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Country Group Sugarland and Their Not-So-Sweet PR Debacle
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Welcome to Customer Service 101. Our first cardinal law is "The customer is always right." Second, see number one. 

They pay your bills. They are your brand ambassadors. They are the reason you get out of bed in the morning. And, if you are the country music dynamic duo Sugarland, they are the focus of your success. Right? Well, if you ask their attorneys, not so much. 
Let's rewind to last August, the dateline of all hell breaking loose during one of their concerts at the Indiana State Fair. According to the story in The Tennessean:

The background is this: Several victims filed a lawsuit Nov. 22 in Marion Superior Court in Indiana, claiming that negligence on the part of Sugarland and others contributed to the tragedy. [Note the picture for said tragedy.] Sugarland says it is blameless in the stage and rigging collapse at the Indiana State Fair, calling the mishap "an act of God" caused by a surprisingly high gust of wind." 

Forget what Sugarland says. It's what their dunderhead lawyer said that got them in the crosshairs of a PR ballyhoo. Aside from the idiotic default "act of God" comment, the lawyer continued to say that "fair officials and Mid-America Sound Corp. were responsible for the stage setup, and that the fans voluntarily assumed risk by attending the show." Yes. So classy. 

Look here, dude. If these fans went to church, listened to a service amidst a blizzard outside, and the roof caved in, that is still not an "act of God." 

Now that we have that cleared up, here's Sugarland worried about seven people that died and 58 others that are injured because of this stage. Now we have a legal beagle advising that they are dead or injured because they just didn't get out of the way of God's swift hand fast enough? Brilliant. 

Fast forward to now, Sugarland is in court walking a tightrope as they defend themselves and erase the harmful words of their legal team. The duo continues to hold benefit concerts for the families affected by the tragedy in Indiana; however, those words are still stinging. An attorney for a victim's family, Carl Brizzi, is still a little perturbed, offering up this quote to CNN

Sugarland's response is a carefully crafted legal document that inappropriately attempts to distance the band from the responsibilities incumbent upon the show performers as to the safety of their fans... And this spin doctoring of Sugarland's role in the case is both offensive and outlandish.

For eons it seems, PR and legal professionals have always collided when it comes to the court of public opinion. We understand how to protect a client from looking bad. For instance, blaming dead and injured fans that pay your bills is probably not the best way to say, "Indiana. We love you. Be sure to buy tickets when we come back in eight months." Lawyers don't think that way. They see "client-must-protect-evil-must-bash." 

Naturally, if you were to ask a legal consultant, they would shed light on the snake oil we flacks seem to sell everyone, so we're even. The point is this, "The customer is always right." From entertainment to law to PR, we are all in the world of service. Specifically in our world where perception is reality, we're doomed if we forget to see the world through a customer's — or client's — viewpoint. Regardless of how cross-eyed, closed, or full of astigmatism that vision is, it's always our job to say, "Shut up and just point to where you want to go." 


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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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