You’ve probably never heard of Ocean Marketing. A good public-relations firm is neither seen nor heard. It works to publicize anything and everything but itself, for that is its task and its clients’ mandate. Like a sitcom character who speaks directly to the audience, a PR firm that breaks the fourth wall and becomes news is taking its audience out of the narrative that firm should be creating. With national press only the touch of a smartphone away, it has never been easier than it is now to hoist yourself on the petard of your own electronic hubris. Such is the case of Ocean Marketing, and if you’ve heard that name recently, it is thanks to Paul Christoforo’s arrogance.
It all started when Christoforo, president of Ocean Marketing, promised customers of N-Control that its new Avenger controller for the Playstation 3 would be available by Christmas. Well, Christmas has come and gone, and customers who prepaid for the Avenger apparently did not get it in time for the holidays. When a customer named Dave emailed Christoforo to find out what was going on with order fulfillment, the public-relations disaster that ensued was driven entirely by Christoforo’s contemptuous attitude.
“I ordered two of the upcoming PS2 controllers,” Dave wrote to Christoforo. “Any chance of getting an update of when these items will ship? I’m not really happy about being forced to pay up front, then have the advertised date of ‘Early December’ be completely missed without any sort of update on availability.”
After sending a curt six-character response, Christoforo told Dave that the controllers were in Customs in the United States and would be available either before or after the holiday. Dave wrote back with more questions, prompting Christoforo to type, “Welcome to the Internet? Son Im 38 I wwebsite as on the internet [sic] … Grow up you look like a complete child bro. I Don’t have my controller so im gonna cry to the world …”
It got worse from there, mostly because Dave, the customer, copied in his response some prominent figures in the gaming industry, including the man behind the incredibly popular Web comic Penny Arcade. When Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade (cofounder of a multimillion-dollar children’s charity) could stand it no more and wrote to Christoforo himself, Ocean Marketing’s president tried (and failed) to suck up to the audience he was busily alienating. Then he got hostile.
“Make sure you stir up a lot of controversy about us,” Christoforo wrote to Krahulik, “the more the better we needed some drama gets good blood flow going about the new product launch.” He added, of Penny Arcade, “Your sites [sic] amateur at best my son could put together a better site than yours.”
Well, “stir up a lot of controversy” Krahulik’s publication of the email exchange certainly did. A Twitter search for “Ocean Marketing” reveals … well, nothing good. A few users went so far as to taunt or chide Ocean’s Twitter page directly, but Christoforo hasn’t used the account since November of 2009 (when he issued exactly two tweets). “OCEAN MARKETING is the advertisement of the future,” these read in part. “OCEAN MARKETING promotes your business various ways. …”
But there’s more. Given the negative scrutiny it now enjoys (not to mention the scorn heaped on Christoforo, whose “I wwebsite as on the internet” has become an Internet meme), it was inevitable that any online sins Ocean has committed would come to light. Now Andrew Galbraith is reporting that Ocean and Christoforo have been “lifting articles from across the Web for their blog with little to no attribution of sources whatsoever.” Gailbraith cites articles from Forbes and BizReport reprinted on Christoforo’s website without credit – and claims even the company’s “About Us” page is plagiarized from a Search Engine Optimization firm’s site.
The owner and inventor of the Avenger Controller has disavowed Ocean Marketing, saying the firm’s response was “unprovoked” and “unforgivable.” Christoforo, now a ruined man, issued apologies to his customer, Dave, and to Mike Krahulik at Penny Arcade. (He has since told Forbes, “I tried to be as helpful as I could.”)
Christoforo begged Krahulik to “make it stop,” presumably referring to the avalanche of bad press unleashed by Krahulik’s publication of their emails. “The reality is,” Krahulik wrote, “that once I had posted the emails I didn’t have the power anymore. The Internet had it now, and nothing I said or did was going to change that.”
Last week, Kyle Orland of MSNBC interviewed Christoforo – presumably desperate to perform damage control – over the affair. Claiming Christoforo is “chastened” and “looking for forgiveness from the Internet community he unwittingly antagonized,” Orland says the disgraced Ocean Marketing president received thousands of emails and even some threats against him and his family. Also according to Orland, Christoforo blames his website’s plagiarism on “Indian freelancers.”
Much like a politician who posts naked pictures of himself and then blames his misconduct on nameless, faceless hackers, Christoforo has behaved obnoxiously and now wants us to believe it was all unintentional. He did not, in fact, “unwittingly antagonize” the “online community.” He behaved offensively, treating his customers as if they were lucky he would even speak to them, dismissing their concerns with arrogant disdain. The only difference between his email exchange with Krahulik and any other such behavior is that this time Christoforo got caught. He made the mistake that any of us could make but that most of us won’t: He waved his middle finger at the Internet and the Internet noticed.
Through the Web we are connected, potentially, to everyone. Most of us will only speak to a handful of friends, fans, acquaintances, coworkers and fellow travelers. Every keystroke we make, every post we approve and every email we send could escape those circles. When that happens, we will learn just how quickly our behavior garners praise or condemnation. Until then, we can conduct ourselves with professionalism and courtesy … or we can vent our spleens and see how soon our arrogance loops back to hang us.