That time I got a call from Oprah

Remember that blog post I wrote about the terrible experience I had at Oprah’s Lifeclass in Toronto? Seems that sometimes the things you put on the internet actually get read.

On Friday morning, I got an email from someone named Mike, purporting to be a member of OWN TV’s social media team. After a few emails back and forth, I agreed to give him my phone number. As someone in PR and social media, I thought it was a bit weird that they’d want to phone me without explaining what they were going to say/offer, but curiosity got the best of me.

Imagine my surprise when I got a phone call from an Illinois number while out for lunch with coworkers (the SM team works out of NYC). Yes, the call was from Harpo Studios.

Having read my blog post after being alerted to it by the social media team, Harpo Studio’s Director of Audience Services reached out to me directly to apologize for my bad experience. As she explained, Harpo Studios wasn’t the direct event planner – the event was actually run by a group called The Power of Women. According to her, my experience would have been incredibly different had I been able to make the show in NYC. As things go with events like these, certain requests made by the Oprah/Harpo team were not recognized by the sponsor and the event was not run as the Harpo team would have liked. She also told me that the suggestions I made were taken to heart and were things they always abide by during regular tapings with Oprah and OWN.

The crowd at Oprah's Lifeclass in Toronto (via Oprah on Facebook)

I really appreciated the clarification, but, at the end of the day, the Oprah brand is something that should have been protected more fiercely. The brand experiences I and the other attendees had were with Oprah and not the Power of Women. The brand experience I will share was, at its roots, with Oprah. While I definitely understand Harpo Studio’s desire to separate themselves from the event and how it was organized – and really appreciate the phone call – I can’t absolve them from all blame. I definitely think they learned from this experience and from the ensuing backlash, though, and hope that future partnerships are more carefully considered and managed.

As for crisis management, the phone call left me feeling a little bit better about my experiences. It was nice to know that someone involved had heard my complaints and was acting upon them. From start to finish, my interaction with the social media team and Harpo lasted a couple of hours. For such a large organization, that’s really impressive. Kudos to VaynerMedia, the social media agency for OWN TV + the Harpo Studios team for a relatively quick response – it definitely didn’t go unnoticed.

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