Having written a case study for Tempero on the Rotolight vs. Den Lennie case and a guide for how brands can deal with negative press, I decided it was time to write my own piece about this situation from a personal point of view.
There was a lot of information that I felt wasn’t appropriate to include in the articles above and after speaking with Den Lennie from F-Stop Academy I decided to write this.
Den and I had a Skype conversation, with him on video. It helps that I warmed to him immediately – he looks like a bear, big and friendly unless provoked. He’s passionate, honest and stands up for what he believes; which immediately made him a formidable enemy for Rotolight when he felt they unfairly removed his review on Vimeo. He also has a lot more followers on Twitter and Facebook than they do…
The Den Lennie Vs. Rotolight story in a nutshell
The story is a long one so I’ve condensed it to the most important bits:
Den is the owner of F-Stop Academy, a company that provides training and workshops to film-makers of all levels of experience. During a workshop in February 2013 with 8 students, one of whom had brought along a new, still boxed, Rotolight Anova LED light. Compared to the other two lights that the students were using, a Kino Flo Celeb and a Dedoflex, the Anova gave off an eerie green tinge. Understandably put out, the student who had spent £2000 on the Anova contacted Rotolight and was brushed off with the excuse that he hadn’t set it up properly. Den stepped in and took the opportunity at a trade event to demonstrate the video comparison (hosted on Vimeo) to the CEO of Rotolight.
At the end of July, Den was served with a DCMA notice (copyright infringement) and Vimeo notified him that his video review had been removed. Den questioned this on Twitter and Facebook. Rotolight changed their claims to trademark infringement. A law firm in the US picked up on the story and gave free legal advice to Den stating that Rotolight had no grounds for these claims. Vimeo republish the video in early August. Rotolight issue an official statement on their website claiming they had acted on external advice, that they’re a small, family run business and such negative press is harmful for them and their suppliers and that whilst there may have been a fault with their product, they had won loads of awards for their products and had many large corporations use them for filming series and films.
Den accepted Rotolight’s apology for the way they acted in taking the video down and offered to retest their lighting, Rotolight agreed.
What is outrageous about Rotolight’s behaviour?
- Rotolight had been contacted in February 2013 by the customer who experienced the green Anova light to question the product quality. Rotolight had pretty much ignored the customer.
- At a trade show, Den showed the Rotolight owners the comparison video to which there was approximately 15-20 seconds awkward silence. Eventually it was admitted there may be a calibration error.
- Rotolight removed a video on completely unfounded grounds. They issued a DCMA claiming copyright infringement, which quickly changed to trademark infringement, something the DCMA doesn’t cover.
- Rotolight tried to discredit Den Lennie’s expertise and questioned how he set up the equipment. Some people may have off days here and there, but really? You’re disputing over 20 years’ worth of experience in the industry?
- Rotolight issued an apology, closely followed by a ‘but we’ve won loads of awards’ with links to various glowing reviews and tenuous claims of support from authority bodies. Something tells me that apology isn’t really genuine.
- Rotolight said one thing publicly and acted differently privately. For example, they publicly offered Den a replacement light, yet only contacted him to confirm it days after. Act like you mean what you say, Rotolight.
“Not at all. I feel no guilt whatsoever.”
~ Den Lennie in response to my asking whether he felt guilty about the online backlash Rotolight received.
What should Rotolight have done?
In Den’s eyes, the product was faulty. Several prominent resellers in the US and UK, as well as Directors of Photography contacted him privately to confirm that they had a similar ‘green tinge’ issue when using the Rotolight Anova. As a result, it seems likely that Rotolight would have known about this issue. Why on earth didn’t they do the smart thing and turn this into a beautiful piece of PR? By publicly thanking Den for bringing this issue to light, demanding a recall of the product and a free upgrade to customers who had invested £2000 in this product, Rotolight would have instilled trust in their consumers and maintained their integrity.
Den even admitted that had Rotolight contacted him privately (just by Googling ‘Den Lennie’ several ways to get in touch with him appear in the search results) and asked for him to suspend the video until he had had the chance to retest the product, he would have done so.
A silver lining for Den Lennie
It was clear from the outset that Den would win this fight. He stood his ground, claimed only what was true and played fair. His Twitter and Facebook followers have significantly increased, many more people are now aware of him and other manufacturers have praised him for his actions. As far as reputation is concerned, this public battle has only increased Den’s authority as a trusted and independent source by suppliers, manufacturers and consumers.
The next step is for Den to re-test the light. It’ll take about a day and will result in him losing money as he won’t be working, but it’ll finally give closure to this whole palaver. The Rotolight will be tested alongside other brands in order to give a fair comparison and if Den takes up the offers, he may be joined by a colour scientist and a renowned Director of Photoraphy to act as an independent advisor. Rotolight – this is either where your products will stand up to your claims or hugely and publicly fall flat on its face. Interestingly enough, Den still stands by his original review.
I’ve tried to find ways in which Den wrongly added fuel to the fire, but I really can’t. I do honestly believe he fought fairly and squarely for what he believed in – for the injustice of taking down his video in the first place, for attempted discreditation and lack of plain apology.
Rotolight – let me know if you want any further advice. I have lots to give. If you’re willing to listen, of course.
Read the case study: Rotolight vs Dennis Lennie
Take a look at a brand’s guide to dealing with negative press online