Public Relations Gone Bad: a Case Study of the London Rippers

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The London Rippers logoIs it true that any publicity is good publicity? I’m not sure, but read this case study and tell me what you think.

London Ontario is a city of just over 350,000 in South-Western Ontario, about 200 km west of Toronto.

Recently a professional baseball team in the Frontier league came to town. The owners decided to call the team “The London Rippers” with a mascot called “Jack”.

You don’t have to be a genius to make the connection between the London Rippers and England’s infamous Jack the Ripper.

The name of this new team caused some controversy in London. The executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre spoke publicly about the inappropriateness of the name. Numerous members of the public spoke against the name. London City Council passed a resolution asking the team to change the name.

The owner is unapologetic and stands by the name. In fact, in at least one interview he denies any connection to Jack the Ripper, saying his Jack is a frustrated hockey player who can “rip” the cover off a baseball when he bats. Yea, right!

So, what does this mean from a business standpoint?

An article at ZooMedia.ca points out that either the Rippers didn’t do enough market research to realize that people would be offended by the name or they don’t care if they are offensive. The article further points out that among 20-year-old men, the term “rippers” also refers to strip clubs. This is another faux pas of the Rippers marketing department if they want families to attend.

Is all publicity good?

However, because of the controversy around the name, this new professional baseball team as received a ton of publicity. But is this a good thing?

I’ve heard radio interviews by the team owner as well as read his comments in newspapers and I found him to be entirely unsympathetic and slightly arrogant. If I were a London resident, I doubt I’d attend a Rippers game just because I found the owner to be so objectionable.

Now, there is some argument that this publicity – negative though it may be – has brought national and international media attention to a business that would never get this type of publicity otherwise. If not for the controversy, who would care about a baseball team in London?

However, the owner’s insistence on ignoring anger over the name and his ludicrous attempts to convince us that any resemblance to Jack the Ripper is coincidental is not the best way to deal with this situation, in my option.

How I would solve this PR problem

If we make the assumption that offending a percentage of the team’s target market was done in error, then instead of getting defensive, the owner should have fessed up. A heart-felt mea culpa, stating it never occurred to him that the name would offend would have gone a long way to smooth over any ruffled feathers.

Next, I would have recommended a contest for a new name and mascot. This could have created positive buzz in the local media and made the entire community feel part of the team. They could have chosen finalists and had an “American Idol” type of contest to choose the final name. It could have been a lot of fun, and had the community getting behind the team before the first pitch had been thrown.

Basically, my advice to business owners who are facing negative publicity is don’t take it personally. If you made a mistake, don’t get huffy and try to defend yourself in the media. That will only make you look bad. Instead, take a step back and ask yourself if your opponents have a point. If they do and they’re not just a small handful of trouble makers, don’t be afraid to change your mind. Look for a way to turn this negative publicity into something positive.

Andrea J. Stenberg

What do you think? Please leave a comment and tell me how you would handle this situation or how you handled a case of bad publicity. 

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