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Laurel MiltnerJanuary 26, 20125 min read

Moises' Commandments: Lessons from the N-Control PR Disaster

On Dec. 27, 2011, N-Control, a company that makes video game controller adapters to improve play for handicapped users and hardcore gamers, almost lost everything

simple customer service email chain spiraled out of control and into a PR nightmare after a company representative responded in a rude and hostile manner, which led to the emails being published on a popular gaming blog, Penny Arcade. In case you missed the Ocean Marketing / N-Control debacle over holiday break, here’s a quick recap: 

  • Customer Dave emails N-Control for an update on a late shipment of Avenger controllers. (Important note: Despite frustration, it’s clear that Dave is very interested in the product, with potential to be a superfan/brand advocate.) 
  • Dave receives a curt, not-at-all-helpful response from N-Control representative, Paul Christoforo (@_oceanmarketing). (Who, as we learn later, is actually an external PR/marketing consultant.)
  • After exchanging a few emails, in which Christoforo is less than helpful and downright rude, Dave gets upset. In his fifth email to Christoforo, 10 days after the first, Dave copies contacts at major gaming blogs to fill them in on the situation and N-Control's poor customer service.
  • Christoforo starts talking a big game and name-dropping. At the mention of his event, PAXMike Krahulik of Penny Arcade chimes in. Christoforo clearly doesn’t know who he is, which makes his situation worse.
  • After exchanging several heated emails with Christoforo, Kahulik published the full string of emails on Penny Arcade.  

The gaming community was outraged, which led to hateful messages to Christoforo, tons of negative online chatter about N-Control, and even an Amazon-bombing of the Avenger controller that dropped its ratings to one star. (The X-box model is back up to three, although some issues have come to light about early, five-star reviews having been planted.)  

Enter Moises Chiullan (@moiseschiu), a public-relations disaster specialist who took it upon himself to get in touch with N-Control’s founder through a mutual friend after he learned about the disaster the same way everyone else did—online.” (Source)

World Wide Web, Indeed

I felt like my personal and professional worlds collided, and followed this story all over the Internet—from advertising and marketing news sites, to gaming blogs, to IMGUR memes, even to the blog of another Avenger customer that had similar customer service issues with Christoforo months earlier.

It was fascinating to see this covered from so many angles, but what I was most impressed with was the swift response from Chiullan. In one week, he helped N-Control regain control of its marketing, rebuild the trust of its customers, and re-establish a positive brand experience. Honestly, he probably saved the business.

How to Save a Brand in Seven Days 

superhero businessmanFollowing are some of the activities that Chiullan employed:

  • Quickly released a brief statement from Avenger inventor and N-Control president David Kotkin"We apologize for our poor representation from Ocean Marketing. We wanted to give Paul a chance. He was rough around the edges, but he had drive and enthusiasm. However, his behavior was unprovoked, unnecessary, and unforgivable. We are no longer represented by Ocean Marketing." (Source)
  • Christoforo had control of many accounts, including Twitter, email and GoDaddy. So, Chuillan shut down and began work on a new website. [Note: N-Control has since “regained control of all assets through alternative, legal, and fully sanctioned means within N-Control's rights.” (Source)]
  • He launched a new Twitter handle for the Avenger Controller (@AvengerControl) and used it to send regular updates and direct responses to customer queries. He also kept followers updated from his personal account.
  • Chiullan set up a Reddit AMA (ask me anything), encouraged community members to ask questions, and responded to all of them—even when, in true Internet fashion, commenters went off on tangents ranging from Pulp Fiction quotes to multi-lingual puns. He also made regular updates to the main feed, keeping people abreast of major activity when he wasn’t responding as quickly as they may expect. [Why Reddit? It’s one of the most popular social networks for the gamer demographic, heavily dominated by American males in their 20s. (Source)]
  • Avenger distributed a comprehensive press release the following day that officially announced the dismissal of Christoforo and Ocean Marketing, addressed and apologized for his actions, distanced the company from him, and laid out plans to “move forward and take care of Avenger’s customers.” (If you're in PR, I recommend reading the release. Though it's lengthy, it's a great example of what releases can and should be—free of jargon, strategic and honest.) UPDATE: On Jan. 6, Chiullan distributed another release, announcing that N-Control donated $10,000, and pledged up to $50,000 worth of product (after backorders are filled) to Child's Play, a charity started by Krahulik and his Penny Arcade partner,Jerry Holkins.
  • Set up media interviews—both with himself and with Kotkin—to talk candidly about the ordeal, how it was handled, and in some cases (amazingly) the product itself.  

Most importantly: Chiullan understood the people he was trying to reach, and gave a voice, a face, and a likeable personality to a brand that so desperately needed it. And, he certainly got over the lazy—Chiullan even admitted that he didn’t sleep for his first two days on the account, devoting himself 24-hours-a-day to saving his client’s reputation.

Takeaway for Corporate Marketers

If you hire an outside provider, work with an agency you trust. Ensure that you have control of—or at least access to—all digital assets, including those set up on your behalf. And remember: some things are best kept in house.

For a collection of articles exploring the many angles of this story, see my collection on the topic

Did you follow the Ocean Marketing / N-Control story? How would you have handled the situation? Share your thoughts on the comments below. 

Laurel Miltner is the assistant vice president at PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency and PR firm. Follow Laurel on Twitter: @laurelmackenzie.

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