Sunday, April 25, 2010

Angry Samsung Slings Poo in PR War

The New York Times has an interesting story (here) about an insider's book that "reveals" the massive corruption that has plagued Samsung for years. Those of us who have worked in Asia and with Korean companies (I consulted inside LG for years) find this "news" completely unsurprising. Huge Asian companies generally got that way by cheating (as did the US's own Goldman Sachs), and in the insular, feudal, confucian and patriarchial "family" business model, corruption and outright thievery is endemic.

As expected, Samsung's PR "strategy" has been to bully the media to pay no attention to Kim Yong-chul's book and is circlingthe wagons. The company is responsible for 20% of Korea's exports, so their tactics have been pretty effective at keeping things quiet. Also, Koreans have this bizarre, worshipful slavish regard for Samsung. This is something you need to go there and see to believe (it reminds me of the mindless Khmer Rouge minions and their devotion to the ruling organization "Angka" in the "Killing Fields")

Of course, we are in the connected age, so Twitter, blogs and the like have led to runaway success for this book. Leading to the Times writing about it.

The deafening silence coming from Samsung HQ has been broken by the one and only quote the reporter gets from the company. And boy, oh boy, it's a doozy!

I ask all my fellow crisis communications, PR and branding brethren what they think about this PR approach. If your company was going to issue one and only one official on the record statement to rebut the HUGE allegations made in a book that blows your company's kimono open, would this be what you would say?

“We are seething with anger, but we are not going to sue him and make him a star again,” said Kim Jun-shik, Samsung’s senior vice president for corporate communications. “When you see a pile of excrement, you avoid it not because you fear it but because it’s dirty.”  

Sometimes we have to hit back when we are attacked. But isn't this a bit over the top? I'm guessing from the title that this is perhaps the TOP PR person at Samsung. Doesn't this strike you as a really juvenile, unprofessional and defensive way to comment? This is the spokesperson for the most "respected" company in Korea. Is this the best person the TOP electronics company in  the world could hire?

Based on my experience, this kind of company has NO clue how to do PR/communications and they mostly hire idiots. Also, I don't get this "make him a star again" bit. This would make one assume that the author has been a "star" before. A star of what? Isn't saying that only serving to elevate the opponent?

Also, I agree poo is dirty and I do not fear it.

Anyway, I really have to spend some time thinking about this one. This is really extreme PR.

Thanks for reading.
Jonathan Gardner


  1. Hi Jonathan,

    I just wanted to add that "When you see a pile of excrement, you avoid it not because you fear it but because it’s dirty." is actually a very well-known, widely-used Korean proverb. As lowly as it may sound in translation, it doesn't convey such a unprofessional, derogatory connotation when spoken in Korean. I think the PR person meant for it for the Korean media, and if he was facing the foreign media, I'm sure he would have come up with a different metaphor.

    In any event, the NYT article hit the nail on the head. Samsung is a corrupt company that is too big and too rich for the government to handle.

  2. @Anon:

    Thanks for that info, that is good to know.

    But that brings up 2 valid points:

    1. Even if it is a well-known Korean proverb, is it appropriate for the main spokesperson for the top electronics company in the world to be using this in such a situation? A.Maybe this kind of "colloquial" speak is more appropriate among friends. B. It still sounds very defensive and/or offensive.

    2. This is the spokesperson for the TOP electronics company in the world, shouldn't he know that it is possible that someone outside the Korean media would be interested in what his huge company is doing? A. Shouldn't this huge company have better spokespeople? Shouldn't they also maybe hire a translator?

    The sentiment that the statement was "meant for the Korean media" sounds likely. Based on my experience, this kind of company rarely sees the big picture in communications and is so caught up in their provincial "island mentality" when it comes to PR.