The anatomy of a PR disaster: CCM’s complete mishandling of Hwayoung’s departure

written by: Testamentvm

Advertisers are jumping ship. Fans are leaving in droves. There’s a petition for T-ara to disband that’s gaining members by the hour.

The T-ara scandal is a complete mess.

Yesterday’s news about Hwayoung‘s departure from T-ara may have not hit the same level of mass hysteria that TVXQ‘s breakup led to, but we may be coming close to the very worst K-pop PR disaster in history.

So where did things go so wrong?

1. Core Contents Media was late to respond; this delay allowed other sources to do the talking.

Waiting until Monday to address the Hwayoung issue allowed the story to steadily gain traction over the weekend and for the so-called “video evidence” confirming fans’ worst fears – clips of of T-ara members Eunjung and Jiyeon purportedly abusing Hwayoung – to circulate.

The result has been a “slow drip of bad news, which is one of the key things you always talk about avoiding in crisis management. You want to rip off that Band-Aid all at once so you don’t have this Chinese water torture that creates this heightening effect” (source: The Daily Beast).

By Monday, the narrative the public was primed with was one that cast Hwayoung as the victim, and the rest of T-ara as aggressors. They had made up their minds and it was an uphill battle from that point forward. What’s even more incredulous is that CCM, of all companies, didn’t immediately nip these rumors in the bud, given that they’ve had similar issues in the past with “bad attitudes”.

2. CCM failed to present a convincing counter-narrative.

Even if the information presented at the press conference was true, and Hwayoung was in fact fired because she was “lazy”, KKS failed to pick up the thread where he left off (CCM claimed last week that the Twitter accounts of Eunjung, Boram, Hyomin, and Soyeon were hacked), instead choosing to focus on dispelling the bullying rumors (which seems to have struck a serious chord amongst the Korean public). Honest mistake or not, this was a glaring incongruity that Asian Junkie picked up on earlier.

Fans are a lot of things, but they’re not trusting of company narratives. They picked through the holes in that story and ripped it apart. If anything, the response has become more vitriolic since Kim Kwang Soo’s announcement, with videos of fans setting their T-ara CD collections aflame making rounds online and petitions to disband T-ara. Moreover, Hwayoung shot back a tweet soon after the press release, dispelling any doubts about her feelings towards the announcement.

Worse yet, there were reasonable options available at his disposal. KKS could have taken the blame himself and punished the entire group under the guise of all their tweets being attacks on him and not Hwayoung. If he claimed that all the members were publicly mocking him for pushing Hwayoung too hard, everybody would have bought it given his reputation. Either that or he could have had the group members issue an immediate apology, saying that their actions were unprofessional and a result of frustration from a lacking stage. Remember, none of this really hit the fan until he announced Hwayoung was out, because that essentially confirmed to people (true or not) that she was being bullied by members.

3. Kim Kwang Soo threatened Hwayoung; should have worked harder at controlling the flow of information instead.

Kim Kwang Soo sat down for an interview and threatened retaliation if Hwayoung didn’t keep quiet.  Instead of shooting off threats (which did nothing to help his image as a profit-hungry exec), he should have released video evidence of Hwayoung acting spoiled (if he ever had it), or a testimony from one of the supposed 19 staff members who had complaints against Hwayoung; really, anything would have sufficed. But as of this writing, from what I’ve seen so far, no one has yet to procure footage of Hwayoung throwing the very public tantrum that Kim Kwang Soo maintains she did.

Instead, we’re seeing more and more craziness creep out of the woodworks, with ”testimonies” from netizens claiming to be former CCM trainees who were abused by Jiyeon are making their way into news articles (see an example here).

Rather than take the heat off T-ara members, it has made Hwayoung into an even more sympathetic figure and has actively recruited the T-ara members into taking more fault even though they have said little to this point.


“As I said, it’s to the point now where the Korean police could blame unsolved murders on T-ara and people would believe it”. 

Whatever the reality may be, the narrative the public is now cemented into is one that paints Hwayoung as the victim and the rest of T-ara (sans Qri) as villains. Congratulations, CCM, on handling one of the worst PR disasters in K-pop history.


Check out my remixes here, and hit me up on Twitter (@TESTAMENTVM).

IATFB added some stuff.


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