How to practice BAD public relations

In case you haven’t seen the news recently, a Chicago real estate company is suing a woman over a Twitter. This piece is an opinion since the agency’s lawyer said on a newscast opinions are okay.

This has to be one of the worst public relations strategies I’ve ever seen. This company has garnered more negative news coverage than Bin Laden this month. This is what happens when companies listen strictly to lawyers without talking to Marketing Sociologist counsel.

Lawyers tend to believe they know everything. Unfortunately, as this case proves, lawyers are not always that wizened in public opinion or image.

by Andrew Wang and Ben Meyerson - Jul. 28, 2009 03:43 PM
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO - A landlord has replied to a former resident's complaint on Twitter about mold with a salvo of its own: a libel lawsuit.

"Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's okay," Amanda Bonnen apparently wrote in her Twitter feed May 12 at 9:08 a.m.

HorizonGroup Management, which leased Bonnen's Uptown Chicago apartment, wasn't pleased.

Last week the company filed suit against Bonnen in Cook County Circuit Court, claiming Bonnen "maliciously and wrongfully published the false and defamatory Tweet."

"The statements in the Tweet concerning Plaintiff were and are wholly false. By reason of the publication of them, Plaintiff has been greatly injured in its reputation as a landlord in Chicago," the suit reads.

The suit does not detail any actual damages, such as lost revenue. Horizon asks for at least $50,000, the threshold for the case to be heard in the court's law division.

Efforts to reach Bonnen and the friend she was tweeting were unsuccessful. Horizon's lawyer Bret Rappaport referred calls to the company, which in turn declined to comment.(fantastic PR)

Bonnen's Twitter page has been shuttered, though a cached version of the page shows the last tweet was logged at 10:11 a.m. July 22, a day before the lawsuit was filed.(Wow, this reporter is GOOD to uncover this)

Regardless of the legal merits of the case, Horizon is "inviting a PR nightmare" and drawing scrutiny well beyond the 17 followers Bonnen's Twitter feed had before it was closed, said Sam Bayard, assistant director of the Citizen Media Law Project.

Horizon could have treated Bonnen's tweet as a consumer complaint, as some companies are now using Twitter. "They chose to file a lawsuit, instead drawing more attention to it," said Bayard, calling the suit "foolhardy."

As for the suit's chances in court?

"I'd hate to be Horizon trying to show that Bonnen's tweet was false, much less made

with actual malice or even negligence," Bayard wrote in a blog post

"Read in context, the tweet refers to Bonnen's own apartment ("You should just come anyway"), not Horizon apartments in general. Unless the statement was a total fabrication (and what could be gained by making this up?), then Bonnen shouldn't have too much trouble supporting it with evidence."