We’re not even halfway through the year, but some PR fails are too spectacular—and too instructional—to wait until December to assess and learn from.
Some of these missteps caused organizations to reevaluate their business practices and fire workers. Others were minor snafus that have already faded from memory.
Most organizations recovered through quick-acting crisis communications. Those still in recovery mode most likely faltered in their initial response, which often exacerbates and prolongs crisis situations.
Let’s revisit seven of the year’s biggest public relations fiascos (so far):
7. Shea Moisture
Shea Moisture’s sentiment score consistently skewed positive this year, until a series of questionable commercials ran in late April. After an apology, its score began climbing.
Shea Moisture thought it was expanding its reach by including different hair types in a series of television commercials. Unfortunately, the organization neglected to include many women of color in the ads.
In a candid Instagram mea culpa Shea Moisture copped to its error, explained how it made the mistake and vowed to do better in the future.
Adidas’ sentiment score is typically neutral, but a poorly worded email in April briefly sank the organization’s score. It experienced some volatility after the crisis, but as of publication, Adidas is back to a neutral sentiment score.
Adidas made one of the worst communications blunders of the year by sending a poorly worded email to Boston Marathon participants. The subject line was: “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”
Social media users were quick to admonish Adidas for such a tone-deaf gaffe, just four years after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing tragedy.
Adidas immediately issued an apology, and the crisis didn’t balloon. Thanks to a quick response by its communications team, the organization was able to show genuine remorse and move on from the unfortunate event.
— adidas (@adidasUS) April 18, 2017
The organization took major hits this year from an unflattering video, along with an announcement that one of its leaders was jumping ship in late January. Bad press led to a negative sentiment score earlier in the year, but it’s now skewing positive—despite continued struggles.
Juicero makes wifi-enabled devices for juicing fruits and veggies. When a Bloomberg video revealed that the $400 (previously $700) Juicero Press wasn’t actually needed to squeeze the organization’s single-serving packets of chopped fruits and vegetables, the mockery on social media was swift and brutal.
Juicero quickly became a poster child for excess and buzzy technology bloat. The new CEO refused to back down on the product’s value proposition , so Juicero remains a running joke .
— Joshua Green (@JoshuaGreen) April 20, 2017
4. Fyre Festival
Sentiment score can be tricky to gauge when schadenfreude takes over and the audience expresses joy over a brand’s crisis. In this case, those affected by the festival’s failure were only a tiny portion of the social media audience discussing Fyre.
It sounded like a great idea when Billy McFarland and Ja Rule decided to launch a luxury music festival. The destination was a private island in the Bahamas, and tickets ran from $2,500 to $250,000 for “deluxe” packages.
Instead of the promised extravagant catering, beach yoga sessions, bikini-clad models and yachts to lounge on, attendees found a “disaster tent city” with scant rations.
Turns out the organizers were much more adept at influencer PR than crisis comms (not to mention event planning). Instagram photos documented sorrowful bread-and-cheese sandwiches and dreadful accommodations. Social media users had a field day mocking the woes of the well-to-do audience and the downfall of the much-hyped event.
The Kendall Jenner “Live for Now Moments Anthem” commercial was obviously a low point on the graph below (April 4). Recently, though, Pepsi is back into positive sentiment score territory.
What can we say about Pepsi’s now infamous Kendall Jenner commercial? As noted by Wired, it was so bad it achieved the unthinkable: It united the internet.
This attempt to position Pepsi as both a protest drink and a balm to heal tensions was roundly lampooned, notably in a Saturday Night Live sketch. The internally produced campaign was pulled within a day, and Pepsi quickly apologized.
Ironically, many of the signs being held up by the commercial’s protesters read “Join the conversation,” but when Pepsi’s real-life audience did just that, the iconic beverage brand stumbled.
While this gaffe is unlikely to hurt Pepsi’s bottom line, it highlights the importance of anticipating engagement.
2. United Airlines
Using Meltwater’s media intelligence platform to analyze United Airlines’ sentiment score for 2017, the airline has had a rocky year so far. United’s score has been skewing positive lately, however.
United Airlines ‘ troubles this year began with #leggingsgate, but the shocking incident with Dr. David Dao being dragged from a plane sent the airline’s communicators into a tailspin. You’d think a major airline would be adept at defusing tensions, but its delayed responses and tone-deaf communications underlined the need for better crisis comms training, planning and strategy.
Uber was trending positive in sentiment score from June through December 2016, but the brand began to see a decline on January 8. As the organization reels from a series of crises, its score continues to struggle.
What a terrible year for Uber. The organization recently fired 20 top employees after a year of scandals and misbehavior, and CEO Travis Kalanick is finally out.
Even if Uber had handled its multiple crises appropriately at every step, with so many different crises coming out, it’s apparent that deeper organizational issues are at play. Former Attorney General Eric Holder’s 13-page report of recommendations was a good start, but the organization still faces looming accusations of corporate espionage, misogyny and worker mistreatment.
It remains to be seen if Uber’s housecleaning will be enough to turn the organization around. Either way, Uber’s communicators have their work cut out for them.
Takeaways from these PR fiascos
· You can mitigate social media fires by listening to your community’s chatter, adjusting accordingly and formulating “just in case” crisis comms plans.
· Know your brand’s value proposition and lead with that.
- When you mess up, genuinely apologize and share what you’ll do to prevent similar mistakes in the future.
- When in doubt, talk to your community; they’re the people who already support you.
- Treat your community with respect and listen to what it has to say. If you’re only interested in the bottom line, it will show.
A version of this post first appeared on Meltwater’s blog.