How One Email Can Destroy Your Personal Brand — Starring Kelly Blazek

Kelly Blazek About

Photo via Kelly Blazek, WordPress, Screen Grab

Seasoned professionals often feel the need to correct faux pas young professionals commit–and rightfully so. As a young professional, I can honestly say I appreciate and crave that guidance. I am sure others feel the same way.

Having served as a manager for both my college radio and television station, I can attest to the importance of passing along the airs and graces of an organization or industry to “newbies.” In television, one such cautionary tidbit I provided was don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in church in front of a microphone, as it could be live.

However, with workplace sensitivity and professional ethics prevalent now more than ever in our society, it is increasingly important to take care in how seasoned professionals communicate when disseminating these lessons. In other words, we must think before we speak (or type).

Kelly Blazek, the self-described “Job Bank House Mother” and IABC Cleveland award-winning communicator, is now experiencing a personal branding crisis due to what could be mildly described as an insensitivity issue.

The situation

The inciting incident for this branding crisis was Blazek’s response to an email from a Chicago-based young professional named Diana Mekota hoping to join Blazek’s Job Bank and connect on LinkedIn. Blazek’s reply found its way to both Imgur and BuzzFeed:

Kelly Blazek Email Response

Image Courtesy

For more details regarding Blazek or the situation, Cleveland Scene put together a great article.

Crisis 101

Having read countless crisis cases, studied crisis theory and written a literature review on digital tools in crisis communication, I know Blazek’s email and subsequent reaction to the digital explosion are fraught with issues.

Walking the talk

For starters, in the digital age, there are incalculable opportunities for the powerless to be empowered and for the previously unshared to become sharable. Therefore, as a “professional” with an established brand of helping people find jobs and being a “mother” figure, authenticity is key. You cannot purport a nurturing environment of a Job Bank and, subsequently, respond with “slap down” emails to those reaching out to you for help.

If you wish to position yourself as a hard-nosed professional delivering tough love, à la Simon Cowell or Donald Trump, using nurturing trigger language like “house mother” misleads your publics and sets you up for failure. Language choice and wording is key to developing and maintaining a personal brand. However, you must walk the talk in the digital age, as your publics will use technology, like Twitter, to call you out if you are not being genuine.

For instance, check out Blazek’s ascribed values in the following quote from this IABC Cleveland article from 2013. They clearly do not match up with her practice in this circumstance:

“I’ve always been a passionate advocate for keeping talent in NE Ohio, and we have so much of it in the region,” Blazek told attendees at the IABC recognition event at Cleveland’s Pura Vida. “I want my subscribers to feel like everyone is my little sister or brother, and I’m looking out for them.”

If she considers folks she’s helping in the industry her family, I’d hate to see how she treats her enemies.

Crisis response

The number one rule of crisis communication is do not hide your head in the sand. Blazek seems to have adopted a stonewall strategy for #Kellygate. Once this email started blowing up on social media, Blazek shutdown her Job Bank Twitter account, WordPress blog and LinkedIn profile. According to archived Google crawls of these sites, her Twitter account prior to the crisis had nearly 3,000 followers while her blog had been visited nearly 150,000 times, both of which could have been used to issue a quick response.

There is no way to get ahead on messaging during a crisis without the appropriate vehicles. If I were Blazek, my first move would have been an apology followed by a very public acceptance of Mekota into the Job Bank. However, with no public response from Blazek, the Internet is doing the talking for her via articles, tweets and blog posts.

During a crisis, if you don’t provide your side of the story, public opinion will provide it for you–and it may be inaccurate or libelous. Blazek could be taking control of the situation to attempt to salvage her personal brand; however, as of this writing, we’ve heard nothing. It is fascinating that someone whose firm offers crisis communication counsel is responding so poorly.

It seems the digital court of public opinion is inventing new terms–Blazeked–to describe this sort of treatment. I’ll be watching this case closely as it evolves.

Update: Blazek apologizes

Kelly Blazek issued an apology to both Mekota and The Plain Dealer. This article details the full story with reaction from Mekota and Blazek’s apology, which is reposted below:

I am very sorry to the people I have hurt.

