Learning The Hard Way!


Gosh! I really do not think that any of us realised the amount of attention that would be given to what was, we believed, quite a light hearted blog about people’s reactions to being followed on Twitter by Rentokil.  What is staggering is that we have had more than three times the number of people read this post today than the 600+ we follow; the power of Twitter!

We looked for interesting people to follow – and not just from the world of Pest Control – but based on a variety of factors; their biographical information, location and tweet content, which are all publicly available. This search process is a manual search process and every person is looked over for appropriate content. A simple program was then used to enable a follow of the people manually selected. This has now been stopped.

In retrospect, it feels as though we may have been a bit clumsy.  Twitter really is a new way for us of communicating with people and we are bound to make mistakes along the way. While some of the feedback has been painful, it also feels valid and we have learnt from it.  We will stop following anyone who wishes us to.  Just let us know.

Once more, we want to apologise to anyone who feels it has affected them. We have learned the hard way and will be working hard to get it right.

Category: Industry Insight for Pest Control Professionals

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  1. Joeks
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Well, to be fair, pest control probably isn’t one of the “glamour” industries and can’t attract the cream of marketing professionals.

    So I guess its to be expected you’ve so quickly become poster children for dishonesty and spamming. Hell, you can’t even figure out how people are landing here.

  2. Richard
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    The interest has partially come from following people on Twitter, but also a big part of it was by distributing a PR that seems to have been just a big scary lie.

    And then when getting caught out on this, lying again. (By saying you were going to release the PR, but then obviously releasing something else.) Assuming the cliche of journalists practically inserting whole press releases directly into the paper, it seems most likely the original PR had some pretty explicit statements, which were untrue.

  3. joe
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    yes, you were clumsy, and as Joeks says, if you are _really_ surprised how you got so many people reading your blog, then maybe you need to return to Social Media school and start again.

    Just. Come. Clean.

    The truth shall set you free of the hatred you have inspired.

  4. joe
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    BTW: that guy in the top right corner is a model, right? C’mon now, start with an easy one…

  5. Posted March 15, 2010 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    So, where is that press release? You know, the one containing the made-up numbers?

  6. KimV
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    This will surprise no one, but what lead me here was the scare story about public transport. I didn’t know anything about the Twitter follow problems. Learning about that hasn’t been to your benefit either.

    I was also amused to read your blog’s terms and conditions, specifically: “You agree to grant us a royalty free, worldwide, perpetual and non-exclusive license to use, copy, distribute, transmit or otherwise publish in whole or in part (and in any form or media) any material which you submit to the Blog. You waive any moral rights in all material you submit.” Can’t imagine what the recent comments would be used for, unless in a Rentokil brochure of PR disasters.

  7. Simon
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear… did the poor widdle £2.4bn company make a booboo?

    That’s ok – not to worry, it’s all just a lark isn’t it? It’s not like anyone takes this stuff seriously, surely?

    Oh, and don’t worry – we’ll all forget about this soon enough – it’s not like you can ever search for stuff on the internet.

    Oh… wait… my bad.

  8. Jaffs
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Sorry – not good enough. You need to respect the medium and understand how to use it to it’s best effect rather than wading in with those cockroach crushing size 12s. Your PR agency needs to be hotter on this, and doesn’t a company as big as Rentokil have a marketing agency who helps with it’s social media strategy? If not, me thinks you need one. Fast.

  9. Posted March 17, 2010 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    I must say, if I was running PR for Rentokil I would be VERY PLEASED. If I was MD of Rentokil, I would be ecstatic! My Twitter has been full of people retweeting what they think is a negative assessment of Rentokil, but is in fact simply raising their profile.

    Is is bad publicity?

    Not necessarily, and anyway, no one has died. Enough people have been outraged and indignant about these “tactics” (I think it was more accidental) to give Rentokil a credibility in a Great British underdoggish kind of way. I’m building a real respect for you pest-control chaps. One bug company, so obviously staffed by humans, who while making some basic Twitter “errors” – and I’m not sure which rule book everyone reads – manages to mobilise the whole UK it seems, and the whole English speaking online world (if the locations of the re-Tweeters are to be believed), against them.

    But all Rentokil has done is publish a harmless (almost funnily outrageous) story about buses and trains being potentially infested with thousands of cockroaches and bed bugs, and make some bullish replies, and follow a few thousand people on Twitter – to create a PR news storm.

    Getting your company name in so many reports and Tweets is GOOD. Nothing but good. The “crime” is trivial. Next time anyone who has seen all this unfolding – and millions have – next time they have any pest problems (over the next many years), the name RENTOKIL will certainly be top of the list, and I can’t see anyone not using them due to the “crime” of following too many people on Twitter. It takes some balls to respond robustly against the lynch mob.

    Well done Rentokil PR! I just know you will be partying over this, and how you managed to excite the world over bugs and rats is amazing. Top marks from me… and still the Tweets from people who *think* you have boobed and are revelling in it, keep on coming. Like a Tsunami of name-checks. Your Google Alerts must be in overdrive!

