At DockerCon, another one of those PR fail stories

A PR failure. But in this case it doesn't involve United or burly policemen.

Woman executive yelling into megaphone at man.

Sometimes things get in the way of common sense and people inadvertently make bad decisions. But sometimes those bad decisions are an indication of core structural problems.

I've been thinking about that distinction recently in light of a somewhat unfortunate situation that occurred at the recent DockerCon event. Rather than replay the detail, I'll simply insert a screen capture from noted cloud thought leader Reuven Cohen, detailing what occurred at the event.

solomon Reuven Cohen

Now there is a peripheral -- but relevant -- situation to take note of here. Docker is a business that was set up to commercialize the eponymously named Docker open source containerization project. Docker Inc. gained huge funding and massive hype on all levels and, as it did so, a steadily increasing murmur wondering if it was really going to be able to both develop an ecosystem AND justify its incredible valuation.

Time and again that question arose as Docker introduced new functionality that competed with some of what its ecosystem. Other times Docker Inc. made strategic acquisitions which would seem to have been a case of "picking favorites" from among the ecosystem. So there are some structural things at play that make anything that Docker does more closely watched than would otherwise be the case.

And then this conference debacle occurred. I must have been to well over 100 conferences in the 10 years or so that I've been doing what I do. I've also managed to build a degree of credibility as an analyst and influencer, and that means that I am courted on a very regular basis by vendors looking for coverage or whatever. It is the reality of the modern world that individuals can build a high degree of influence from an informal and independent perspective.

Cohen is an example of this -- he may be one guy with a mobile phone recording a livecast, but he's an influential one and people dealing with him need to understand that.

So let's look at this on a few different levels.

Maybe it was an individual's mistake

Maybe there was an over-zealous conference person who was being a little too literal with the "who has the right to film" decision-making here. Maybe it wasn't such a big deal and it could all have been explained quickly and painlessly.

Well, maybe. But then why didn't Docker come out as soon as the situation happened and make it right? I’ve reached out to Docker and, via their PR agency, they had this to say:

"Thank you for reaching out. Regarding the event you're referring to, we saw Reuven Periscoping in the aisle in front of sponsor booths on the show floor, so our event manager politely asked him to move to a different location to not impede traffic. At no point did we threaten to shut him down in any sense. Also, we did not ask Dell/EMC to remove any tweet or communicate with them in any way."

The more simple explanation, that someone on team Docker overreached in this case, had some following with commenters suggesting that:

Someone on their marketing and events team is clueless. There's this concept called "influencer marketing" that's been around for years.

This is @docker 's @united PR blunder

Maybe this proves the structural issues at Docker Inc.

I've had lots of comments on social media that this simply proves, once and for all, that Docker is an organization with an ingrained heavy-handedness as part of its core DNA. I'd like to believe that's not the case since I have friends at both a management and a governance level within the company. But sometimes this stuff sticks. A couple of quotes from the Twittersphere:

it's the community (Hyde) vs. commercial struggle (Jekyll) just showing it self to the public because they have few options IMHO

Docker does need to get their PR straight. I've had similar experiences myself. Not sure what the deal is, but very Dr Jeckyl & Mr Hyde. The way user groups are handled is very authoritarian and pushes to quell open dialogue of speakers/attendees.

This really doesn't surprise me, for some reason

The real winner here is Dell EMC

It would be remiss to not point out just what a coup Dell EMC got here. It turned another vendor's trainwreck into an absolutely fantastic PR achievement for itself. In doing so, it not only made sure that it'll get good coverage at its event from the person in question, but it also single-handedly managed to change the orthodox view that big, old, legacy vendors do PR badly, while the more youthful, nimble ones get everything right. In this case, the roles were completely reversed.

As Mike Maney, someone who spends his life wrangling influencers and vendors, pointed out:

DellEMC just showed very clearly what influencer relations is about: no spin, no expectation . . . just do the right thing.


I spend a lot of time opining publicly and helping large and small organizations privately understand the new world of AR/PR and influencer relations. This DockerCon situation showed, once again, why that help is needed now more than ever.

Docker really dropped the ball here and, at the time of writing, they have done nothing to avoid an assessment that they are indeed the bad actor in all of this.

Indeed, the final word goes to Michael Dell, founder of Dell and CEO of DellEMC. Proving that he is one old hand who has a firm grasp of influencer relations, we had a conversation via direct message on Twitter in which Dell applauded the action of his team, saying:

Proud of our team. They did this on their own. Culture in action

Seems Docker has some culture fixing of its own to do.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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