Creating and updating the Cleveland Job Bank listings has been my hobby for more than ten years. It started as a labor of love for the marketing industry, but somehow it also became a labor, and I vented my frustrations on the very people I set out to help.

Hundreds of people contact me every month looking for help, and as the bottom fell out of the job market, their outreach and requests demanded more of my time. I became shortsighted and impatient, and that was wrong.

My Job Bank listings were supposed to be about hope, and I failed that. In my harsh reply notes, I lost my perspective about how to help, and I also lost sight of kindness, which is why I started the Job Bank listings in the first place.

The note I sent to Diana was rude, unwelcoming, unprofessional and wrong. I am reaching out to her to apologize. Diana and her generation are the future of this city. I wish her all the best in landing a job in this great town.

What is your take on Blazek’s response? Was she justified, or is this a teachable moment for professionals? Have you ever been “Blazeked”? Is the apology enough, or is it too little too late? Feel free to share your comments and stories below.

12 thoughts on “How One Email Can Destroy Your Personal Brand — Starring Kelly Blazek

  1. Without wanting to make apologies for someone’s bad behavior, I will note there is a psychological phenomenon called “snapping” in which a person, pushed over the edge by stress, lashes out at the next perceived slight to the values of their universe. After reading the reply to the unfortunate Chicago job seeker, I can see why people are offended by it. On the other hand, this incident should not result in an Internet fueled “pile on” like the mistaken identification via an online forum of suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. Give it a rest and move on.

    • Hi, Dan! I agree we shouldn’t harp on this for too long. My issue wasn’t as much with what she said as that it seemed to go against the grain of her established brand. Further, this, apparently, wasn’t an isolated incident, according to the Cleveland Scene article.

      I think the overarching lesson here is to be authentic–not one person online and another off-line. Further, the subsequent crisis (or issue) has not been handled in the most beneficial way for Blazek.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. I have a problem with Dan Yurman running around the Internet comparing this story with the Boston Marathon bombing. He posted substantially the same thing on Tim Kovach’s site, and there are some other comments that mention the Boston Marathon without a name attached.

    The fact of the matter is that (1) Kelly Blazek is guilty as charged. We have both the original email and Blazek’s response. We have more than one obnoxious email to people looking for help. I doubt the half-dozen responses posted to social media are the only ones Blazek sent.

    (2) Unlike the Boston Marathon, where the misidentified might have been in physical danger, nobody is going to lynch Kelly Blazek.

    (3) What qualifies Dan Yurman to decide how much hostile response is piling on? A reasonable surmise is that Blazek has been sending these messages out for months, if not years, to people trying desperately to find jobs.

    What’s the impact of sending a polite, carefully-worded message looking for help– and then getting this sort of abuse?

    Does it do permanent damage? Most likely; the recipient will not forget it. Does it reduce the willingness to send out other requests? Almost certainly. Does that reduction affect the amount of outreach– reducing the probability that the person gets a job as soon? Very likely.

    The reason this is going viral is that almost everyone has tried to find a job and encountered some form of ill-treatment. The scars from those encounters last. Blazek has reminded almost everyone of their worst employment nightmare, and the pain and rage from that mistreatment is bubbling up.

    Of course this assumes that Mr. Yurman’s motives are even misguided. I son’t know if he’s Blazek’s romantic partner, relative or business associate. About all I can say is that he isn’t a sock puppet– he does exist on LinkedIn.

    • I have never met Ms. Blazek, don’t know here other than what I read in the media. It is too bad that your comments are as much a personal attack as Ms. Blazek’s were to the unfortunate job seeker from Chicago. Step back and take a deep breath, count to ten, and then walk away from the keyboard the next time your blood boils over.

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  6. All of this rationalizing is horseshit. You’re simply trying to protect one of your own. This human garbage did not “snap” under pressure. A simple Google (this new thing called the “Internets”) search will prove this is not an isolated incident. Blazek is obviously an arrogant, big fish in a very small pond. The idea she considers herself a “seasoned professional” is laughable. Her over-inflated sense of self worth is nothing but disgusting. Any company with any sense of decency should distance themselves from her quickly

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