How To Lose At Marketing - Be Paul Christoforo

If you're like me - and I know I am - you spend a lot of time on the Internet. That means that unless you've been under a rock this whole weekend, you've heard about the fiasco that is the Ocean Marketing / Avenger saga. I think it's a perfect example of what NOT to do on the Internet. And that is why it is so fun to talk about on the Internet. This article is very long, but stick with me on this one; it's going to be a wild ride. I'll even watch my language for you.

Now, the stuff that everyone knows is that some dude named Dave contacted N-Control to inquire about why delivery of his Avenger controller was delayed, and ended up talking with Paul Christoforo from Ocean Marketing, the PR firm handling the Avenger. That email exchange is fully documented at Penny Arcade, because when Paul started getting beligerent, Dave decided to copy Mike Krahulik (Gabe from PA) on the reply. If you're somehow not familiar with this email exchange, go ahead and read it now. It's cool, I'll wait.

Basically, this

...Hey everyone else, while we wait, what's wrong with those people? This is only the biggest story on the Internet right now, how haven't they heard about it? I can't believe how dumb some people ar- oh crap, they're back. Act natural!

So that's what happened. Before going further, you need to know that Ocean Marketing is the company that was handling PR, and N-Control is the maker of the Avenger controller. They are not the same company, and in fact Ocean Marketing was very quickly fired after these emails became public. The Avenger controller is a solid product, designed for disabled children, and the actions of one incompetent PR man should not draw your hatred towards the product he was failing to represent. Here is the Twitter feed of N-Control's new PR man for up-to-the-second information straight from the horse's mouth.

The other thing that happened is, once the story broke, the Internet decided to defend its own. One thing you do not want to do is upset millions of people who have nothing better to do during the holidays than decide to take up a cause. The controller got spammed with 1-star reviews on Amazon because people didn't realize that Ocean Marketing and N-Control are separate entities, and now the product is suffering because Paul Christoforo doesn't know anything about anything. And that's a shame.

Now, let's get back to the story. You see that email address posted at the bottom of the Penny Arcade page? I decided to write an email to it and see what happens. I'll share what I sent in a moment. After I sent it, I received an automated reply from them. That reply said this:

Thank you for your email.

Due to the overwhelming customer feedback we're getting from the situation with Ocean Marketing we are asking those with specific product related concerns to send emails to customerservice@avengercontroller.co

Please know that Ocean Marketing is no longer handling any PR or customer service for our company. We apologize to our customers for Ocean Marketing's remark to one of our customers. We at Kotkin Enterprises know that it's our customers are the true arbiters of our products success and we would never intentionally jeopardize what we see as a relationship between us and our customers. We hope that this incident hasn't put you off of purchasing a truly revolutionary controller.

Thank you for expressing your concerns and we hope for your continued support in the future.

Kotkin Enterprises Avenger Controller Customer Service Team

So it turns out N-Control has publicly disavowed all business ties to Paul Christoforo. That means if you had any angst against them, it is better directed to Paul's social media marketing firm, Ocean Marketing. I have downloaded a complete copy of the website (minus .swf files and the dumb toolbar at the bottom), so if he decides to take it down to try to stem the negative publicity storm, I will post it back online so people can see it.

Before I go any further, there's something I need to mention. I am not a social media guru, or a marketing expert, but there are some things I know for certain about conducting business on the Internet. Among those things is this: if you want to be taken seriously as a business professional, it is important to use an email address that originates from your own website. Basically, nobody is going to want to do business with marketingwow@gmail.com; they want to do business with sales@marketingwow.com.

Right at the top of the Contact Us page is his email address: paul@oceanmarketinginc.com - perfectly in line with that little nugget of knowledge. So I revised my email and sent it to him directly:

Paul Christoforo Tweet
That's professionalism for you!
Hi there,

I'm sure you've already received hundreds of emails about this, but I just want to clarify something for you. The reason Mike from Penny Arcade got into it with you was not because of one person's complaint over a pre-order. It was because of how poorly you handled the situation. When you are dealing with a customer - any customer - it is absolutely imperative that you address them with courtesy and respect. Because, as you said, you really have no idea who you're talking to or who they know. You'd think one of your 125 PR people would have told you that. Or, since dealing with the public is their job, you'd think one of them would have handled the initial query in the first place.

Frankly, I have a hard time believing you are who you claim to be in that email conversation. For one thing, your spelling is atrocious for a 38-year-old, especially given the ubiquity of spell checkers. MS Word even has a grammar checker, so there's really no excuse for constantly confusing "we're" and "were" all the time either. As well, I don't know about you or your 125 PR people, but I learned at about the age of 15 that the only people who namedrop are those who cannot stand on their own merits. Did you really think it would help your case to drop industry names for no benefit - especially when the people whose names you drop immediately disavow all knowledge or endorsement of you?

When you address a customer, you need to realize that they will always talk to each other. They will share their stories. And they will vote with their wallets. If you treat a customer like crap, they will tell everyone they know what you did. And if the people that customer tells feel similarly, they will tell all their friends too; and so on, and so on. If you do not respect your customers, they will not respect you, and you will quickly find yourself out of business.

