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I’m fortunate to be connected to hundreds of outstanding public relations and marketing professionals. All of them are fantastic at their job, and I’m a smarter person for just knowing them (that includes the proprietor of this blog, and the many contributors). Given all the good I see the industry accomplishing each day, at least one a month it seems an entity or a person commits such an egregious screw up that I’m left to question the future of public relations. Or at least how these people have a job that pays them more than minimum wage. The subject of today’s post is Progressive Insurance.
I’ll get right to the point. According to this Gawker article, Progressive paid to defend the killer of one of their client’s in court. Read that sentence again. Notice I didn’t say “basically” or “in essence”. No. This company paid its lawyers to defend a guy who ran a red light and killed Katie Fisher.Comedian (ironic, huh?) Matt Fisher, Katie’s brother, documented the entire situation in this Tumblr post. What happened boiled down to this. The perpetrator was underinsured, but his insurance company paid what was due to Katie’s family under its policy, which was still short. The Progressive policy that Katie had entitled her loved ones to more compensation. Progressive said no. Katie’s parents were forced to sue the other driver, and who showed up to defend him in court? Progressive’s lawyers.
Understandably, Matt Fisher was PISSED. So, he wrote about it on Tumblr yesterday, and what did Progressive do to respond to all the negative attention it got on Twitter? Respond in a human manner? Take responsibility for the TERRIBLE job it did at using human reason rather than a contract to determine what it needed to do? Oh no. Of course not:
This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain they’ve had to endure. We fully investigated this claim and relevant background, and feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations. Again, this is a tragic situation, and we’re sorry for everything Mr. Fisher and his family have gone through.
Beyond the stock response, which is a huge middle finger to anyone upset with Progressive in this situation, this is what happens when the PR department does nothing to stand up to the legal department. I get that each company has legal obligations and contracts, and it must adhere to those. When a person is dead, and the only (for lack of a better word) comfort the surviving family members get is settlement money, I am of the opinion that you have a moral obligation to expedite the process (while doing due diligence) to help ease their pain.
I’m fortunate enough to never have lost someone I’m close to, though that day is coming. I can’t imagine the extra pain the Fisher family was forced to endure in this situation. Truly, every PR failure in this situation can be fixed with one sentence.
Act like human beings.
Read the comments section. They are absolutely making very relevant points. Here are a couple:
- With every stock answer tweet Progressive sends out with Flo’s face next to it, they are destroying that lovable character they’ve spent YEARS and (I’m assuming here) millions of dollars to build.
- The fact that Progressive extends empathy to the family when the company itself is a big part of the pain of the family.