Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas, We Threw Away All Your Stuff: A Crisis Comms Holiday Fail Tale

Companies sometimes do dumb things. The smart ones realize that they have made a mistake and then try to make amends.

And then there is builder, developer and property manager JC Hart.

In late October,  Brian Hafer died. That's him with his family in the photo. He lived in an apartment with his wife Krystal Ventro Hafer and the couple's 16-month old daughter. The apartment is in Miamisburg, Ohio (near Dayton) in a community called Austin Springs. Austin Springs is owned by JC Hart.

On December 15, JC Hart had its maintenance people throw away everything left in Ms. Hafer's apartment including pictures of her husband and other irreplaceable things. The apartment had been vacant for more than 45 days and apparently JC Hart had had enough, even though they told Ms. Hafer she could "take all the time she needed."

Krystal took her story where lots of people take their stories these days, to Facebook. It was a way to get support from her friends and friends of friends (I came across this story from my friend, journalist David Waters, who is a friend of Krystal). As Christmas approached, the story began to gather the attention of local television stations. In addition to responding to local media requests, JC Hart posted its statement on Krystal's Facebook page.

Ponder that for a moment. JC Hart posted its statement on the Facebook page of its victim.

The company has its own Facebook Page. The statement is not posted there. The company's homepage is hosted on a Blogspot domain. They didn't post it to their blog. Something like that doesn't happen by accident.

I understand that companies want to defend their actions; I encourage clients to get their message out. But, posting the statement on Ms. Hafer's Facebook page is simply vindictive. JC Hart seems pissed that it's getting negative attention so they lashed out at a widow. Lashed out after they threw out all her stuff because she didn't move out fast enough.

Anyone wondering the appropriate length of time to grieve the loss of a spouse need only consult with the JC Hart version of Schneider from One Day at a Time. 

The statement is an amateur's delight. There's the poor attempt at compassion ("We apologize for the distress this has caused anyone"). Anyone? They don't need to apologize to anyone, they need to apologize to Ms. Hafer.

How about the lame statement of focus (JC Hart is focused on treating all residents with respect). Of course they are, right up until they toss all their stuff in the dumpster.

Finally, the useless boilerplate ("...and takes pride in providing a premier rental community in the Dayton area"). That's great, because I wouldn't want just any landlord to throw away my priceless things. I want the folks at Dayton's premier rental community to do that.

This is the most breathtakingly stupid thing I have ever seen a company do.

JC Hart says  they "stand behind our actions." Whatever.

Maybe that will be of some comfort when Ms. Hafer has to explain to her daughter why there are so few pictures of her father.

Bill Salvin


  1. Has anyone REALLY looked into this 'poor widow's' story? To know that she didn't even live in the apartment? To know that she and Brian were separated/divorcing? This woman has had her 15 minutes, now let Brian's family have some peace.

  2. Dear Anonymous-I appreciate you taking time to read this post. It seems that you knew Brian and I'm sorry for your loss.

    The point of my post was not so much a "poor widow" story as a "stupid company" story. The Hafer's relationship is beside the point. As I wrote, I don't know Ms. Hafer, I found out about the story from a mutual friend.

    What I do know is that given the choice between compassion and expediency, JC Hart chose expediency. And then decided to pile on the victims, Brian Hafer's family included.

  3. To the anonymous idoit that left a post about the Hafer's realtionship....Shouldn't a mother fight for her daughter's rights to have something to remember her father. These where things that can not be replaced! I think you are a cold heartless person and BAH HUMBUG TO YOU .......Joanne Ventro

  4. OK, Gang-
    I've just rejected publishing two comments regarding this post. These are the first comments I've ever rejected on this blog and in the spirit of transparency, I want to tell you why.

    This post is not about the Hafer's relationship (about which I know nothing) but about really bad crisis communications (about which I know a fair bit).

    The anger expressed in both rejected posts was very personal and very real. My rejection of the posts is not meant to negate the feelings of those grieving the loss of Brian Hafer. There are forums other than this blog to express them.

    I have no problem publishing comments positive or negative about what I wrote. Feel free to weigh in. Please understand, though, that I'm not going to publish personal attacks or threats.

    Thanks for reading.

  5. Can you delete that first Post Bill? I think that Austin Springs employees are trying to attack me, they knew that Brian and I were having minor issues and blowing it out of proportion. I don't want 15 minutes, I just want to make sure this doesn't keep happening. I've gotten letters from others that they have done this to, many people are coming forward and this is not an isolated issue. I am also not asking for donations, Ash and I have the essentials and there are many others who are much more in need than us. Merry Christmas to all!
    Thank you so much~

  6. Thank you Mr. Salvin for bringing to light the travesty this company has done. This is an awful situation.

    I do not understand some people and their need to be hateful. What I do understand is the fact that this family has lost a loved one and now personal belongings that hold memories. Whether seperated from his wife or not, he was a caring husband, a loving father, a devoted son and a beautiful friend to many. To just "throw" away his, his wife's and his daughter's belongings was just uncalled for.

    A caring Mother of 2

  7. great story. i don't understand anyone attacking someone in that situation, must be someone trying to protect their job!!! my condolences to the hafers and to that little baby girl.

  8. Thank you for writing this story and making others aware of the hideous and horrible actions of Austin Springs and JC Hart. It is unbelievable that a company of JC Hart's size would resort to posting such a vindictive statement on a personal facebook page as a "good PR" move to attempt to resolve the situation. I encourage everyone who reads this story to write directly to JC Hart (specifically Vice President, Mark Juleen) and Austin Springs to let them know that their actions are reprehensible.