Now, by all accounts, the controller you were representing is rather good. That means that if it fails due to the conversation in question, your lack of professionalism might very well have sunk a product that would otherwise have succeeded. Right now, the name of Ocean Marketing is rightly being dragged through the mud because its president clearly has no idea how to do his job. If I were you, I would fire your 125 PR people, and hire one who actually exists, because you clearly have no idea how to deal with the public, or how to leverage a customer base. Whoever said there's no such thing as bad publicity never anticipated the sort of calamity you've caused here.

I suspect that if you don't completely change how you operate, you'll find 2012 to be a very poor year for you. And based on what I read today, I promise I won't shed a tear.

Sincerely,

Chris

Email Tips

  1. Use a branded email address - no hotmail or gmail
  2. Address your clients/customers with dignity and respect
  3. Assume responsibility, even if you know you're not wrong
  4. Before sending your email, check for spelling and grammar mistakes
  5. Remember: if you treat a client or customer badly, they will no longer do business with you

Within a few minutes, much to my surprise, I got a reply. Sadly, it was also an automated one. It said this:

Thank you for contacting Ocean Marketing Inc, please cc all of your emails to Ocean Marketing Inc to pchristoforo@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

So Paul Christoforo, who claims to be a social media and marketing master, is breaking what may as well be the first rule of running an Internet business. And his business is the Internet! Since I wanted to play nice, I re-sent my email, and added pchristoforo@gmail.com to my CC list.

And that is as far as I took it: I had my piece to say, I said it, and that's that. If he replies, fantastic, and I'll post it here, but I don't expect him to do so. I quickly learned, however, that this particular rabbit hole is much deeper than it first appears to be. Let's start with the obvious one:

One thing that really stands out about Paul's communications is how awful he is at English. Seriously, it's like he paid someone to make him sound as stupid as possible. Then you go to his website, and everything is written just about perfectly. That seems just a little odd, doesn't it? Some people decided to go looking into this, and guess what! Every single scrap of content on his website is plagiarized! He even lifted this blog entry straight from Forbes Magazine! With no credit given to the original author, obviously. More than that, even his About Us page is plagiarized from seop.com.

That link to examiner.com actually has several worthwhile updates to the story, including Paul Christoforo apologizing to Dave with just about the least creative sob story I've ever read. Oh, and also this isn't the first time Paul Christoforo has made an ass of himself while communicating with a ponderous customer.

A Fake Testimonial from Paul's Wife

Student
Newbury College

"Listening to Paul Christoforo talk about Social Media is like listening to Donald Trump talk about real estate or Tony Robinson give an inspirational speech; he really knows his craft regarding social media and explains it in a way, even the most computer illiterate can understand. I have seen his methods work time and time again for all types of companies who were thrilled with his results." May 18, 2010

Holly E., Director of Operations, Ocean Marketing Inc,
studied with Paul at Newbury College

Moving on to bigger and better things, "thegauntlet" on reddit.com decided to go digging into the company, and he found a bunch of interesting information too. Among the things he found out is that Ocean Marketing, despite all the positive testimonials, has only ever had two marketing customers: N-Control (for the Avenger) and Pro Trading Analytics, both of which are aparently no longer affiliated with them. Another redittor says he's contacted all of Ocean Marketing's clients, and they all told him the same thing: "I wasn't the first one to call them by a long shot and they won't be working with him anymore." It seems that his wife has been posing as fake clients and leaving bogus testimonials all over various SEO forums. She is supposedly #2 in the company, though I strongly suspect that's #2 of 2.

But wait - it gets even better! It seems Kotaku tried to reach out to Brandon Leidel, Director of Marketing for the Avenger, and quickly got a reply that tried to downplay the impact of today's events. However, some cursory research on the originating email address of the reply revealed that it was actually Paul replying as if he were Brandon. Not only that, but the email address he used to send the reply is the same one he used to register his account on steroid.com, a website for people who use anabolic steroids, with the username "TheAngryPimp." There's nothing to specifically link TheAngryPimp to Paul Christoforo, but his MySpace name is theangrypimp03, and a later reply from the real Brandon Liedel made it clear that the original reply didn't come from him; and really, who else could it have come from?

This morning (December 27), Paul sent an email to Mike at Penny Arcade in which he begs Mike to "make it stop," and then sent another in which he apologizes. I agree with Mike's assessment of the situation, which is that Paul isn't at all sorry for what he did, he's just sorry that he got caught by a bigger fish and now has to suffer the consequences. Ocean Marketing is a joke at best, and dangerous at worst. I am wholly convinced that it's just Paul and his wife running this dog and pony show. And according to N-Control's new PR man, Ocean is now out of business because of this debacle, so if that's true then it's a company of 0 now.

All his various social media pages (Facebook, YouTube, etc) are easily searchable via Google, so I won't bother posting them here. Further reading:

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