A Christmas PR Tip for Verizon: Being Compared to the Grinch Is Not Good

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The little town of Lonaconing, Md., is causing a big PR problem for Verizon and Allegheny Power.

From The Washington Post:

Every year, Christmas lights glittered in this little coal town…They were like ordinary light bulbs, but tinted in every color, and the Goodwill Fire Co. strung them, pole to pole, building to building, and they cast a magical spell…

Those days are gone, and so are the twinkling lights. Disputes with utility companies about safety violations have left the town dark this December… Verizon Maryland Inc. and Allegheny Power, which own the utility poles in this Western Maryland town, say safety was at issue…

The trouble started in July, when after doing things the same way, year after year, something changed. The old light bulbs were becoming unreliable, so the town’s Christmas Light Decoration Committee decided to invest more than $3,000 in new strings of lights for the holiday.

The committee members also decided they would need to install new outlets and sensors on the utility poles. So with an eye toward a Nov. 20 lighting ceremony, the town sent a work order to Allegheny Power. But the work order started a new set of wheels turning.

”If they had just gone up and hooked up the lights like in the past, they’d be up there right now,” said Allegheny Power spokesman Allen Staggers. ”Because they asked for more power connections, that triggered an inspection process that is not done year in and year out.”

Allow Media Orchard to paraphrase: “If they had never contacted us in the first place, we wouldn’t have screwed things up.”

Verizon piled on by notifying the town’s mayor that “posting of any signs, banners, Christmas decorations or balloons onto poles without permission is illegal and can be prosecuted as trespassing.”

”If a wire is hanging at 15 feet, a truck could snag it. It could snap a pole, and someone could get seriously injured,” Verizon spokeswoman Sandra Arnette said. ”We never said the town should not hang the lights. But safety is the first thing.”…

Overwhelmed, the Town Council voted unanimously to abandon the lights this Christmas.

In one last attempt to make a holiday statement, town workers have inflated a large green Grinch, the famous Christmas-hating character created by Dr. Seuss.

The Grinch now smiles his fiendish smile in Fountain Park, right next to the Verizon office. He guards a carefully lettered sign that reads, ”Who really did steal Christmas from Lonaconing?”

If we might make a suggestion:

Once Verizon and Allegheny Power understood the situation, they should have gone out of their way to help get the new lights up. By doing this, they’d have not only avoided the “Grinch” label, but would have provided their PR teams a terrific holiday story to pitch to the media.

And they’d have earned loyal customers in Lonaconing for life. Think of it; the townspeople would have remembered Verizon’s good deed every Christmas season — just when they were doing their holiday shopping (for things like wireless phone service.)

Oh, well. Maybe next year.

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About the author

Scott Baradell
Scott, president of Idea Grove, oversees one of the fastest-growing and most forward-looking public relations and inbound marketing agencies in the southwestern United States. Idea Grove focuses on helping technology companies reach media and buyers; and its clients range from venture-backed startups to Fortune 200 companies. Scott launched Idea Grove in 2005 along with his groundbreaking blog, Media Orchard. He has been a consistent innovator in the public relations and marketing space. Scott was among the first to understand the role of blogging in audience building. He was quick to recognize the vital importance of content quality and the power of social sharing. Most significantly, he developed a system that integrates public relations, content creation, social and search marketing, and conversion rate optimization into a program that produces hard-dollar results for clients.

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3 thoughts on “A Christmas PR Tip for Verizon: Being Compared to the Grinch Is Not Good

  1. BaltimoreLenore

    In that neck of the woods of western Maryland, they probably thought that the bunch o’ hicks would just go away. Knowing what I know of how Verizon upper management has been treating their own employees lately – I am hardly shock.

  2. Simon

    Usually I side with the little guy, but to be honest, I’m with Verizon this time – if the council’s lights weren’t up to safety standards and someone was hurt or killed it would be Verizon who would be in trouble. Verizon offered to work with the council. The council threw its toys out of the pram and it was they that cancelled the lights, not Verizon.

  3. Ralph

    I have just retired from Verizon Management after 34 years of service. This does not surprise me at all. The “upper” level management that is now running the companyhave all just come from the Military or College. They are doing anything they can to make a name for themselves.Merry Christmas is not in their world, they are robots.