As Mrs. Roosevelt said, learning from the mistakes of others is an important way to become better at what you do. The good news for us PR folks is there are plenty of mistakes made by others that we can learn from. Just take a look at these 10 PR disasters.
1. Tiger Woods cheats on his wife – The Tiger Woods scandal capped off 2009 with a bang. There was a lot of debate about whether Tiger should talk, what he should say, when he should talk, and so on. Looking back, I think it’s pretty clear that Tiger could have limited the damage had he come out earlier and said his piece. Sure, everyone is entitled to their privacy, but when you’re a major brand like Tiger Woods, people will start to come out of the woodwork to seize the opportunity to tarnish your image.
2. Firestone tires cause hundreds of deaths – The Ford-Firestone dispute lasted through much of 2000 and 2001. In case you don’t remember, Firestone tires were separating at the treads, causing hundreds of deaths. At first, the companies blamed consumers for not inflating their tires properly. Yikes. Then, the two companies turned against each other in an effort to shift the blame. Eventually, millions of tires were recalled, but the damage was already done.
3. The Super Bowl on CBS turns R-rated – Can you believe it’s been 6 years since the Janet Jackson Super Bowl nip slip? This incident introduced the world to the phrase “wardrobe malfunction”, and as a result, it’s caused the networks to book tamer halftime shows each year to avoid a repeat.
4. Steroids in Major League Baseball – Will the steroid nightmare ever end for baseball? Just when you think every athlete has admitted to their steroid usage, another one joins the group. Most recently, one of baseball’s most famous sluggers Mark McGwire admitted he used steroids all throughout his career. In other news, water is wet. But seriously, baseball has been battling the steroid image for the better part of a decade, and the story just doesn’t want to die.
5. AIG bailout extravaganza – Just 2 weeks after taxpayers bailed out AIG, executives were treating themselves to luxurious spa vacations. AIG went with the weak line of “This isn’t what it looks like”, but no one bought it. The public was justifiably outraged as they interpreted AIG’s partying as a big middle finger to taxpayers throughout the country.
6. Enron’s accounting scandal – You can’t have a list of PR disasters, without mentioning Enron. Blunders, unethical decisions, and poor PR moves all combined to make the name Enron synonymous with corruption.
7. Starbucks charges rescue workers for water on 9/11 – After the tragic terrorist attacks of 9/11, rescue workers throughout New York were doing everything they could to save lives. When one group of rescue workers went into a Starbucks near Ground Zero to get bottles of water to help revive and treat victims of the attack, they were shocked when they were charged $130 for the water. The rescue workers paid for this out of their own pockets, and when word spread throughout the internet, Starbucks reimbursed them and apologized.
8. Catholic church sex scandal – . Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, the Catholic church was hit with one sexual abuse case after another. This led to dozens of resignations, and it gave the church a serious black eye. To this day, comedy clubs around the world are still filled with jokes about Catholic priests and their sexual misconduct.
9. United Airlines smashes guitars – Dave Carroll’s battle with United Airlines showcased the power of the internet and social media. After United Airlines refused to take responsibility for damaging Carroll’s guitars (he witnessed baggage handlers literally throwing his guitar), the songwriter pledged to write music and shoot music videos about the incident on a daily basis. His first video received millions of view on YouTube, and United finally settled the matter.
10. Homeowners association tells WWII vet to take down flag – We’ve all heard of homeowners associations with major power trips, but none have gotten the attention received by the Sussex Square HOA in Virginia. The homeowners association told Colonel Van T. Barfoot, a WWII veteran, to remove the flagpole from his front yard after flying the flag on Veteran’s Day and Labor Day. Their demands were met with an immediate backlash from citizens all throughout the country.
Which PR disasters would you add to this list? Leave a comment with your favorite catastrophe.
This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (https://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: https://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.