Bob Parsons - big elephant = bad PR

Bob Parsons, CEO of Go Daddy, one of the biggest players in domain-name registration and website hosting, caused quite the controversy yesterday when video of him killing a large bull elephant in Zimbabwe spread like wildfire online.

Parsons, never one to shy from controversy, told AOL Small Business that he spends weeks “volunteering to deal with problem elephant.” After the video release, PETA was quick to name Parsons “Scummiest CEO of the Year,” thousands of people voiced their disgust on Twitter, and many threatened to close their Go Daddy Accounts. And competitors were quick to jump on the CEO’s public-relations stumble by offering discounts and donations to elephant-related charities. (Check Mashable for the full story and the disturbing video.)

Regardless of how you feel, CEOs, business owners, and other leaders can learn a few things from this public-relations debacle. These lessons seem like common sense but, judging by the questionable actions of so many CEOs, apparently are not.

How a leader can avoid bad public relations for their organization

1. Lead by example.

Don’t want your employees posting videos of themselves committing questionable acts while wearing t-shirts adorned with your company logo? Don’t do it yourself. Parsons went so far as to give villagers Go Daddy hats, which the video shows them wearing while hacking meat off the fallen animal.

2. Consider the impact on your brand of every decision you make.

Parsons could care less about what people think. While strong opinions are a hallmark of leadership, most effective leaders are also good listeners who will consider the impact of their decisions and how their target market will view them.

Go Daddy is a leader in its industry. But can it continue to do so by alienating large numbers of people?

3. Remember that elephants never forget, and neither does the internet.

A leader’s missteps can be documented immediately and in perpetuity. Parsons’ actions were recorded on video, uploaded, and spread globally and rapidly on Twitter. Customers quickly withdrew their business, competitors stepped in, and petitions called for a boycott of the company.

Passionate advocates with powerful tools have made the phrase “all PR is good PR” an antiquated myth.

What else have we learned in recent months from CEO missteps online? Leave your comments below. And in case you’re wondering, Lead the Pack is indeed pulling all of its business from Go Daddy.