This past weekend, a story unfolded in the San Francisco area about a Santa Claus, known as Santa John, who was fired from his 20-year job at Macy’s. The issue was about a joke that Santa John told two adult customers sitting on his lap (that’s another issue altogether =). He had said the joke often but this one time got him fired as the customers objected to his “knowing where all the naughty boys and girls lived.”
Now begins a story that pushes Santa John into the limelight, positions Macy’s unfavorably to a world audience, and takes a beloved watering hole, Lefty O’Douls, front and center.
Macy’s Continued Silence
In any other case, the firing of a Santa who told a raunchy joke would have blown over for Macy’s. However, this was a situation in which Santa John has been the face of Christmas for the Macy’s San Francisco flagship store for the past 20 years. As such, Santa John holds an emotional tie to many in the community which has further propelled this story beyond the Bay Area community.
And throughout all this, Macy’s continues to stay silent on this, considering this a “personnel matter”. And this is Macy’s biggest mistake. The company has failed to recognize this as a unique situation. This was an opportunity for the company to highlight their high quality of service to all customers and that they take customer satisfaction seriously. This was an opportunity to apologize for their mistake, acknowledge the 1,000 of emails and letters to rehire Santa John back, and hold a large cermony on Santa John’s return to demonstrate Macy’s Christmas spirit.
Rather, by remaining silent, Macy’s is seen as a harsh employer who fired a beloved holiday icon over one complaint despite 20 years of loyal service.
Lefty O’Doul’s Saves Santa
If you’ve been to San Francisco, it’s very likely you’ve frequented Lefty O’Doul’s, a bar off Union Square. As the story unfolded regarding Santa John, the management at Lefty’s did a brilliant move of offering Santa John a job at the bar – double the pay and a bigger seat.
While there have been job offers for Santa John, this one captured the local media’s attention: local angle, well-known bar establishment located blocks from the very same Macy’s store, and better benefits for Santa John. And best of all, permission to tell all the jokes he wants.
This move is what David Meerman Scott highlights in his book “Real-Time Marketing & PR: How to Instantly Engage with Your Market, Connect with Customers, and Create Products that Grow Your Business.”
Conclusion: The Holiday Spirit
The story of Santa John provides a blueprint on how brands, both small and large, should and shouldn’t handle communications issues. In the new era of transparency, Macy’s could (should?) have been more open and willing to admit a possible mistake. In the end, Lefty’s demonstrated a holiday spirit that benefitted Santa John and inevitably drive more traffic and business to Lefty’s.
And in a time when money is still tight and customers more selective, I suspect that the San Francisco Macy’s year-over-year sales and traffic may dip as a result.
What do you think?
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Cece Salomon-Lee is director of marketing for ACTIVE Network, Business Solutions division, and author of PR Meets Marketing, which explores the intersection of public relations, marketing, and social media.
This blog contains Cece's personal opinions and are not representative of her company's.
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