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