Scripting News for 3/23/2007

Today’s links 

Harvard’s Manila server is down.

Frank Barnako: Rocketboom may charge for shows.

Andrew Baron: “Rocketboom will remain freely available.”

Dan Gillmor takes off the gloves.

Russo & Hale, our law firm, sues us 

On March 12, I wrote a cautionary tale, part of the history of UserLand. The story was written in a general way, and raised a bunch of questions. Today I’d like to answer some of those questions.

1. It’s really weird to be sued by your lawyer. Not a very nice feeling. Sort of like being made sick by your doctor, deliberately.

2. There are now two UserLands: The original company, and a new one which was formed in 2004 to market Manila and Radio, to create incentives for a new management team, and to settle claims by our law firm.

3. I stopped working for UserLand in 2002, for health reasons, but I never sold my stock. Today I own 90 percent of the original company, and more than 50 percent of the new company.

4. Jack Russo was UserLand’s attorney, a board member, secretary and my personal attorney, from 1988 to 2005.

5. Russo and his law firm, Russo & Hale sued UserLand, Scripting News, and myself, in August 2006. Earlier this month, the court ruled to disqualify Russo & Hale from representing UserLand’s shareholders due to conflicts of interest. Their strategy was clear — to force me to spend a lot of money on lawyers while they used their own in-house, relatively inexpensive, legal resources.

6. In the 2004 settlement, Russo released all claims with UserLand and myself. He was compensated with a large share of the stock in the new company. He drafted the agreement, it was signed in his office in Palo Alto.

7. As I said in the previous piece, the company was in awful legal condition. While I take blame for that, as founder and former CEO, some of the responsibility must also lie with Russo, as the company’s lawyer.

Man on the street 

I’ve been trying to get someone to go in business with me on this idea, but it ain’t happening, so what the hell, here it is.

Start with a two-person video crew, like Andrew and Joanne, in New York, and every Tuesday, rain or shine, go to Times Square and interview 20 or 30 people, asking a very simple query. Tell me about a product, service or company you hate, and why. Then on Wednesday morning, release a video, very well branded, through every channel imaginable, with the best interview from Tuesday. By best I mean most enthusiastically hateful. The company who most screwed someone recently, told graphically and personally, from the point of view of a user.

Of course the companies who are targeted may try to sue you, but what would they sue you for? You’re just relaying a customer’s experience, told in the first person. Buf if they sue, so what. It’s great publicity, the best.

Then one day, probably not very far into it, one of the companies will get the idea that if they respond to the complaint, people might actually like them. They might turn hate into respect, derision into love, if they do the totally un-American thing — listen to a customer, and respond as if they care.

“Yes, we know we let you down, but we promise to fix the problem, and to do better next time.”

Then you know what happens — sales soar. This is really great marketing. Much better than ads that say “Our product is great, we don’t suck, buy buy buy.” Because everyone knows you suck. There’s no such thing as a product that doesn’t suck. But we’re going to give our money to the company that knows that and is trying to do better.

I think this is a gold mine. The video producers that capture people’s imaginations with real-life product nightmares will own the brand of the future in advertising, because this is the future, user-perspective marketing, where the users define your products, and you make the products they want you to make. Same with politics, btw.

I’ve pitched this to lots of people in the video world, but they don’t believe. Now at least my stake is in the ground. I bet that by this time next year, someone will be doing a great job of this kind of video, and they’ll be raking in the bucks from the people who used to waste money on the old kind of advertising. I’d love to work with a team that really wants to go for this, maybe even invest.

Todd Cochrane (via email): “The man on the street proposal you have is how I got GoDaddy as a sponsor. I bashed the hell out of them on a issue they responded very publicly and fixed the issue and those actions have earned them a significant amount of money through my show. While I still jump on them when they screw up I do it publicly and guess what they generally fix it. I love your concept and think it is a great one.”

Ryan Tate: “One our most talked about stories at the Business Times a few years ago was one with some architects complaining about what buildings they hated most.”

10 responses to this post.

  1. Interesting idea. It’s not so far off, really, from what the networks do with their “7 on your side” or whatever stations call it where they take horrific consumer complaints and broadcast them and then go directly to the manufacturer or service provider and say, “What are you going to do about this?” and to avoid embarrassment, the service provider or manufacturer bends over backwards to make it all right for the person who complained.

    Channel 7 in the metropolitan DC area has been doing that for years. I think a channel in San Francisco does that as well. Or used to do that. I don’t have television anymore, so I can’t be sure.

    I will share that when I complained vehemently about United Airlines on my blog I got a phone call from them and they made everything all better.

    Companies do listen. Most really do want to know what the consumers really want from their products and most really do care when their products are not up to par.

    I’m curious who’ve you’ve pitched this to in the video world, because I think perhaps you’ve just not spoken to the right person yet.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Colin on March 23, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    Excellent idea!

    But why does it have to be Times Square? Are New Yorkers the only ones opinionated enough?

    Why not buy yourself a camera and start shooting in Berkley?

    Reply

  3. Sounds like an excellent idea to me.

    It’s already got me thinking about variations for a once a month special edition(to go with the weeklies) and who I know who might be right for a project like this. And since I live in NYC, Times Square is just a short subway ride away :-)

    I’m going to have to give this some serious thought.

    Reply

  4. JetBlue is a good recent example of a company that took a pretty awful customer satisfaction situation (all of those the delayed / canceled flights back in February) and turned it to their advantage by addressing the issues in a genuine way and introducing the customer bill of rights. I think this idea has legs.

    Reply

  5. But why be totally negative…ask each for a company/product they hate AND one they love.

    Reply

  6. PX, because if you ask for products they love, it sounds like an ad. If they tell you about products that drive them crazy, it sounds real, and it’s new.

    Reply

  7. GREAT idea.

    One our most talked about stories at the Business Times a few years ago was one with some architects complaining about what buildings they hated most. It gave me the idea for a magazine, Negative Press. Each issue would be similar — musicians on what songs they hate, authors on overrated books, etc. I registered negativepress.org but it has since lapsed.

    With the Internet and video it’s even more powerful. Hmm, maybe Union Square in sf? And the great thing about consumers is they don’t clam up as readily as businesspeople. It got hard for us to find dishy architects after that story ;->

    Reply

  8. I disagree. But I suppose your idea is just like the evening news, nothin but bad. And the badder gets the ratings/attention I suppose.

    Reply

  9. Surely it would be interesting to do it from a different city every week (different country? Global brands?) Great idea.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Doofuse City on March 25, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Just so you know, Dave Winer censors comments on this blog that he disagrees with.

    This isn’t so much as a place to discuss the day’s blog entries as it is a circle-jerk with Dave.

    Reply

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