Best of the Worst – Top 10 PR Blunders of 2011


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There were plenty of candidates for our list of the top PR blunders of 2011. In most cases the difference between a public relations blunder that irreparably damages your reputation and one that is just a blip on the radar hinges on how quickly, authentically and transparently the company (or the person) responds. The public is incredibly forgiving but their bullish&%t meters are high.

Netflix – Netflix ticked off millions of customers this fall when CEO Reed Hastings announced he was splitting the company in two, essentially doubling the monthly fees for most users. The public’s response? Rather than choosing one of the two new options, thousands of customers chose to just cancel their account entirely. There was such huge backlash that Netflix stock price plunged, and less than a month later they rescinded their announcement.

Facebook – Mark Zuckerberg and his team may be technology wizards, but they’ve got a lot to learn about public and customer relations. Facebook was in the news all year, taking hits about their privacy policies and lack of transparency. Facebook’s real problem is that Zuckerberg and his PR reps have made so many conflicting statements that it’s hard to believe anything they say. They’ve claimed that they’re only changing privacy policies because that is what member want. They’ve said, that there was nothing wrong with the privacy policy itself – the problem was simply that Facebook hadn’t explained it well enough. We’re left with the impression that Facebook doesn’t take any of this stuff very seriously. It just views the complaints as little fires that need to be put out.

Herman Cain – As Republican nominee Herman Cain dropped out of the race, he broke virtually every rule of crisis public relations management. Cain never addressed the various sexual allegations in a clear manner, rather, he dodged reporters, cameras and questions and blamed the media. But the story never went away – and his reaction to the allegations ranged from”deer in headlights” to indignation. Cain looked weak and confused – and now is a private citizen rather than a frontrunner candidate for President of the USA.

Rupert Murdoch – The image of the media as “the big bad wolf” tarnished Murdoch’s News Corp. brand, and ultimately, his legacy as the details the News of the World hacking scandal were revealed. At the time, we offered some advice about how Murdoch could repair his sullied reputation. So far, he hasn’t.

Penn State Abuse Scandal – The child sex abuse scandal involving assistant coach Jerry Sandusky cast a permanent black mark on Penn State’s legendary sports program. The university’s administration was caught flat footed by the scandal as well as the student riots after head coach Joe Paterno was fired.

Kim Kardashian – After 72 days of marriage and selling sponsorships to her wedding, Kardashian announced that she was divorcing her husband, NBA player Kris Humphries. She tried to mitigate the damage by making a “symbolic donation in the value of the gifts she received” to The Dream Foundation but it was too little too late.

Charlie Sheen – We wrote about Sheen earlier this year when his drug, alcohol and marital problems became extremely public. But Sheen’s biggest problem was his addiction to explaining himself on the air. Instead of making an effort to solve his problems, Sheen aggravated the situation with a series of botched interviews and embarrassing public appearances.

Anthony Wiener – The married former New York U.S. representative ruined his career when he got caught Tweeting explicit photos of himself. After weeks of dodging questions and vague denials, he was forced to resign. Had Weiner told the truth, the story may have been limited and not exploded — his wife stood by him, he didn’t break any laws and his issue may have passed.

FedEx on YouTube – A California FedEx driver is caught on a security-camera video flinging a package containing a computer monitor over the fence of a gated house. The YouTube video has over seven million views. However, what we haven’t seen before is the speed in a company’s response to the PR hit. In less than 48 hours after the video is posted, FedEx responded via YouTube with their apology video, explaining in their words “Absolutely, Positively Unacceptable.” A SVP from the company says the company has apologized to the customer, has replaced the monitor and is building this example into their training programs as a “constant reminder of the importance of earning — and keeping — [customers’] trust with every single delivery.” A great try, but as of today, the FedEx corporate apology has only garnered 400,000 views.

OB Tampon Apology Song – For many companies “sorry seems to be the hardest word to say.” Not so for Johnson and Johnson. The company took a ton of heat after OB tampons started disappearing from stores in fall of 2010 to the dismay-bordering-on-panic of women who were extremely loyal to the small, applicator-free product. When the company announced that the tampons would be back on the shelves in 2012, they wanted to tell their loyal customers that they were sorry — really, really sorry — that they had to wait so long. Apparently they’re so sorry that a regular apology wouldn’t do, so they made an interactive music video featuring every cheesy cliche in the book: young, unshaven cute guy; a white piano on the bluffs; a live dove and rose petals. The song is hilarious, personalized (if you put in an unusual name it reverts to “girl”) and it even offers a downloadable product coupon as a finale. It’s a brilliant idea and it gets our vote for the best apology of 2011.

Jill Z. McBride
Jill founded JZMcBride & Associates in 1996 to provide marketing, public relations, social media and event planning services and consultation. More than a decade later, the firm serves an impressive roster of consumer, business-to-business and non-profit clients. Jill's contagious energy, personal involvement and extensive industry knowledge infuses every endeavor of the group in order to help her clients grow.


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