How Servcorp dealt with a total public relations disaster in Malaysia

Sidney the wombat.

Servcorp, an Australian-listed services company, found itself all over social media for a case of mistaken identity earlier this week .

The company’s mascot, a furry little wombat called Sidney, was mistaken for a pig in a billboard in Malaysia wishing people a happy Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar. The only problem was, mistaking a wombat for a pig caused huge offence and resulted in the company pulling the advertisement down and apologising for the confusion on its Facebook page.

Speaking to Business Insider from Istanbul, CEO Alf Moufarrige said he’s had a few phone calls about the “honest mistake”, which he described as a “storm in a tea cup”.

Servcorp billboard in Kuala Lumpur.

“We haven’t learned much, the wombat is a symbol of Australia and it’s always been Servcorp’s ambassador in the 22 countries in which we work,” he said.

“I was alerted to it when the story broke and I just thought it was an honest mistake made by one of the people [we employ].

“The digitisation of our wombat might be something we may not do again.

“It’s just one of those silly things that happened, we don’t feel any animosity.”

It’s not the first time Sidney the wombat has had an identity crisis. Moufarrige explained the marsupial has also been mistaken for a “small rat” in the past, but he’s not about to change the symbol of the multinational.

“The animal’s not a carnivorous animal. It’s a furry, koala bear on four legs. I don’t think we’ll change anything,” he said.

Moufarrige explained it was an incident which wasn’t foreseeable and anything regarding religion and culture can spark emotional responses.

“That can happen, all people of all religions jealously guard their religion and I can understand it happening, but Servcorp feels no animosity and I’m sure the people in Malaysia feel no animosity towards us. In the holy month of Ramadan it was just a message of goodwill from an Australian company which has been in Malaysia for 20 years,” he said.

Servcorp is one of the largest exporters of services in Australia, it works across the Middle East, Asia and parts of Europe.

“The cultures are different,” he said. “At one stage we were in more Buddhist countries then we were Christian countries and now we’re a multicultural corporation because we work in all these areas.”

Social media and the online world has changed the way stories are disseminated and told and it’s something which Moufarrige said drove the coverage.

“I don’t think in the traditional press it would’ve been a real story,” he said. “Social media is different, the stories they pick up on, I don’t think it’s done any damage to Servcorp in Malaysia.”

“It’s pretty boring, the business we’re in, we’re a nursery for small businesses and enterprises but we don’t get much social media coverage so for me as chief executive, it was a bit of a surprise that we got so much coverage.”

Moufarrige has spoken to his Malaysian team since the incident and said they started to apologise to him.

“I said you can’t apologise, it’s not a pig, it’s a wombat. We’ve made no apology. It’s an honest mistake which has been made by some people,” he said.

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