    Next, mildly rebuke these Twitterers. Do some online pest control. Defend your position as the underdog! It is text-book stuff. It can only increase the storm of righteous indignation (over WHAT?). Someone at Rentokil deserves a massive pay rise and a promotion. You have created a not-so-bad story with your company name in EVERY mention, for peanuts, must be worth £250,000 of advertising in my book.

    Brilliant laugh, no harm done, massive profile created. Excellent!


  10. Posted March 17, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Love it, love it, love it. Three things.

    1) The initial ‘scare’ press release – brilliant. Did exactly what it was intended to – got published everywhere, got people talking and raised Rentokil’s profile while conveying the message of what it does – KILL BUGS.

    2) Everyone who’s has been offended by the massaging of facts in that initial story appears to be in the marketing profession – surely you should know better. Consumers – yes, those people Rentokil is seeking to attract – will now be aware of the name and what it does. They will not be indulging themselves in theoretical/philosophical talk about the actual figures – they will be scared witless about bugs and moved to pick up the phone to Rentokil. Surely, all you marketeers out there get this?

    3) What’s the big deal about being followed by Rentokil on Twitter? I get followed by strange, salacious people (are they really people?) sometimes. I’m not offended – I just block them. Job done.

    4) Sorry, four points. Somebody has heaped further criticism on Rentokil for releasing it’s scare story just before it announced it had won a huge contract. Again, call me old fashioned, but isn’t this a superb bit of strategic PR??? Raise awareness of the horrible issue of bugs then come in like a white knight to solve it. Brilliant.
    This whole debate has shown people up as small minded, jobsworth and – biggest crime of all – humourless. Where the hell has a sense of fun and self-depracation gone?

    Good on you Rentokil and your agency. You put your heads above the parapet – you have dared to be different in your industry. Good on you. As soon as I get an itch, I’ll be on the phone …

  11. Chris Dymond
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, it’s just a bit of fun, isn’t it? Scaring people to make money. Humour, see? Scared, jumpy people are funny. They’re so stupid..

  12. k price
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    1. Some consumers have braincells!
    2. Pathetic and Humour are to different things!
    3. Adverts of any kind ensure I will not buy!
    4 If you want to sell your products you may want to try humour or intelligence… look them up!

  13. mike
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 1:41 am | Permalink
  14. leon wardial
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Ms Shearn is exactly why PR has a bad name. I’m not in marketing and I’m not offended but I can clearly see that the whole affair has made Rentokil look stupid and devious.

  15. No it's not.
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    You guys still think getting in-house shills to post on your blog is a good idea, right?

  16. Graeme
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Well should I have any pest problems I know one well-known name that I won’t be using and that’s Rentokil.

    Should I need a PR or marketing company – then I’ll check to see if they have ever worked for Rentokil and if they have then we’ll be checkng they weren’t part of this massive credibility damaging excercise.

  17. bruce
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Well, I’m sure learning a lot about the PR business. Thanks for opening my eyes.

  18. Hahaha
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Writing comments on your own blog Is realy pathetic

  19. Alex W.
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m curious, how do you know that “Everyone who’s has been offended by the massaging of facts in that initial story appears to be in the marketing profession”? I’m a scientist, for starters. I’m sure that everyone else who weighed in will be kind enough to pipe up with their profession if you bother to ask, instead of making assumptions.

    What a greasy waste of time Rentokil is!

  20. Nick Narford
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think we (PRs) should be trumpeting the bad practice here.

    Yes it has actually worked out quite well for Rentokil and the above statement seems fair, but most people are forgetting that there was some dubious activity because they feel sorry for those who had to face the wrath you-know-who.

    The thing is, and can I just name He Who Must Not Be Named – Ben Goldacre – is so agressive in his ways he’s become fairly unlikable (along with his smug tweets), so the PR industry see the latest person being mauled by him and wants to help them out.

    I don’t think this has helped Rentokil raise or improve its profile amongst the general public. This is just a talking shop amongst PRs who are trying to make themselves feel better because most of them are forced to push the scientific/factual boundries to get coverage for their client.

  21. The Filthy Assistant
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Wow… Ruth(less)Shearn. This is not good PR. People around the world will now permanently associate Rentokil with lying. A newspaper article is not an advert. Grow some ethics.

  22. Ben
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    What a lovely insight into the ethical black hole of PR from Ruth Shearn – stay classy, Ruth.

  23. Waltz
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    “Consumers – yes, those people Rentokil is seeking to attract – will now be aware of the name and what it does. They will not be indulging themselves in theoretical/philosophical talk about the actual figures – they will be scared witless about bugs and moved to pick up the phone to Rentokil.”
    Actually I, the consumer, now know about the lies and will never use them. You are right, brilliant.

  24. simon
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Ruth Shearn, I think you’ve got it wrong. Rentokil certainly know they have and I hope their team winced as much as I did when reading your post.

