Reputation runs deep – What PR’s can learn from the Mozilla CEO appointment and departure

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Jay Dillon

Director of Strategy and Creative at Inbound Experts
Jay is a digital marketer and producer whose creative and technical skills have developed digital brand strategies and sales campaigns using a range of complex internet applications from stand-alone websites through to Facebook API integrations.
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“We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to Act.  We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must to better.”

– Mozilla Executive Chairwoman, Mitchell Baker.

Reputation PR Mozilla

On the internet if you want a community then you need to be representative of that community, particularly if your brand or product is all encompassing; meaning that your audience will represent nearly every view, lifestyle or opinion.

You’d think that would be a simple thing to do, especially if you run a search engine. Where is the controversy in that?  In that business you consider that EVERYONE is a potential customer unless they completely shun technology (yes, they are those who consciously do this and we must respect that choice). You’re simply making it easier for people to search for information; something we all do every single day.

But as Mozilla, a not-for-profit,  learned over the past two weeks, reputation including the reputations of those who hold the top jobs becomes all important if you want those EVERYONE’S to support your brand.  And it’s even more important when you have a strong competitor taking your much loved space, read that as Google Chrome.

 The background

Mozilla appointed Brendan Eich the CEO of Mozilla last month amongst a controversy that also saw three of the six members of Mozilla’s board resign. Some say they went because they were seeking a different type of CEO, from outside the company to lead plans for Mozilla’s Firefox OS mobile platform. Others say it was because they were leaving anyway.

But behind the furore was the the fact that Eich, a co-founder of Mozilla and the CTO for the past 10 years, had made a $1000 dontation to the Proposition 8 movement in California which saw the same-sex marriage ban implemented in the State until it was later overturned by the Supreme Court. If you’re coming in late to this, what would you be thinking. Well, that is the job of the PR to be shifting through all of this and making sure the facts are coming to the surface, not the sludge.

Throughout Eich’s brief two week stint in the top job, OkCupid, a prominent dating site, created a block to its website by anyone using Firefox, Mozilla’s top product. It also publicly informed its consumers to boycott the the search engine.  It was a bold move by OkCupid, which saw support from its consumers and captured the hearts and minds of the tech and general media.

After moves to set the record straight through a statement from Eich, the push of the consumer was too much and Eich tendered his resignation.

What are the PR takeaways

This is an interesting case study in the changing and agile environment in which brands and their represetnative press officers/PRs/advisors work in.  It asks us to think more deeply about our roles, how we plan our strategies and the environment in which we operate.  The rules have changed; less control, more engagement is required, stratey is not just from the usual playbook.

Here’s my key thoughts on the whole catastrophe:

  • It seems like there wasn’t a whole lot of prepratory internal or external communications going on in the lead up to this appointment (but I’m happy to be told I’m wrong).  Whatever the reasons for the three board members throwing in the towel, when there’s only six on the board that equates to losing 50%. If they had legimate reasons, which reports say they did, then these should have been made known as part of the pre-appointment PR and in the announcement PR.
  • Eich’s statement about inclusiveness at Mozilla, released on March 26th, talks directly to the company’s Community Participation Guidelines and the anti-discrimination policies.  It’s hard to have a leader in place who is publicly known for donating to stop inclusiveness in community being able to stand next to these key policies and command respect.
  • The same-sex debate is a hot one.  There is extensive lobbying taking place around the world for it to be part of our everyday lives.  If something pops up on the issue you can bet your booty that pandora’s box is going to explode. This is activism in the modern day – diligent, informed, motivated and highly networked.
  • Eich also stated his views had not changed and he has a right to those views.  So do the many people who will say, we will not support a company who’s leader holds this views.
  • Executive Chairwoman, Mitchell Baker made a statement which I admire (because the language and the act behind it are so rare these days) taking responsibility for the Eich outcry.  Beautifully crafted. honest and too the point, she said, “We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to Act.  We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must to better.” In this day and age this is gold.  Why more companies don’t do this is completely beyond my belief.  There is so much to be gained and the process towards trust can begin immediately. But she also went onto say, ‘“Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.”  Maybe putting oil on the water, trying to gain the middle ground for all? Who knows.  But she was working to include everyone and that is notable.
  • Mozilla spoke of a ‘free and open internet’.  It is true. That is what the thing is.  But as any company knows, if you talk the talk, you must walk the walk. This especially applies if you are part of the people RUNNING THE INTERNET.
  • Never, ever underestimate how quick the word can go around. Not in a main street but in a global community.  Whether the information is correct or not, news travels fast and people in this connected and dynamic world are making their buying decisions based on their ongoing investigation about how good or bad your brand is.  And there are plenty of places where they can discuss and determine this.
  • This has created some interesting discussion in Silicon Valley about the balance of operating a company and your views, free speech and all that comes with it.  I suppose that is something you need to determine when you step up next to your company values.

My approach is simple.  If you’re in the PR game you need to be clear with your words, transparent, show leadership and speak with the people who support what you are doing.  Every. Single. Day.

Your ability to make your brand and business a global proposition is more available than ever so get across what your audience wants and needs and, make sure your align your values to theirs. Otherwise your publicity could just be about what ended your career not your career itself. And that is the thing about reputation. 20 years to build it. Five minutes to lose it.

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