Top 7 PR disasters of 2011

What events of the year do you think should have made the list?


It never ceases to amaze me how badly people will screw up in the public eye. It’s almost as if some companies and celebrities flat out don’t consider the consequences of their actions. And year after year, we get to watch these entities slowly (or sometimes suddenly) unravel due to poor PR decisions.

As 2011 slows to a close, let’s take a look back at some of the biggest PR disasters we have all gotten the thrill of experiencing this year.

1. Netflix raises fees and changes name. First it split its services in two and raised prices (practically doubled!). Then the CEO sent out an apology (justification) letter explaining the actions and changing the name of the DVD mail out service to “Qwikster,” only to recant and do away with the new moniker. The result? Lots of upset users and multiple member cancellations.

2. Yahoo fires CEO by phone. This one didn’t get quite as much press, but it definitely ended up with Yahoo receiving quite the bashing in the blogosphere. Despite the need to fire its CEO, Yahoo execs decided to do it in the least mature manner possible—over the phone. What is this, junior high?

3. Penn State child abuse cover up. Nothing funny about this one. Even today more details are coming out about the disgusting child molestation cover up at Penn State. It has resulted in multiple firings, including one of the most famous college football coaches of all time, Joe Paterno. Not to mention Paterno’s reputation is forever ruined. Penn State may as well shut down the football program, because the damage is irreparable.

4. Bank of America announces $5 monthly fee. When Bank of America announced its new $5 monthly fee for debit card users, it explained that increased costs would see all the other banks following suit. However, the public backlash was so great that they ended up dropping the fee altogether. Did they not consider the economy whatsoever?

5. Rick Perry flub. You know potential presidential candidate Rick Perry gave his PR people a heart attack when he single-handedly destroyed his campaign with the following comment: “I will tell you, it’s three agencies of government, when I get there, that are gone—commerce, education, and the, um, what’s the third one there …” Since this unfortunate flub, Perry has seen a distinct drop in support.

6. Facebook changes … again. In an effort to keep up with the times, Facebook reinvented itself once again at the end of September. This time users weren’t at all happy. Perhaps to keep up with Google+ updates, Facebook changed the format of status updates to “make it easier” for users to keep up with their friends. It also included a real time tracker of status updates on the sidebar. Unfortunately, it only seems to have made things more difficult for unhappy users.

7. Hank Williams, Jr., likens President Obama to Hitler. While few people are probably surprised at the country star’s comment, his comparison of Obama to Hitler was viewed as unfair and insensitive by the general public. This proved to be such a PR flop that Monday Night Football fired him from his job as theme song writer/performer.

What can you learn from all these screw ups? Think carefully about your actions before you suffer disastrous PR consequences.

Which other PR disasters from 2011 would you include on this list?

Mickie Kennedy is the CEO and founder of eReleases and blogs at PR Fuel, where a version of this article originally appeared.

Topics: PR

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