Monday, March 30, 2015

Rubble is rubble

"Let's put a big banner on the building we're going to implode to celebrate our new line of printers."

I worked for the people who came up with that line of thinking. It was the demolition equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. There's no way igniting a few hundred pounds of explosives and leveling a giant brick manufacturing complex can be perceived as a celebration. You can PR spin a ribbon-cutting or a golden-shovel groundbreaking. 

But, flying bits of concrete and debris?
Building 9 implosion, (c) DKassnoff.

It's rubble. It's the end of something. And if you view the video on the New York Times' website, it's anything but a celebration.

John Baldoni's recent essay on Forbes.com reminded me of that day, not too many years ago, when we tried to put a pretty bow on a scene of destruction. 

And we failed.

Past and current employees gathered for the event on a sunny morning (June 30, 2007). Most of them cried when the bricks tumbled. The company's marketing team flew in a comic actor who'd appeared in our promotional videos to serve as a quasi-master of ceremonies. They stomped on a fake oversize detonator button that didn't do a damned thing.

The building still fell.

I'm not writing here about the awful business decisions that ultimately toppled Kodak as the king of consumer photography. The company invented digital photography, then ignored it, then ultimately got trampled by it. That it's re-emerging as a business-focused printing and technology company, as Baldoni writes, is admirable.

I stood in the parking lot and captured this photo of the first implosion. It was simultaneously ghastly and thrilling to witness the destruction of Building 9. They liked my photo enough to put it on the business PR wire.

Our PR failure? There's no positive side to a building demolition. We ignored the lessons of countless implosions of Las Vegas hotels. We were foolish to think we could persuade our audiences that there was a "bright side." The forced festive atmosphere was, for many employees, like having a partly healed wound re-opened. 

I've been party to a great many PR wins. This wasn't one of them. It was disturbing to see in the New York Times' video, and it's painful to watch again.