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Avoiding PR Disasters in the New Year

photo courtesy of

Hi, Erika here!

Every year we watch videos, Tweets, and posts go viral and each year more ways are created that make it easier for us to share information quickly. Something can go from two views or re-posts to millions in a matter of days, hours or sometimes even minutes. An example that stands out for me is grumpy cat—his adorable, angry little face is posted on my desk, shared on my Facebook page among friends and he dominates Pinterest boards in the humor section.

Unfortunately, funny cat pictures aren’t the only thing spreading like wildfire. In an age of mobile connectivity, when public relations go awry it is not only pointed out, but shared and seen by millions. So, how do you make sure your company doesn’t end up on one of the ‘Top 10 PR Disasters’ lists? The staff here at NMC would like to offer our very own list of eight memorable PR bloopers of 2012 along with helpful tips on how to manage and/or avoid your very own PR disasters.

  1. #McDStories campaign– the idea was to gather stories from customers about why they love McDonalds, but it spiraled into people sharing why they refused to go to McDonalds. This included stories of hair in food, inappropriate employee behavior and more.
  2. KitchenAid Tweet about Obama’s dead Grandmother– A personal tweet was sent through the KitchenAid Twitter page instead of a personal page. An immediate apology and explanation was given and the issue fizzled out.
  3. Toyota #CamryEffects spam TweetsToyota used a new technology to send thousands of @ replies to anyone who had tagged anything about the Superbowl. The result was not well-received by anyone. The backlash proved that unsolicited replies on Twitter are just as unwelcome as a telemarketing call. The software used is no longer available.
  4. “Good morning, shooters” Tweet by the NRA the morning after Aurora shootings– A great example of scheduled Tweets gone wrong. The Tweet had been automated and not deleted in time to not show up. It resulted in the deletion of the entire page.
  5. Susan G. Komen and Planned ParenthoodKomen for the Cure announced they would stop all grants to Planned Parenthood and it resulted in immediate backlash. The worst part was the silence from the Komen front following the incident. They made multiple posts on their Facebook page and Twitter site that were perceived as ignoring the issue. It wasn’t until almost 24 hours later that they issued an explanation. Within that time, serious damage had already been done to their organization and people.
  6. Pink Slime– ABC broke the story that an ammonia-based product dubbed “pink slime” was and had been in many beef products across the country for the better part of 20 years. The term pink slime went viral and many grocers, restaurants and schools immediately went into defense mode. They either stopped purchasing the product or declared they had never used it to begin with, resulting in Beef Products Incorporated, the producer of ‘pink slime,’ halting production in three of their four plants, and the loss of jobs for hundreds of employees.
  7. Wilcoxson’s Ice Creamthe CEO of the ice cream brand responded to a Facebook question from a Muslim woman asking if the ice cream’s gelatin was pork-based and if so, which ice cream flavors she could eat that didn’t contain any pork-based product. His response was, “we don’t deliver outside of Montana, certainly not Pakistan.” People were outraged and it went viral. Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream not only deleted the post, but their entire page.
  8. Prince Harry gets “cheeky” in Vegaswhat happens in Vegas never stays in Vegas, especially when HRH is a part of your title. Prince Harry learned this the hard way. The backlash wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been since Prince Harry is already branded as the party prince, but people immediately called his security into question. How did they allow the photos to be taken in the first place? Luckily, Queen Elizabeth’s age-old media rule of “never complain, never explain,” mixed with Prince Harry’s “cheeky” jokes, media absence and military deployment allowed the incident to fade relatively quickly.

    Prince Harry jokes with boy who made cheeky joke.

None of the examples listed above were meant to spiral out of control the way they did, but even the best intentions can be taken the wrong way. So how do you manage a crisis when a PR disaster hits? Here are our helpful tips for crisis management.

  • ACT QUICKLY. Delaying your response only makes the problem worse. It allows too much conversation to go on about you, rather than with you. Susan G. Komen learned this the hard way. Once the damage is done, it cannot always be undone.
  • APOLOGIZE. Be sincere; say what you feel and what you mean. If you are shocked or appalled, say it. People can tell when you don’t mean it.
  • TRUST your consumers. People that follow you or like your page, most likely are fans of your product/brand. KitchenAid’s followers empathized with the human error and defended them after their Obama Tweet.
  • BE TRANSPARENT. Explain your plan to resolve the issue. Don’t delete your page or the post like Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream and the NRA did. It only makes the problem worse and makes people feel like you have something to hide. Even if your message isn’t well-received (think pink slime producers) people will see that you are available and open to discussion.
  • FOLLOW THROUGH. Your actions will always say more than your words ever could, so if you say that you are going to fix the problem, do it! Use social media to your advantage and SHOW people how you are fixing the problem.

PR disasters happen, but recovery is possible when handled properly. A great example of crisis management done right comes from Domino’s Pizza. In 2009, they experienced a prank video gone viral. They immediately addressed the issue, apologized for the bad behavior and thanked the customers that brought it to their attention. The president of Domino’s made it clear he was appalled by the behavior and followed through in correcting the problem with their “Oh Yes We Did” campaign.

We hope that your business never experiences the kind of extremes listed in this article, but we also hope you feel more confident in how to use social media to prevent and repair any PR disaster that comes your way.


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