Lessons Can Be Learned from 2012’s PR Disasters

The end of the year brings countless recap articles, but none interest, amuse and horrify me quite so much as those describing the worst P.R. blunders of the year. One of these, from Business Insider, not only makes fun reading but also describes company responses to these disasters that’s instructive should you ever – heaven forbid – find your organization in a similar situation.

Lesson 1: Act Fast. KitchenAid, NRA Magazine and McDonalds all moved quickly to address or rectify the situation. KitchenAid deleted a quote about President Obama’s deceased grandmother that was tweeted during one of the presidential debates. NRA Magazine took down a comment considered to be insensitive that was tweeted the morning after the Aurora theater shootings. And McDonalds moved quickly to stop promoting the hashtag #McDStories – meant to encourage customers to share their own special McDonald’s stories – when customers began using it to post horror stories instead.

Lesson 2:  Apologize. Along with KitchenAid and NRA Magazine, Apple and Burger King moved quickly to apologize publicly – Apple for its own Google Maps app disaster and Burger King for a photo posted by an employee of him standing in his shoes in two large tubs of lettuce. Just like you learned as a kid (or should have), when you mess up, say you’re sorry.

Lesson 3:  Explain what happened. In the case of NRA Magazine, a spokesmen stated that a single individual who was unaware of the tragedy had tweeted the seemingly harmless “Good morning, shooters!” remark. As Business Insider notes, another PR lesson here is “be careful with pre-scheduled tweets.” An explanation isn’t the same as an excuse, of course. The explanation of Apple CEO Tim Cook included acknowledgement that its map app “fell short” and a suggestion that users download competitors’ products.

Lesson 4: Rectify. When something goes wrong, figure out how or why and fix it. KitchenAid, after apologizing for the tasteless Obama quote, said the person who tweeted it wouldn’t be tweeting for the company again. Apple eventually fired the product manager who oversaw its maps team. And Burger King, needless to say, fired the employee in the lettuce photo along with two others involved in the incident.

What was your favorite PR faux pas of 2012? And our wishes to you for nothing but P.R. success in 2013!

 

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