsnextonline.com. (blochman@whatsnextonline.com)

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