When kindness can be deadly… and when bad PR means a lost opportunity

When I had my “conversion”, it wasn’t on the road to the Biblical road to Damascus; it was on the back of a large elephant.

In the beginning, it had seemed like one of those “bucket list” things to do: at the time, not many people had been riding on the back of Loxodonta Africana, the African elephant and I wanted to have something unusual to brag about around the braai.

The reality was painfully different. Sitting, without a saddle, or any padding, on the spine of an adult elephant brings new meaning to the word split and you get in touch with parts of your anatomy you never knew you had. However, it was the handlers’ use of metal rods to push the animals in the direction we wanted to go – with some force and clearly inflicting pain, even through those thick hides – which made revulsion flow up within me.

Since then, I have refused to become involved with “animal experiences”, where animals come into contact with humans. It’s just not right. And that judgment on my part was based only on my gut feeling that these “shows” are circus-like and a perversion of the natural order.

Now that I have seen the stunning billboards for the latest Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) campaign about petting captive carnivores, and heard the rationale, I know this sort of human interface is more than just something that makes you feel bad, it can endanger wild animals.

EWT’s argument is that petting captive carnivores is the last link in a cruel, and potentially deadly chain.

The organisation says cubs (mainly lions but leopard are also used in this way) are often removed from their mothers for use in “petting zoos”, which is stressful for both.

Worse, though, is that once the cute cubs get too big, they cannot be reintroduced to the wild and may be sent to a “canned hunting” farm, to be shot by hunters paying hefty money.

The EWT billboards have a two-tier effect: firstly, is the aww, as you see the photograph, followed by the gut punch of the copy.

One billboard features a cute little girl, hugging an even cuter lion cub. The message: Your kindness is killing me.


The second shows an young woman with an older lion cub. “Killing me softly” is the stark headline.


Well done to the EWT for putting this issue on the agenda and well done to Artifact Advertising for executions which get the message across so clearly.

Orchids to you both.

One of the things I don’t mind government doing is supporting entrepreneurs and so, when the Gauteng government mentioned the ANSYS group and its CEO, Teddy Daka, I assigned our two young interns to do a piece on him.

They politely asked for an interview in which they wanted to know about how he had got started on the road to success, what inspired him. My brief to them was to write a piece from that interview which might inspire others, because Teddy Daka is indeed a role model.

His PA, Lebo Madiga, came back in a superior arrogant way and said she could not “grant” the interview”, because it was “not pitched right for Teddy”. Apparently, he deigns to speak about himself and only wishes to talk about his company and sector.

Any good PR company out there want to pitch their services to him?

Because, Ms Madiga, Teddy Daka and ANSYS have missed an opportunity to get some free, and soft publicity which would be worth hundreds of thousands of Rand, once calculated on the PR scales for editorial coverage. It would have been a non-controversial piece and an opportunity to reveal the human side of Teddy Daka. Most importantly, though, he would have been able to put something back into the community (and the government has been supporting his enterprise, according to Gauteng Premier David Makhura)…by inspiring others.

Just as important, because our Citizen.co.za website is optimized for search engines, the chances of our soft feature appearing on Google’s search results would have been high. And, investors and possible partners, when doing their due diligence examinations of a company and its personnel, often look up things on the Net.

Lost marketing opportunity – or, more correctly, deliberately rejected marketing opportunity  – will always equal an Onion.

Not even Elon Musk or Bill Gates, when they were starting out, turned away free positive publicity like this…

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