Vulgarity is all around us these days. We see it in the Hollywood fanzines all the time where singers and actors and other celebs (real and imagined) spit out some obscenity or another. Publicity follows this kind of ‘bad boy’ (or girl) behaviour, which leads some to believe that it’s desirable.
Winnipeg’s restaurant scene has been the backdrop recently for an episode that shows why descending into petty and vulgar name calling is just bad form. Scott Bagshaw, the talented chef at Deseo Bistro, called prominent Winnipeg Free Press restaurant critic Marion Warhaft anÂ “ignorant sl$t” on Twitter (“Marion, retire you ignorant sl$t”).
The reaction since has been predictable and reminds me of the old PR axiom: it’s hard to win a war of words against an enemy that buys its ink by the barrel. Free Press columnist Lindor Reynolds used her perch to defend Warhaft and repudiate Bagshaw`s profane outburst. Not surprisingly, letters to the editor and comments mostly sided with Warhaft.
Social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook give us all the ability to mouth off instantaneously. When we do, it reflects immediately and irrevocably on our personal brands. And if your personal brand is also your business’, then you better put some thought into what you say.
In Bagshaw’s case, his outburst seems to have been fuelled by ego and hubris at the expense of common sense. Warhaft enjoys a respectable reputation in Winnipeg and her reviews can often make or break a restaurant. Even if he has sound reasons for why she should retire, Bagshaw would be better to keep them to himself rather than chirping on Twitter.
To make matters worse, Bagshaw offered a sort of half apology by way of a letter to the editor. He does well in his preamble. He sounds sincere enough and seems to have learned from his mistake. But then he sabotages his effort by repeating the vulgarity: “I of course do not think Warhaft is a slut, and she has never once slighted me.”
In PR, we have to think before we speak. Take a measure of the pros and cons of your language, especially when it is controversial or confrontational. In this case, there was no upside to insulting a restaurant critic like that, only downside.
To wit: a friend raised the issue with me this morning. She asked me what I thought about it. Before I could answer she said she was thinking of never going back to Deseo. “I think you have to make your views about that kind of behavior known,” she said. “It’s too bad, because it’s a good restaurant.”
It’s perfectly fine and legitimate to be controversial. You can even be a completely contrary SOB. If that fits your business and your brand, then go with it. But that doesn’t give you a free pass to launch an unprovoked, foul-mouthed personal attack on someone… especially someone armed with a printing press and a small army of daily subscribers.
The dust up is made more unfortunate because it has overshadowed Deseo’s terrific news that it was named one of the best new restaurants in Canada by Where Magazine. Too bad Bagshaw hadn’t pushed that news out instead.
It reminds of Kevin Kline’s brilliant line in A Fish Called Wanda when he’s called a vulgarian. He gets angry and says: “You’re the vulgarian, you f*#k!” Everyone gets the subtext in the movie. And, I suspect, most people have judged Bagshaw similarly.