I have this theory that as our world increasingly tilts toward the digital side, the human touch, the personal touch, becomes more valuable.
It’s only a matter of time before a newly minted Stanford MBA makes the rounds on Sand Hill Road trying to raise venture capital for the radical idea of bringing back the “milkman” for home delivery of dairy products.
With this as the backdrop, I can understand the resurrection of the handwritten note as a means to communicate the personal touch. After all, how can a person who takes the time to write a note the old-fashioned way go wrong?
Actually, it can go very wrong if the context is wrong (I might have just invented a new version of the double negative).
For Exhibit A, I give you Alex Rodriguez, #PRfail.
The PR agency and attorneys engaged by Alex the past year have advocated relentless aggression. But it’s clear that Alex’s newly PR agency believes in the adage, “You can catch more fly balls with honey than with vinegar.” As part of the latest rehabilitation process, they counseled Master Rodriguez to apologize.
History shows Americans are a forgiving lot.
Unfortunately, a basic fall-on-your-sword apology wasn’t good enough for this PR brain trust. I can envision the dialogue in the room going something like this:
PR Guy 1: I don’t think a standard apology will change public perception.
PR Guy 2: What do you mean?
PR Guy 1: No one is going to believe a news release in which Alex apologizes to the world — least of all the journalists who write the story.
PR Guy 2: What if we put him on ESPN?
PR Guy 1: We lose control of the narrative.
PR Guy 2: I’ve got it. We do the video interview ourselves and post it on YouTube.
PR Guy 1: Too staged. People will see through it.
PR Guy 2: This is tougher than the Leona Helmsley assignment.
PR Guy 1: We need the unexpected. Something that sends a clear message that Alex means it this time.
PR Guy 2: I’m blanking.
PR Guy 1: What’s the one thing Alex could do that screams sincerity?
PR Guy 2: Still blanking.
PR Guy 1: I’m talking old school.
PR Guy 2: Huh?
PR Guy 1: We have Alex handwrite the apology note.
PR Guy 2: Love it.
PR Guy 1: Puts us in total control of the narrative. Plus, we really do have Alex write it. I mean it. He writes the letter himself. No calligraphers. It brings an emotive dimension to the apology. Humanizes Alex.
PR Guy 2: Would Alex also come up with the actual words?
PR Guy 1: Are you crazy. That’s why we’ve got copywriters and that dude with a Ph.D. in neurological science.
PR Guy 2: I’m on it.
What was Team Rodriguez thinking? Just because the person handwrites the apology increases the believability quotient?
Needless to say, the national media crucified Alex.
This isn’t about digital or paper.
It’s not about being a hipster or an oldster.
It’s about the person uttering the words, “I’m sorry.”
Note: For more on the topic, check out “Will I’m Sorry Have a Role in the Lance Armstrong Narrative?“