In an interesting turn of events, Cleartrip fired their PR agency. Routine affair? Of course, but they also fired the agency publicly, on their blog!

What happened? Why? How?

Here is Cleartrip’s own blog post.

Now, I’m a HUGE fan of Cleartrip from multiple perspectives and I have also written about them in the past in glowing terms.

This incidence, however, seems odd.

The agency in question – Buzz PR – deserves what Cleartrip did to them. Let me not even go into the details of it since it is quite clear from the blog post (unless Buzz PR has another side of this story to add to, that is).

My only wonder is this – was this public firing ‘needed’? Not ‘deserved’, but ‘needed’.

When Cleartrip signed on the agency, I’m sure they’d have talked about it (even the agency may have done some announcement since Cleartrip is definitely one of the better clients to win!) and there would have been the reason to go with Buzz PR. This is industry practice.

What is unusual is maligning the agency when it is being fired – albeit for perfectly valid reasons.

I get what Cleartrip has taken great pains to explain – a public tweet from an aggrieved party (receiver of spam) that seems to indicate that Cleartrip was somehow involved in this spam business. Of course, Cleartrip has to defend its reputation (for which the agency was hired in the first place – Oh the irony!).

So, what are Cleartrip’s options?

Find out where the spam originated from? Done.

Warn the concerned party? Done. Twice (as per the blog).

Not working? Fire the agency? Done.

Blog about how there was a minor lapse by Cleartrip in trusting a vendor with select bloggers’ contact details for a legitimate purpose? Done.

But, does Cleartrip need to name and shame Buzz PR in the process? Or, could they have let the action take the center stage than the party which caused it?

Not convinced? Think about it from this perspective.

Any client-agency (business-vendor) relationship goes through up and down phases. As someone who has been in agencies, I have heard and faced horror stories of MNC/well-established clients not paying agencies on time… and even months together. No agency ever exposed such clients in public. There are agencies that have sued clients (ex-clients) for payment and these don’t make it to media/social media since these are between two parties.

Your argument could be – the issue between Buzz PR and Cleartrip was not merely between two parties alone; it also involved customer trust for Cleartrip the brand.

Fair point. But then, consider this scenario – PR agencies, like legal firms, are privy to a lot of confidential client information. Such information could even be about how a client/clients are harming consumers/users/target groups in one or more ways.

So, should the agency take moral responsibility of such a fact and fire a client? Of course, they can and some of them have even done so in the past.

Do they go about explaining to the public on why they dropped a client and use that explanation to seem holier than thou? I’m not so sure.

To be clear – Cleartrip is right in firing Buzz PR. Buzz PR did goof up by using information given by Cleartrip for a very specific reason and misusing it. The only issue is the way Cleartrip ‘used’ the situation to ‘come clean’ in the eyes of its customers.

Had this been focused on the issue and not on the party that caused it (which has been fired anyway – can be easily mentioned as ‘certain vendors/agencies that had breached our trust with very, very select customer data. We have resigned from our relationship with such vendors and…), it would obviously lead to speculation in the blog’s comments section on who the ‘vendors/agencies’ are, but will remain unconfirmed.

Does Buzz PR need the double whammy of losing a client (fired unceremoniously) *and* public naming and shaming?

I’d like to believe that the latter seems harsh and unwarranted mainly because it breaks the code of diplomacy between the already strained client-agency relationship in general. This is not some sort of Omerta code of silence, just a simple practice that says they part their ways for a reason best discussed and closed between them… without involving a trial-by-public blog post.

Picture credit.



46 thoughts on “Cleartrip Vs. Buzz PR

  1. They probably did it also as a deterrent to the next agency. “Don’t mess up like the last guy did or we’ll take you down as well.” Not sure if that’s the right thing to do. I suppose time will tell.

    1. Well, there are far more solid ways to ensure such things don’t happen again – like a clause in the agreement they have with their next agency… and adding a monetary/legal angle to it if it is breached for any reason.

    1. Well noted point in your post regarding the impact this action would have on the other teams and employees of the organization.

  2. Not only is what clear trip did, unprofessional , it also in turn puts a question on their credibility on its relationship as a client organization.

  3. I’m just trying to figure out if the customers would be happy with this act of coming clean or will they see clear trip as a company that is maligning another’s reputation on a public platform.

    1. You are in luck! You only have to look at the comments for the original cleartrip post to get your answer. And the response is overwhelmingly clear.

  4. I agree with you when you say how agencies, many times, when they discontinue their assocaition with a client on moral grounds, do not reveal the reasons. In fact, i will go as far to say that I myself have had the opportunity to work in an agency of international repute that has themselves left the client but no mention was made about the reason, even internally within the agency. That is actual proffessionalism.

