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Salesforce.com Cleans Up its Karma

By SV.internet.com Staff     Feedback

An altruistic marketing tactic backfires as the online software vendor apologizes to Dalai Lama supporters for posters advertising a San Francisco appearance.

The path to enlightenment took a hard stop at humility this week for Salesforce.com after the hosted applications provider found itself the center of a controversy involving the Dalai Lama.

The San Francisco-based company purchased some 500 tickets for a September 5 event at Davies Symphony Hall, where the exiled Tibetan religious leader is scheduled to give a speech on "The Human Approach to World Peace." The company distributed its tickets free of charge to employees and a select group of press as part of a planned celebration of being the first on-demand provider to reach 100,000 subscribers.

Salesforce.com makes integrated software for automation, marketing automation and customer service and support management. It was also one of the first companies to deliver business applications over the Internet and letting customers pay a monthly subscription fee rather than buying the product.

Dovetailing its corporate accomplishments to outside events is not new to Salesfoce.com, as it has made its appearance known at venues such as Tibetan Freedom Fest and David Bowie concerts.

"[The evening with his Holiness the Dalai Lama] is a social event for employees and not the appropriate setting for serious meetings," a spokesperson for Salesforce.com's PR agency told internetnews.com.

The company has also contributed to Tibetan interests in other ways including $100,000 towards new computers in schools in Nepal and India as well as training for Tibetan refugees.

But the American Himalayan Foundation, which is sponsoring the Sept. 5 appearance, took issue with Salesforce.com's promotional materials. A poster advertising the event features the Dalai Lama praying under the message, "There is no software on the path to enlightenment."

Foundation president Erica Stone told internetnews.com said the Foundation returned the Salesforce.com contribution check of $75,000 and asked the company to publicly apologize.

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff immediately issued a statement expressing regret for the company's miscue.

"We had no right to suggest that either the American Himalayan Foundation or His Holiness support us," Benioff said in the letter. "We made a mistake. For any harm to the reputations of both his Holiness and the American Himalayan Foundation, we apologize."

Salesforce.com Tuesday began calling its invited guests saying it has cancelled their participation in the sit-down with the Dalai Lama as well as an after-party at the newly reopened Asian Art Museum. A company representative said Salesforce.com would reschedule its own celebration for a later date.

This article was originally published on August 30, 2003
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