Saturday, December 30, 2006

NOKA chocolate maker and DPK Public Relations

Oh this is beautiful; small business PR dilemma at its best.

NOKA Chocolate has caught the attention of Scott from DallasFood.org and he has produced a ten part report that doesn’t look to kindly on NOKA’s pricing and marketing strategy; the pricing for being extraordinarily marked up and the marketing for obfuscation.

Scott concludes that the chocolate isn’t worth the price tag worth it and accuses the company owners as opportunistic (to the point of fault).

Judging by the evidence he produces it is hard not to agree. It’s just an example of a company charging the highest possible price they can (most companies share this interest) and making their marketing as pitched as possible to justify the luxury price tag.

However if Scott’s analysis is correct then it is hard to see how the corporate bumf can be correct too.
“returning chocolate to its pure, luxurious state”
“exclusive plantations”
“handcrafting”

All these points which are disputed in the report by saying that chocolate has never been enjoyed in a pure state and that’s why only 75% cocoa is used and not 100%, the chocolate makers are actually Bonnat, and the end product itself is uninspired and machine made.

This is interesting in itself to examine the chocolatier business (as an economics hobbyist) but what takes this story over the edge are the acts of public relations man Dan Keeney.

Shortly after the story broke into Google’s blog search Dan Keeney saw a local firm being struck down without a counter argument so stepped up to provide one. And he did this everywhere the issue was brought up.

Wait, a random PR guy defending a local company… that smell like he has a stake in it somewhere. And if there is one thing the blogosphere doesn’t abide by it is undisclosed PR practitioners despite the fact that the full name and therefore full agenda of the author of the report is undisclosed too.

However, Dan Keeney has posted his viewpoint on his blog. On some comments he made to other people’s blog posts he did indeed give his personal email. Also he wasn’t involved with NOKA at the time and so couldn’t possibly say he represented at the time of posting his comments. Fair enough. The counter-arguments were weak and as far as I have read unsupported by anyone else but he had every right to make them and provided as full as disclosure as was necessary.

The man saw a cause in defending a local company and got to it. As a crisis communication specialist with a hand or more in social media it is easy to see why he was so prolific in posting his comments across the blogosphere in his spare time. His actions seemingly did land him a gig with the NOKA shortly afterwards (less than a day by the looks of it).

And this is where the problem lies. The end result is we have a bucket full of negative commentary regarding a company and the only visible defence on each occasion is being spouted by a PR guy with no immediate disclosure. The disclosure is being provided by other commentators joining the dots later.

To me, this looks really ugly. Not everyone that reads these posts is going to go to the Keeney PR website to find the facts. What is Dan supposed to do to tidy up? Go to all those blogs again and post a subsequent comment saying “at the time of posting my original comment I was not representing NOKA Chocolate but now I am. This is just to present you with the facts.”?

What does it say about NOKA and their grasp on PR? If you have no PR representation or the ones you have aren’t representing should you hire this random PR guy that shows up and defends you? Should the PR accept the gig so soon after the event? Would it not have been better for NOKA to say “Thanks, we’ll think of you for our future needs” and Dan to say “Thank you. It was for a worthy cause.”?

Sadly it all looks rather messy and I don’t envy their task of trying to clean this one up.

Update 31.12.2006 - Furthering the subject Transparency and Tracking Back

Related links:
It's the Price, Not the Thought, That Counts? - Economist's View
Excellent series about Noka chocolate at Dallas Food - Kitchen Mage
What's Noka Chocolates Worth? - Marshall Sponder
Noka Chocolate Fun - Robert Synnott
Dan, Noka Chocolate’s Valiant Defender - Robert Synnott
Noka - An American Chocolate Story - Alec Muffett

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