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PR Crisis Brewing for Fitness First?

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 24th June 2009

At 10am this morning, freelancer writer Daphna Baram published a shocking real-life account on the Guardian website about a recent heart attack she had.

The focus of the article is that, despite having collapsed right outside a branch of the popular gym Fitness First (where she was a member and had just been running), no one from the gym was willing to help her out or provide assistance.

The official reply from PR Alyson Marlow of the Leepeck Group (owner of Fitness First) was concise and factual but was not really worded in a way that would quickly and easily diffuse the situation.

All-in-all a pretty sad story.

But it is likely to get worse for Fitness First. As of now, four hours after the article was published, there are 182 comments on the article. That’s about one comment every 1.3 minutes! And the Twittersphere is also beginning to wake up to the news as well.

For me there are two major learnings here:

1) Brand reputation issues can stem from anywhere

For all we know, this saga was caused by a few employees in one branch of Fitness First that did or did not offer to help Daphna. But it just goes to show that the actions (or inactions) of anyone in a company can have serious reputation effects for a brand.

2) The social web can very quickly escalate a reputation management issue

It is unfortunate for Fitness First that the individual involved here was a journalist, but even so, this story is made all the more dramatic and poignant because of the instant and vehement reaction of those Guardian readers that were compelled to comment.

As of yet, Fitness First have yet to respond to the article.

[hat tip @alexevansuk]

Danny Whatmough