PR Nightmares: What You Can Learn from the Biggest Blunders

Business.com / Sales / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Mistakes will be made, which will hurt your business' PR. The important thing is to know how to identify, address and fix these blunders.

The definition of PR, according to the Public Relations Society of America, is something like “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Unfortunately, some PR professionals not only miss this goal of connecting to the general public, they also made total fools of themselves.

Below are a few examples of PR efforts that began with the aforementioned definition in mind, but something went awry in the process. And they became major PR blunders. Take notes and avoid the same fate.

Related Article: Some of the World's Biggest Business Blunders

Never blame your customers

Lululemon Athletica, an active wear company, had a problem in 2013 with their new yoga pants; they were too sheer to wear in public. Rather than admitting to quality control inefficiencies, founder Chip Wilson blamed the fabric’s translucence on overweight women rubbing their thighs together because the pants were too tight for them.

What you can learn: No matter the fault, blaming your customers is always a losing strategy. A sure way to squander money is to insult your consumer’s intelligence, taste or in Wilson’s case, their figure. People want a product improvement, not a defensive accusation.

Check the facts…and stretch the truth

Philip Morris Co., a Tobacco titan, funded a study in 2001 that stated the benefits of smoking outweigh associated costs such as healthcare, lost working days, and cigarette-induced fires. To make matters worse, they cited that the “indirect positive effects” of early deaths- i.e. savings on health care and pensions- along with the aforementioned benefits lead to a government net gain of $146 million on behalf of the tobacco industry. It’s no surprise the report received a massive backlash from the public, prompting Steven Parrish, SVP of Philip Morris, to apologize for the terribly inappropriate mistake.

What you can learn: Always check the facts and analyze a self-funded study from every angle possible. There were several caveats in their conclusion; one being that the measuring the costs of smoking is difficult and ambiguous. Not to mention it’s distasteful to discuss the economic benefits of death with the general public.

Related Articles: 6 Lessons in Corporate Ethics from the GM Recall

When mitigating a crisis, don’t hide

2013 wasn’t the best year for Carnival, with multiple power losses and plummeting share prices. After the February power outage (which resulted in many unhappy vacationers), the CEO was M.I.A when the public needed him most. Instead, Carnival SEO Micky Arison sent a lower-level CEO of the cruise ship to take charge of public communication.

What you can learn: When an issue arises, always do the talking. If you don’t, you’ll communicate cowardice. Paul Argenti, communication expert and professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, tells Business insider that a fundamental rule of crisis communication is “that your top person needs to be on hand when things hit the fan. Put your CEO front and center when you are in a crisis and under attack.”

Don’t ignore grammar

Steve Jobs was a genius. Unfortunately, when making a live keynote speech, Steve Job introduced the new iPod as “the funnest iPod yet”. The Internet roared in laughter and brought criticism to Jobs’ linguistic mistake. The public was more obsessed with his slip-up than the new fun product.

What you can learn: No matter the outlet, make sure you abide by the rules of language. It’s not a huge moral misconduct, but persnickety consumers might overlook a new product to stare at your blatant grammatical error.

Apologize for employee misconduct

In this particular case, we applaud Dominos in their PR response to employee misconduct. In 2009, Dominos employees recorded themselves spitting in pizzas and putting cheese up their noses. Not surprisingly, the YouTube video went viral. In reaction to their gross behaviors, CEO Patrick Doyle immediately fired the employees and apologized via YouTube and Times Square. He thanked the online community for noting them of the issue and took immediate action on new hiring and sanitizing practices to reassure the public of the hygienic safety.

What you can learn: If your employees deface the name and dignity of your business, fire them and let the public know. Your customers need to be reassured that their safety, sanity, and needs are first and foremost in your book.

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