Danielle Booker, director of technical PR consultancy Lyme Communications, opined: “Who could forget about Asda selling a ‘mental patient fancy dress costume’ for Halloween? It came complete with machete and blood stained straitjacket! I think this was back in 2013. The extraordinarily bad taste costume was seen to fuel the stigma and discrimination attached to mental illness, and appalled shoppers.
“They instantly took to social media to share their shock and disappointment in the supermarket. It was then taken up by the media.
“Asda did apologise and removed the costume from sale immediately. The company also announced it would donate to a mental health charity – but did its recompense go far enough? I think throwing some cash at this poor taste blunder was not the answer. The damage to its reputation could have been lessened if it had taken action to readdress the negative stereotype that the costume reinforced, perhaps with a positive campaign.
“I think a lot of work has been done by mental health charities over the last few years since this blunder, and there are certainly far more positive stories in the media today.”
(6) Taking too long to comment – 1997Sara Tye, founder and managing director of redheadPR and CEO of Etape Suisse, said: “One of the biggest PR disasters was the lack of comment and action from HRH the Queen after Princess Diana died. Probably one of the most high-profile news items and deaths ever – it was handled poorly by the Royals and by Buckingham Palace. “There is a saying that ‘A gap left with no communication can be filled with misinterpretation, fear and dread’. We’ve all felt that at some stage in our lives, and the country felt this when the Queen left it days to return to London to mourn the death of Princess Diana with the people. She made a decision to stay with the boys in Scotland and unfortunately it was misinterpreted by many. “This was the start of a profile/perception issue for the Queen. It took years to turn it around. It took films, documentaries, softening up, Prince William and social media to make sure our Queen felt more accessible. Could this have been mitigated? Of course. Better decision-making and discussions at Buckingham Palace on immediate and short-term PR actions, plans and outcomes would have helped. “There was probably little communication of the reaction in London and at the gates of Kensington Palace until the family saw it on the news. Had someone been there and relayed the information correctly, then maybe a different decision would have been made. Also, the softening of the Queen could have started earlier. The approach taken now by the Royals in terms of perception is just fantastic and maybe it took a crisis to turn it around.” (7) Always admit to the truth – 1998
Brenda Gabriel, publicist for Gamechangers, claimed: “Who could forget that impassioned addendum at the end of a speech about education policy proposals? When then President Clinton responded to allegations about an inappropriate relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky – complete with emphatic finger pointing – most of us were sucked in by his vehement denial of any wrong doing.
“For the next several months and through the summer, the media debated whether Clinton had lied or obstructed justice. Thankfully, Lewinsky, whose reputation as a liar was likely to be cemented, had been advised to hold onto the incriminating ‘stained’ dress worn during the sexual relations that never happened. After turning it over during a grand jury trial against Clinton, he admitted to having been engaged in an ‘improper physical relationship’ with Lewinsky.
“That evening he gave a nationally televised statement saying as much. Although he was acquitted of all charges of perjury and obstruction of justice he remained in office – but not without cost to the reputation of the Democratic party.
“During the 2000 election, polling showed that the scandal continued to affect Clinton’s low personal approval ratings, directly affecting Al Gores campaign. Vanderbilt University’s John Geer later concluded that ‘Clinton fatigue or a kind of moral retrospective voting had a significant impact on Gore’s chances’. The other theory was that Gore’s refusal to have Clinton campaign with him damaged his appeal – either way, it was clear the populace didn’t want to be ruled by the colleague of a liar.”
Tesco and Uber were always going to make it onto the list – read on for more PR disasters
Share this story