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At Progressive Insurance, PR Goes with the Flo
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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There have been many marketing and advertising icons throughout recent history. Names and faces that personify a brand and count the cash rolling in. One of the latest to have that kind of Midas touch is "Flo, the Progressive Lady." She's just fabulous, isn't she? I'm surprised this Pollyanna hasn't had a commercial where she farts glitter yet.

However, there has been some news lately that has forced Progressive to check their own website for a different kind of quote — a defense attorney. 

Why? Meet Matt Fisher, a mild-mannered comedian from New York City...who believes that his "sister paid Progressive Insurance to defend her killer in court." What the what?! 

As taken from Matt's blog on the fateful night his dear sister:

On June 19, 2010, my sister was driving in Baltimore when her car was struck by another car and she was killed. The other driver had run a red light and hit my sister as she crossed the intersection on the green light. 

Matt goes on to discuss some traumatic details of this story, including how this unnamed driver was underinsured at the time of the accident. Obviously, the family wanted answers and cash. In the state of Maryland, you cannot sue your insurance company for damages. To wit, Progressive decided to battle it out in court and not have to make any more payments on his sister's policy. 

"Now my parents don’t harbor much venom for the guy who killed my sister," Fisher wrote. "It was an accident, and kicking that guy around won’t bring Katie back. But kicking that guy around was the only way to get Progressive to pay."

Want more good times for corporate PR? Progressive defended the killer in court, and he was still ultimately found to be neglient. But wait...there's more. To answer some of the naysayers in social media land, Flo and her minions tweeted the following: 

This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain they've had to endure. We fully investigated this claim and relevant background, and feel properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations. Again this is a tragic situation, and we're sorry for everything Mr. Fisher and his family have gone through. 

That's...um, sweet, Flo. However, think about the following things the next time should you return to crisis communications land:

1. Check the auto tweet feature on your platform. According to a story in Gawker, it appears Progressive Insurance autotweeted the aforementioned response to more than 15 people who criticized the way the company handled this case. Autotweets serve a purpose for those who just don't have time to come up with original, riveting content throughout the day. In this case, I think Flo needs to work on her customer service skills online. 

2. People are NOT "contractual obligations." Listen, I heart lawyers. I have attorney friends. However, this is why they suck. Some of their responses are about as heartless as Flo Robot. Seriously? A young girl died and granted, all Progressive seems to be worried about is reputation and the bottom line, but someone needs to go see the Wizard for a heart. 

3. Remember the AVI. What makes it all a nice package of mirth is that Flo's eerie, smiling face is attached to each one of those auto replies. Ironic, don't you think? 

In the words of Progressive Insurance, "This is a tragic case." Indeed. In terms of what not to do for crisis communications, reputation management, and overall branding. Not to mention why automated, voice mail robots are the death of customer service. Good thing the plug was pulled on Flo Robot, huh? See, I watch the commercials. 

You stay classy, Progressive. Keep living up to that name. 



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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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