    1. Clear case of using the public disreputing of another party to save themselves. They could have apologized to their customers for the spam, but going out with a post was kinda uncalled for. Nicely written article Mr. Srinivasan

    2. They dont reveal the reasons cuz life is long and business doesn’t end today. They might have to do business again in future. Shutting doors permanently on a client would be unwise for them. It has nothing to do with “proffessionalism”

  5. There are two sides to the story according to me. A part of me says that by doing this publicly ClearTrip is getting free advertisement. Most importantly it shows the company as an honest company and that’s something every company in every field desires when it comes to marketing.

    On the other hand, we always crib about the real truth not coming out. If this was done behind doors there would have been numerous theories behind this. By doing what ClearTrip did they opened up a public dialogue. If Buzz has something to say they too can do the same.

  6. tl;dr.

    It was just, fair and good action from ClrearTrip and BuzzPR deserved every bit of it. Now, if you, or someone, wants to just get politically torrent about it, then a book can be written over it.

  7. Bang on Karthik! The naming and shaming wasn’t needed. Losing a client is enough to hurt and they could have even built the same amount of goodwill from their community by just saying the partner behind the spamming was fired.

    1. Buzz PR may lose a potential client, but they will not learn anything from their mistakes, if the issue was privately settled. Clear Trip did the right thing: telling about it to the whole world through a blog post. If I had the money to blow, I’d be advertising on TV about these PR companies.

      1. To assume the agency will not learn from this and continue to function the same way may be a bit too much. No one can have a successful business if they don’t learn from their mistakes. The other aspect to consider is your business not only needs your customers but a whole other bunch of stakeholders – employees, vendors, partners etc. How you deal with each relationship impacts your business. While you can be firm and take corrective action to protect customers, would you want to be perceived as a business where your actions are detrimental to your other stakeholders? Just something to mull over.

        1. To assume the agency will learn from this, if the whole issue was privately settled, is a bit too much. I am a blogger, and I know all about these shitty PR companies. Among all the shittiest PR I have talked to, The Practice wins the award, hands down. They represent Adobe.

          I have told them numerous times to stop sending emails to me that are completely unrelated, but they just can’t help it. On top of that, there’s this shitty guy from that company who calls me whenever he wants, asking if I can publish the press release, etc.

          Settling the issue privately makes no sense, in my opinion.

          As far as stakeholders are concerned, I wouldn’t worry about them, although I do agree with you. Change is permanent, my friend. ClearTrip’s Hrush did the right thing… he exposed these guys. They deserve to be framed on the Wall Of Shame.

          As a customer, all I want is privacy. Once again, if I had the money to blow, I’d advertise about these shitty PRs on TV! That’s my dream.

          1. Well thanks for the feedback, though its a shame you feel so strongly and are skeptical about PR firms. I do believe that if done right there is a lot of value they can provide. And to be transparent, i work at The PRactice and if you could share more details with me about yourself I can take corrective steps.

          2. It’s hard to take you seriously when you’ve used the word “shitty” four times and call yourself “PRHater”. Calling people names just makes you look worse.

  8. The honest guys always have it rough everywhere in India. The system rewards breaking rules and cheating. The max they should face is a lost client? and the world moves on as usual? It is a sad state of affairs when people start demanding this behavior. It’s damn time the field got leveled. A honest guy naming and shaming publicly balances things. Free publicity is the reward the honest guy should get for exposing wrong doers. Because he is not pushing it under the rug and saying things like “this happened due to a bug in our system” or some such crap. They owned it up and took action. They have every right to the benefits this decision gives them. Seeing it as some ulterior motive on part of Cleartrip shows how low a level our society has stooped to in tolerating wrong doing.

    Now, if the fear is about wrongful accusations being made publicly and tarnishing reputations… well, we are seeing that movie in the political arena. Whenever the claims and counter claims are murky, they will always remain murky.. no reputations lost, no guilty punished.. they may even get lucky and become a foreign minister.

    So, chill.

  9. Hi Karthik — thank you for this post.

    Integrity is one of our foundational values at Cleartrip; it is something we cherish deeply. We do not sacrifice it for the sake of revenue or growth or profit or spam. And when we saw a marketing partner taking our values so lightly, it hurt.

    This will sound surprising coming from me, but I agree with what you’ve said above. I should not have named the PR agency in our blog post. There was no need for that whatsoever.

