I had to do a double-take Friday when I was forwarded an e-mail blast of a promotional message sent a day earlier by list firm Fasano and Associates.
In all yellow caps set against an image of flames, the marketing message to promote a few of its clients read, “What else is burning in Southern California? Check these hot lists out!”
Whoa, I thought, “Don’t these guys know you can’t make light of a natural disaster?”
At the time it seemed half of Southern California was burning. On Thursday there were 10,000 evacuees at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, the list of injured and dead was growing, and news accounts showed horrified people returning to the charred remains of what had been their homes.
It was clear to me that these guys made a huge mistake, one that can destroy a company and ruin reputations. And they know it.
Pat Fasano, who founded the list marketing firm 25 years ago, says she regrets that an “overzealous employee” sent that message out. Her Sherman Oaks, CA-based firm is located right in the middle of the wildfires, but it was not affected.
And she’s not only hoping to rectify the situation, but prevent anything like this from ever happening again.
Three days before the e-mail blast went out, her company made a contribution to the California State Firefighters Association, earmarked for emergency purchases of respirators and masks for the firefighters who were battling the Southern California wildfires.
Once she learned that the questionable e-mail was delivered, another was blasted to the same promotional e-mail list, apologizing for the insensitive campaign.
“We’ve been in this business for more than two decades, and the people who know us know I’m not a callous person,” Fasano said on Friday. “It was a total faux pas at an inappropriate time, and now we’re trying to live with it.”
Len Stein, president of New Rochelle, NY-based Visibility Public Relations, says Fasano should have has some sort of checks and balances in place before blasting that or any message to its customers.
“I’ve never encountered a company without some approval process for ad and public relations copy,” Stein says. “There always must be checks in place to screen all public communications and vet them for proper positioning, language, and cultural sensitivity.”
But Stein says Fasano appears to be doing the right thing, which is to rectify the situation as soon as it possibly could. The apology is a good start, as is the mention that it just two days earlier the company had made a contribution to the firefighters.
Fasano says she has learned a lesson and is ready to move on. In fact, she says she ordered the creative used in the questionable e-mail to be deleted from every computer in the office.
“We’re absolutely going through every safeguard imaginable from now on. Absolutely,” Fasano says. “We have a plan now in place to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”