Could have been Better? Ryan Mahoney vs Arabian Business

Was it a scandalous attempt at pushing property on the Palm? Or sensationalist tabloid journalism which penalised a perfectly understandable human error? This is the battle that grabbed my attention this past week fought on Arabian Business and Dubai Eye Radio.

And what an interesting case it makes too. Some very good lessons and an opportunity to check Ryan Mahoney, Better Home’s CEO’s response vs some prescribed best practice from international experts.

Better Home’s crisis started on January 15 when Arabian Business published a report highlighting some very obvious and embarrassing errors on Better Home’s listings pages. Effectively they reported some quite significant features of the Palm Jumeirah that didn’t exist – e.g. a shopping mall…

In response, the very next morning Better Home’s CEO, Ryan Mahoney attended the Dubai Eye radio studios and braved the fierce interviewing of Dubai’s answer to Anne Robinson – Brandy Scott; accompanied as always by crime fighting companion, Malcolm Taylor.

Now there are a number of guides out there as to how to issue a corporate apology when you are caught in a corporate gaffe, I am going to use How to Issue a Great Apology by Tim Donnely,  a freelance writer and managing editor of Brokelyn.com. His work has appeared in BillboardThe Atlantic, Thought Catalog, and The New York. 

Tim recommends four stages of crafting an appropriate apology:

  1. When Apologizing, Make Sure You Use the Right Words

I have listened to the entire interview and transcribed the text. Although he openly accepts the errors that Arabian Business highlighted, Better Home’s CEO didn’t apologise at any time during the interview with Dubai Eye.

“…sometimes we get it wrong, sometimes there are inaccuracies. But its a small minority and as soon as we we hear about anything we deal with it straight away.”

“…I think most major web sites whether its news or shopping or whatever will have some inaccuracies sometimes. So we have that same sort of thing.”

“It’s in the description, and we are looking at it and its annoying, because we obviously want to get those things right and we always have to strive to be better and get these things better.”

“Sometimes we miss it. We can always work harder and get it better.”

“…there’s always the human element and we can always learn from any error we see, we can strive to make it better. For any major site to guarantee that there will never be an error, is really hard.

“… I think the reality is that every major consumer site has a challenge with 100% data accuracy, we probably get 90-99% of our data accurate but we are going to have some mistakes from time to time.”

He also made a couple of statements that Arabian Business followed up on in their review of his interview http://www.arabianbusiness.com/-we-screwed-up-admits-better-homes-boss-486037.html. Arabian Business also picked up on the lack of apology – Better Homes says sorry, would arguably have been a much better headline than “we screwed up”.

The other statements made it look like Better Homes’ staff are not competent:

“When you have a person who lives in lets say Al Qusais or Bur Dubai and checking a listing they aren’t visiting the Palm that often, they don’t know that people reference this point, or they don’t know there’s a particular hotel or that sort of thing.”

“Because we have over 50 different nationalities in our company and the listings are agent led, and so we do all we can to help them with their listing and accuracy and everything but you know sometimes we get it wrong.”

Seriously, what kind of argument is that? But then he flip flops his excuse with another explanation.

“There are certain pieces of data that should be centralised and we should get right and we screwed up in this case, we should know better than having outdated data on a particular development.”

So what was it? A badly managed central database, or Better Homes not allowing their staff to expense a visit (or paying them enough) to the Palm to check up on the properties they are trying to sell/lease?

Mark out of 10…. erm…

2. Make any Apology Personal

There was no apology so that kills this one dead from the start. Instead, he tried to push the blame onto the magazine that reported the story.

“…I think its sensationalist and I’m surprised that it made their front page…”

I think more people are surprised that Better Homes wasn’t keeping its databases maintained but anyway…

Perhaps here we should judge Arabian Business for their editorial stance – just to be fair. Was the story in the public interest? Was it a material matter that needed to be addressed? Or was it a slow news day and an easy headline?

Sincerely I think Arabian Business had right. The real estate market in Dubai keeps us all ticking over and is a critical component of the UAE’s economy. The media has a role to play as a watch dog, ensuring that the public is protected where appropriate. Although the ads and errors in the Better Home Web site wouldn’t and I believe couldn’t have caused any sensible person to have made a mistake (you aren’t buying a CD or video) but it’s excellent that all real estate companies now know that they have to tighten up.

Going back to the Dubai Eye interview, Ryan is clearly a no “Me in Team” person and uses we throughout. There’s a lot of advice out there that says a CEO should take full accountability because the “buck stops here”. He could have used “I” at any point, but didn’t. He also passed the blame to the managers and agents at the front line and also to his failed systems, processes and checkpoints. But never does he take personal accountability.

3. Get the Timing Right for Your Statement

There is a compelling argument that the Better Homes team should have issued an apology directly to Arabian Business on January 15. This would have been published and the story would likely have been over, just like that.

Instead, they chose to battle out on Dubai Eye Radio, which might have some justification. It reaches the same audience as Arabian Business and is available online as a permanent record. It’s also nice to have a voice rather than a written statement and Ryan is very eloquent as a spokesperson.

But instead, this probably angered Arabian Business and because of the content gaffes mentioned above, offered themselves to a second broadside from the portal. In the media world of rock, paper, scissors, Internet beats radio hands down (by 100% impact according to Business Intelligence)… and unless (like me) someone really knows how to access the Dubai Eye Radio show from Zawya.com, then they will likely not bother to look, or listen to the full interview.

4. Talk Openly About any Corrective Action

Not sure whether this statement counts:

“…we pulled everyone together and see what we can do to get our data better.”

“…Yes there is always action on what we do. We have to be fair. There is a big difference between malicious intent and human error and an honest mistake.”

“…we will hold people accountable.”

It’s really much simpler than this – the problem was caused because the central database was dodgy. All they need to do is make sure they are using the most recent documents from the master developer and that they are auditing the developer to ensure the information they are receiving is accurate. They can also implement content management software which has been around since… well 2000.

I used to promote a company that did this when I worked in London. It’s not that hard and probably quite affordable – especially if you are managing the largest property database in Dubai…

Please read my Transcript from Ryan Mahoney but as I point out… this is probably only as accurate as a Better Homes property ad and you should take time to listen to the entire interview yourself!

http://www.zawya.com/radio/Ryan_Mahoney_CEO_of_Better_Homes_explains_how_ads_on_the_Better_Homes_website_came_to_carry_misleading_information_on_properties_following_a_story_on_Arabian_Businesscom-DE130116143041875392/  

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About stephenking2012

In 2012 I volunteered to hold the position of Chair - Standards & Ethics Committee for the Middle East PR Association (@MEPRA_org). I have set up this account to assist in this effort. You may also like to follow my Blog or connect with me on LinkedIn. In any case, please do visit www.mepra.org, and if you are not yet a member, please do sign up!
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