    Whether anyone chooses to believe it or not, we had no intention of making this public at all until CNBC’s @BrandStoryboard Twitter handle picked it up. At that time, we realised that it was going to kickstart a discussion and we wanted to share our side of the story.

    We don’t have a “social media team” at Cleartrip, it’s just a part of everyones’ job. Sometimes, it’s a part of my job; and this blog post was written in its entirety by me, no one else at Cleartrip even had the chance to look at it before it went live. I take responsibility for every word.

    Do I regret naming the agency in the post? Yes, I do.

    It was something done in the heat of the moment — partly out of anger and partly out of hurt that a marketing partner would be so dismissive of our values. Haven’t we all done things in the heat of a moment that we later regret?

    I even considered removing the agency name after the post had gone live; but the only thing that would have achieved is a bunch of people saying we were camouflaging what we originally said as a form of damage control. What was done, was done; and I decided it was better to leave the post unchanged and live with consequences.

    I am sorry I named the agency in the post, but I’m not sorry that we fired them.

      1. Karthik,

        Hrush says, “We don’t have a “social media team” at Cleartrip .

        Another lie ?

        Now read this :

        ” Cleartrip awards social media duties to Webitude”

        “March 01, 2012 has awarded its social media duties to digital marketing agency Webitude after a multi-agency pitch held in October.

        Earlier, the social media activities for the online travel agency were handled in-house. Cleartrip spends 60-70 per cent of its total marketing spend on digital, which includes SEO and SEM. Its creative agency is Publicis, while its media duties are handled by OMD. The digital mandate is currently handled by Goa-based Synapse.

        Confirming the news to afaqs!, Niraj Seth, chief marketing officer, Cleartrip, says, “We have been active on social media for some time now. As we grow, we felt the need for a specialist agency to ensure maximum consumer engagement with our brand.”

        Commenting on the win, Girish Mahajan, co-founder and director, Webitude, says, “Our focus will be to create engagement with travellers on Facebook through special Facebook deals and promotions. We will also look to create utility apps that will help travellers.”

        Soon, Webitude will also launch a customer query redressal system using social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The social media campaign will also include a sampling opportunity for audiences. “

        1. Tinu — Which was the first lie?

          And if I say “I don’t have a pressure cooker at home”, but I happen to sometimes rent one from my neighbour, does it make the statement a lie?

          1. Hrush, No offense, but you know exactly what I am saying.

            When you say ” I don’t use a pressure cooker at home” , that doesn’t exclude the information that “Sorry but I use a pressure cooker which I pay my neighbor for its usage”

          2. The first lie was in reference the story angle ” Don’t spam my customers” (which was actually “Don’t spam my bloggers mailing list”) which was (probably) intended to gain the sympathies of the common people.

            This is how I read this, CT gave a list of bloggers to BuzzPR for their campaign. Agency reused
            it without permission for other campaigns. CT pissed off.

            Blogger complained. CT warned the agency. Agency didn’t take it
            seriously ( It is a grave mistake), Continued to re-use. Got fired ! CT just blew its own trumpet.

            The Agency was unprofessional as it abused data that was given. Fits termination of services after repeated warnings. But Cleartrip was equally unprofessional in how the issue was handled. A code of ethics and business practices were broken by both. As you rightly regretted, Naming them publicly was a mistake. If I were you, I would have apologized for that on your official blog where it all started.

  10. in my view all PR agencies lose clients for some or the other reason. In this case the reason was SPAMMING. Now did my dear friend think twice before calling this SPAMMING his customer. Whats the defination of SPAMMING?? sending 2 emails to a so called blogger who attended a media / bloggers meet. That too on a request from the client to invite him for the meet. A PR consultants job is to diseminate information on behalf of the client and ensure positive coverage in the media. The job description or the mandate was no different here for Cleartrip. The corpcomm did push the agency to get maximum coverage as any other client would do.
    BUZZ PR has been in existence for almost a decade now. Nowhere in their wildest dream would they have ever thought that sending info to a media would cost them their reputation at stake.
    why isnt the person owning up his/her mistake today of sharing the bloggers contact with the agency and pushing the agency to get them for the conference. Today when the blogger for some vested interest is calls the agency SPAMMERS he suddenly becomes a customer for the client. And the COO of the company speands his precious time writing a blog while he could have used it for some more constructive purpose. I thought COO’s hardly have time to breathe.

    1. maybe you should read Cleartrip’s post too. They shared the details of the blogger who they knew might be interested. Their resource, their database. For the blogger, it was perhaps relevant to be contacted by the PR Agency on Cleartrip’s behalf, and it was once.

