What can we learn from some of the biggest PR gaffes of 2017 and 2018?

Public Relations is a huge part of the current business model. It is the cornerstone of how businesses communicate with their target audiences through mass media. Today we will take a look at some of the biggest PR mistakes made in 2017 and 2018.

Probably the most well-known mistake last year was United Airlines’ forceful removal of a passenger that was videod and took the internet by storm, resulting in the company’s stock plummeting. A video had emerged of a passenger being violently dragged off of an overbooked plane because he refused to give up his seat. The video quickly went viral and resulted in huge disproval from the public. United Airlines initially failed to issue a sincere apology; they stood by the decision to remove the passenger. While an apology was eventually issued, it was clearly insincere. It was not until after a great deal of consumer backlash that the company responded appropriately. As a result, their consumer perception dropped to a 10-year low due not only to the incident but also United Airlines’ failure to properly address the media and handle the situation.

Other examples include Pepsi’s failure to admit its advertisement featuring Kendall Jenner trivialized Black Lives Matter protests, rather than portraying a “global message of unity” and Cosmopolitan’s article that essentially gave credit to cancer for the dramatic weight-loss a woman experienced without any exercise.

In all three of these examples the companies ultimately failed to properly apologize for their mistakes and those that did, did not do so till it was already too late. I think it is safe to say that 2017 taught us the importance of careful planning as well as apologizing when your mistakes are clear.

Making PR gaffe headlines this year was Tide laundry pods, which teens and twenty-somethings decided were something they should eat because they look like candy.  The problem became that many of those who ate the pods videoed themselves, got sick and shared the videos. Another viral video trend with a giant corporate impact. Though it was not a crisis of P & G’s making, they did need to respond to it and mitigate the damage this fad caused. Sheesh!

And we all know what happened at Starbucks in Philadelphia last month. The incident caused protests around the country and resulted in a day where Starbucks will close all of its stores to educate their employees about racial bias. It also spurred Starbucks’ top brass to change their restroom policy so that now anyone can sit in their stores and/or use their restrooms without making a purchase. Though the “event” should never have escalated to the point of calling the police, I give credit to Starbucks for sending their CEO to Philadelphia to meet the individuals who were taken into police custody, and for taking further measures to change their policies and educate their employees better and ultimately set everyone up for success – their staff and their customers.

The moral of the story is…have a crisis plan in place. Have a trained, articulate spokesperson who can convey the company’s message to its stakeholders during a crisis. And people, be sure to be contrite. Don’t wait for an angry public to tell you that an apology is in order. Be prepared to offer one immediately.