    I’m genuinely surprised that as a PR professional you feel that the furore around this story makes the whole enterprise worthwhile. In today’s joined up world bad news travels fast, and you only have to look at the negative chat on Twitter to see the harm this is doing to Rentokil’s hard earned reputation.

    The old maxim “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is outmoded. As is thinking that consumers are mugs. This is why Rentokil have now issued a clarification and an apology. Good on them. I understand that in PR you need to be creative and work hard to get clients noticed. But this particular approach has fallen spectacularly flat. People know when they’re being lied to. And, believe it or not, they don’t like it.

    PS I like to think I can enjoy a joke as much as the next person. And you’re right, people shouldn’t commit the “biggest crime of all” and lack humour. I mean cockroaches, bed bugs and fleas? Hilarious…..

  25. Aaron Dale
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  26. rob
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    amen, mike.

  27. MarcoJ
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink


    I hope for your sake potential employers and clients don’t Google you and read that ignorant drivel. This stunt, if it was indeed a deliberate action, backfired. Your profession is designed to *protect* the reputation of companies, not spay them with mistrust. Far from successfully promoting a good product, this incident has raised questions in the minds of consumers about the value of the product and undermined the reputation of the company. The words ‘shoot’ and ‘foot’ should be tattooed on your forehead till you learn this lesson.

  28. David Hugh-Jones
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Ruth, Ling

    Is lying OK in marketing? Well, thanks for letting us know.


  29. Jim Thomas
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Well done Ruth Shearn for proving many people’s perception of PR as reducing basic humanity. Your post above makes you sound vile. And heaven preserve us from tedious people who invoke the F word – “fun” – to explain away any manner of slimy activity, thereby instantly condemning anyone who objects or disagrees as – gasp! – ‘humourless’.Never mind what a dullard you have to be to see ‘humour’ in false distorted stories about infestations.

    Nick Narford, Goldacre probably seems aggressive to those who are exposed by his straightforward application of basic, unbiased, empirical scientific principles. And even if he is aggressive – we need people like him who are prepared to come across as unpleasant and driven in order to combat the daily tide of distortion and misinformation.

  30. Ben Hutchings
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    “He Who Must Not Be Named – Ben Goldacre – is so agressive in his ways he’s become fairly unlikable”

    Aggressive? You have got to be kidding. The man is astonishingly temperate considering the mendacity of those he writes about.

    Suing your critics, that’s aggressive. Spreading lies to get commercial advantage, also aggressive. Pointing out lies and the liars that spread them? Not aggressive.

  31. Tangofish
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Don’t know who Ruth Shearn or Ling Valentine are but I find it interesting they both have a similar view on this story. Especially when looking at Ruth’s PR website, under “Case Studies”, I see that Ling Valentine is a client :P oops

  32. Davrod
    Posted March 22, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Yeah that Goldacre, so aggressive with his scare-stories about torrents of vermin on the busses. I can hardly get through a day without his smug fact checking or unlikable dedication to the understanding of science. Why doesn’t he get out of the way and leave the science to PR companies?

  33. Dan
    Posted March 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Nick – when you say “forced to push the scientific/factual boundries”, that’s PR-speak for “lie” isn’t it?

  34. Adiebee
    Posted March 25, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    It’s not bad enough to see Ruth Shearn shooting herself in the foot but I wish she’d not shoot the feet out from under the rest of the marketing world too.

    I’ve been in PR for a decade and yes, its true, the industry has been guilty of treating stats as surveys as a bit of fun.

    Debates like this and Ben Goldacre’s excellent and entertaining stats by numbers rants have shown that there is a responsibility in getting data out into the public eye. With media scrutiny on the wane, this now lies with PR.

    That’s exactly why many PR people do care about this stuff now, and do make an effort to end their press releases with details of how the research was conducted and by who. Its also why some in the industry can and do spend 10s or even 100s of thousands on pieces of research with credible research bodies. And when you do, guess what? You can find out genuinely interesting things, that journalists will find news worthy, that can get coverage enough to justify the marketing spend.

    Ruth Stearn clearly loves playing the game, but its also possible to do marketing as a professional!

  35. tweeter freak
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Yeah!!! Tweeting could be fun and mades nasty by some out-of-the-world comments. Anyway, I’ve learnt that the bad comments are meant to bring out the best in someone.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Rentokil’s misleading marketing is "brilliant" | The World Matters on March 19, 2010 at 1:02 am

    [...] Bad Science. But what does he know? Misleading claims, it turns out, have an undeservedly bad rap! Massaged facts and scare tactics are effective promotional tools, according to someone representing themselves as the chief of a PR company, [...]

  2. By uberVU - social comments on March 19, 2010 at 1:21 am

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by deBugged: New blog post Learning The Hard Way! – Gosh! I really do not think that any of us realised the amount of attention … http://ow.ly/16MXMn...

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