      What the PR agency then do with that contact information? They used it for other clients, shared it, it appears, with another agency. This is a very small incident. I get flooded. How did this happen? I cover one specific industry segment, and get relevant mails from one agency, related to that segment. They shared my contact details within the agency, and I got added to more “lists”. Which means that even though I cover (only, exclusively, have been for the last six years) consumer facing Internet, mobile and digital media businesses, I get added to IT/ITES, real estate, bollywood (I’m still getting Veena Malik PR mails), fuel, steel, TV shows, beauty products, footwear, apparels, jewelry, babycare, hardware, gadgets, marine fuel (yes!) among several others.

      When I get PR calls, I sometimes ask people whether they know what I cover. They invariably dont. They say, “you’re on my list”, which is what all telemarketers say. Sometimes I ask them to visit my site, click on the about link and read it aloud. I get hundreds of mails a day, and a few calls, most of them irrelevant. Over the years, my email address has been passed around from agency to agency, person to person, and the amount of mails made it impossible for me to do actual work. If I take a 3 day break, I find I have 500 mails to go through, most of them worth deleting. My personal email ID (I don’t even know how they got that) is also being spammed, and is now unusable.

      This is inexcusable, and the PR Industry needs to get its act together. I’ve written to people asking them to take me off their list, and that rarely happens. I’ve had to write to clients to tell the agency to stop spamming me. sometimes that doesn’t happen either. There is no unsubscribe option, and for every one list that I’m taken off, I’m added to two more.

      So what’s my solution? I started doing this three weeks ago – one by one, every time I get an irrelevant email, I block the entire agency. Auto delete. Straight to trash. Which ones? A brief glance at my filters shows that the following are on auto delete –> VoxPR, 2020 MSL, Mutual PR, Text100, corvoshandwick, idealpr, brandlogist, lowe worldwide, canvaspr, imprismispr, the practice, hanmer, moes-art, prhub, wishboxstudio, edelman, adfactorspr, bm, gutenbergpr, conceptpr, perfectrelations, lexicon, scribesinc,cdr-india, crosshairscommunication, beehivecommunications. There are many many more. I’ve set up some 200 filters, and have been setting up one or two up every day for the last three weeks. A lot easier to go through trash and pick the ones which are relevant, because the ratio is so skewed. Anyway, we should be working on being in touch with companies directly, and we are making a bigger push for that.

      You might say that what I’m saying is disrespectful. Respect is mutual – if you don’t respect my time, I don’t respect yours. Which is why I have respect for the few people who are doing this right – boring brands and pinstorm are two from whom I’ve *never* received an irrelevant mail. I recco them to people, and I used to recco Hanmer to people because they never spammed earlier, or they took action promptly. Now they spam too, so they were blocked last week.

      Hrush may not have been right in naming Buzz PR, but that doesn’t change this is a mass spamming industry, and a part of it should be replaced by mass emailing software. Instead of going after Cleartrip for doing what many journalists wish clients of PR agencies did, maybe agencies should look at the way they operate.

      Of course, it’s very easy for you to turn this around say that journalists are lazy and they don’t do reportage well and sometimes PR agencies even write copy for them, or “if you turn off the PR tap, newspapers would be blank” (I’ve heard this from a PR guy, btw). I’m not holding a candle for those types – they deserve to become redundant. Journalism needs to improve, but so does PR. We’re working to improve our practices, and it’s about time PR began taking another look at its processes.

      There’s a call for boycotting Cleartrip. Here’s a request to PR agencies: boycott me.

  11. I totally agree. PR agency executives are underpaid and overworked. Plus they get little respect from clients or media. Yet, I have never heard of a PR person going public over a client’s fault though clients routinely delay and default on payments. [I speak from personal experience and that’s why I will NEVER work for a PR agency again nor will I ever use Cleartrip for that matter]. The relationship between a client and agency is private and should not be aired in public like this. They could have apologised to their customers without mentioning the agency. It seems like an aggressive PR stunt on their part to look good in front of their customers.

  12. hmmm…this might have seen like an isolated incident, but the recent cleartrip TV ads rang a faint bell about the possibility or an impending IPO for cleartrip.

    And it does seem like cleartrip has an upcoming IPO in the works.

    Might this public firing be a ‘PR stunt’ to get some free advertising ??

  13. This is ridiculous. Mere firing is enough? Where are the civil lawsuits for selling/disclosing customers? data? Ideally, the customers should be suing Cleartrip in a class-action suit, who should in turn be suing Buzz PR. This is what we get when we don?t have enforceable privacy laws. When you put up a ?Privacy Policy,? you?d better bloody mean it.

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