Greg Barila

Journalist. Editor. Social Media specialist.

Public Relations 101, don’t do a Zoos SA

Like so many South Australians, Independent SA Senator Nick Xenophon wasted no time getti
Like so many South Australians, Independent SA Senator Nick Xenophon wasted no time getting behind Adelaide’s local iceream company when it was dumped by the zoo. Picture: Keryn Stevens
ZOOS SA has finally gotten the monkey off its back.
But somewhere, a university is writing up the Golden North/palm oil imbroglio as a cautionary tale for the next edition of the Public Relations 101 handbook. Well handled this whole thing was not.
When news broke of the Zoo’s decision to dump the hometown hero in favour of rival conglomerate Streets, which uses palm oil in its products, it didn’t take long for the sprinkle of shocked reactions to snowball into a full-blown PR snafu.
South Australians let their anger show, on Twitter and on the Zoos SA Facebook page, where inmore than 1000 comments, people pleaded with the organisation to reconsider its position.
And to its credit, last Friday, it did just that, announcing plans to continue its partnership with Golden North, whilst retaining its newly inked agreement with its Giant Twin, Streets.
“Zoos SA is a member-based society and we respect the opinions of our members and supporters
and acknowledge the feedback and genuine concern that’s been raised,” Zoos SA said.
“We have listened to this feedback”.
With at least some people threatening to boycott both the Zoo and Streets, it’s hard to see how they had any other choice.
Common sense prevailed, but it took a full nine days for the Zoo to reverse its decision.
And only the Zoos SA board can say how, or why, such a ridiculous decision came to be made in the first place.
The Zoo has had its share of financial problems in recent years, and no doubt its decision to partner with Streets was dictated by the hard realities of running a not-for-profit.
But surely the board now must be wondering if the terms of the Streets contract were worth all the bad press.
As someone who works at the coalface of social media, it never ceases to amaze how often individuals and organisations can get it so badly wrong when it comes to making decisions that not only affect the bottom line but also their most important assets — their brand and reputation.
And worse, how many simply fail to suture a wound quickly, cop the blame and make amends when things go horribly pear-shaped.
No one has been left more disappointed by all this the folks at Golden North.
But what the company initially lost in pure financial terms, it more than recouped in the outpouring of support and brand goodwill.
And there, as BRW put it, Golden North “is winning the public relations battle”.
The company was savvy to engage a local PR firm toset up a Twitter account the day after the news broke and has spent a week personally responding to dozens of messages of support.
It attracted thousands of new Facebook fans and sales of Golden North ice cream in Foodland
supermarkets reportedly were up about 25 per cent on the two weeks before.
“That really has been fantastic,” Marketing Manager Trevor Pomery told me, adding that the public reaction was proof the company’s decision to go palm oil free was “absolutely” the right decision.
Meanwhile, on the Zoos SA page ...
“The people have spoken and no matter how you try to justify it with patronising rhetoric you have clearly made a big mistake. Turn your back on SA and SA will do the same.”
All they had to do was put local ice cream in the freezer, but the public put them in there instead.
And the sad thing is the whole thing could have been avoided.