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Hill & Knowlton battles to keep account after manager’s anti-Sensis tweets

Fergus KibblePR agency Hill & Knowlton faces a fight to keep Telstra as a client after the agency’s Sydney general manager Fergus Kibble posted a series of tweets questioning the environmental credibility of its Yellow Pages directory.  

Mumbrella understands that Hill & Knowlton has been one of about five agencies on the Telstra PR panel, carrying out individual projects.

Among the telco’s companies is Sensis, which owns the White Pages and Yellow Pages phone directories.

Fergus Kibble Sensis tweetsThe print editions are generating increasing public disquiet over the environmental impact of printing so many copies despite many consumers switching to online search. Sensis this week said that annually the directories generate about 175,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

Presumably overlooking the connection between client Telstra and Sensis, Kibble went on a three week Twitter campaign against the unwanted “dumping” of print editions, including posting images of abandoned copies and inviting others to retweet his message.

His postings began in December, with his final tweet on the issue in mid January. He tweeted:

“Why are Sensis still delivering phone books? They should be delivered only by request.”

The next day he tweeted a phone number that people can call to ask Sensis to stop delivering the books, urging his followers:

“Save some trees”.

Yellow pages Fergus KibbleYellow Pages fergus Kibble 2Despite being sent a conciliatory tweet from a Sensis representative, Kibble went further again, posting online a photo of a pile of abandoned Yellow Pages. He even urged his followers to retweet his message, saying:

“Sensis should stop dumping unwanted books. Retweet for opt-in phone books in 2010.”

A few days later he tweeted a second image.

At the time Kibble listed himself in his Twitter profile as GM of Hill & Knowlton Sydney. He has since deleted that description and amended it to: “The views and opinions expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of my employer or any of our clients.”

He has also deleted the anti-Sensis tweets. However, they were cached on Google and are reproduced above (click on image to see enlarged version). Kibble’s Twitter profile is now locked and has not been updated for more than three weeks.

But at the time of posting this article, his Twitpic of the abandoned Yellow Pages and the further one he posted two weeks later both remain live.

Kibble’s timing could not have been worst with Sensis this week embarking on a major PR drive to persuade the public that its directory business is environmentally responsible. Yesterday Sensis announced that it has started offsetting its carbon emissions. It also claimed that 96% of its printed editions of its directories are recycled or reused.

Hill & Knowlton CEO Michelle Hutton did not return Mumbrella’s many calls. When we called the agency’s switchboard and asked to speak to the Telstra team we were told the entire team was out. When we reached Kibble on his mobile he declined to discuss the matter.

Although the WPP-owned agency is rumoured within the industry to have been fired from the panel, Mumbrella understands that Telstra has not taken this step. However, we were unable to find any evidence of the agency actively working on projects for the company either although a number of other PR agencies are currently carrying out work for the telco.

Sensis referred calls to the Telstra corporate affairs team which said in a brief email: “We don’t comment on our commercial arrangements with suppliers or contractors.”

Ironically, last September Kibble gave a presentation on the best ways for brands to use Twitter in which he told delegates: “In this space in particular we tend to go towards the negative that something terrible’s going to happen, but also really good things can happen as well.”

During a previous stint on Telstra’s roster, Hill & Knowlton found itself in the firing line after inviting bloggers to a Telstra event, then withdrawing the invitation.

Before joining Hill & Knowlton in November 2008, Kibble was marketing manager at Yahoo7 for 10 months. Prior to that he was a marketing director in Unilever’s beauty division for three years.

It is not the first time that intemperate tweeting has caused issues for PRs. Last year, James Andrews, a VP at PR giant Ketchum Communications in the US, got himself in hot water. He tweeted that he would die if he had to live in Memphis, the home town of his client FedEx, who he was visiting. The client was oputraged by the tweet and issued the agency with a public dressing down.

And last week an Ogilvy staffer apologised to SMH columnist Miranda Devine after saying on Twitter that she hated her.

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