Go Daddy CEO Steps In Elephant Dung

Bob Parsons, CEO and Founder of massive domain name registrar GoDaddy.com, came under fire this week when he shot and killed an elephant in Zimbabwe. Almost immediately, GoDaddy.com customers began pulling their accounts in protest.

After killing the magnificent beast, Parsons posted a video, set to rock music, of his kill. In the below picture, you see Mr. Parsons posing – with that stupid grin men get when they kill an animal – with his pachydermal victim.

On CNN, Mr. Parson claimed he killed the animal because it was destroying local crops, and insisted the dead animal provided a vital source of protein for local farmers.

Mr. Parsons is right that there are major conflicts in parts of the world between humans and elephants – and crop raiding is indeed a concern in many places. But he’s wrong that his cowboy act is the only solution to the problem – and his claim that “It takes a guy like me, and there’s just a few of us…” suggests a rare breed of megalomania. If, in fact, the elephant had to be killed, surely it didn’t require the services of an American businessman who paid tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege.

The biggest disconnect here may be Mr. Parson’s insistence that he shot the elephant as an altruistic act. It strains credulity to believe that this wealthy corporate CEO flew to Zimbabwe to do this for the sake of a few impoverished strangers, as opposed to for his own thrill-seeking.

Confirming my thrill-seeking hypothesis is the fact that he posted video of the elephant kill set to AC/DC music. If Mr. Parsons’ elephant kill was primarily to provide locals with protein, why post a rock n’ rolling video of the event? And why use the starving villagers as a branding opportunity by distributing GoDaddy.com baseball caps to them?

In his CNN interview, Mr. Parsons is by turns sarcastic, defensive, and defiant. He clearly doesn’t understand the deep revulsion so many people feel in response to his act. And he did nothing to tamp down the reputational crisis now affecting his brand. Worse, he antagonized the people who expressed concern about his act by labeling them part of a “politically correct tsunami.”

There are two things that make a crisis bad: an offending event, and the response to that event. Mr. Parsons has unnecessarily deepened the crisis with his tone-deaf response.

Peter Shankman, an influential public relations pro, is one of his “politically correct” customers who responded quickly by moving all 400 of his domain names from GoDaddy.com to another provider. Others are following suit.

Mr. Parsons did this to himself and his brand, and he deserves the fallout from his blithely defiant response.

Do You Agree? Disagree? Please Leave Your Comments Below.

For those interested, Parsons’ original video is posted below. Be forewarned: it’s graphic — and, in my view, infuriating.
Update, April 5, 2011 11:25pm: Bob Parsons has pulled the original video, claiming its copyright. The problem is that it’s all over the Internet already, and his attempt at censorship will likely provoke even more controversy.

This was not the crisis communications move he should have taken. Click here to see my more recent story: The Five Things I’d Tell Go Daddy’s CEO Right Now

Also Related: Go Daddy’s War on Bloggers

Related: April 11, 2011: Crisis Communications Lesson: Why I Finally Quit Go Daddy