The biggest PR disasters in history, as decided by PRs

(8)?Swapping one type of meat for another ? 2013

Stuart Skinner, managing director at?PHA Media, explained:??The Tesco horsemeat scandal in 2013 famously spawned a whole host of jokes, infographics and memes across the Internet, illustrating just how influential social media channels can be when it comes to the public?s perception.

“The story revealed beef products sold in major retailers?(including Tesco, Iceland, Aldi, Lidl, Ikea, Asda and Co-op)?contained horsemeat, rocking the European supply chain, with abattoirs, suppliers, manufacturers and?retailers all implicated.

“The issue here is erosion of trust in supermarkets and faith in the?care offered to?customers; the products were mis-sold, customers were misled but the absence of a quick, frank apology and explanation by numerous companies left a huge vacuum which was filled by negative commentary.?

“It ranks among the biggest PR disasters as?there was a lack of humility, with some even relying on ‘spokesperson’. Were words offered from more senior people, then things may have been different.

(9) When your social media campaign gets hijacked by consumers ? 2015

Sara Collinge, UK managing director of Clarity, said:??Social media has become an influential part in how brands communicate with the public following a crisis. Yet it has put new demands on PR and comms professionals as they?re often forced to act with a level of immediacy that would not have been the case in the days of the BP oil disaster.

“We?ve even seen social media campaigns hijacked by consumers if they are seen?as disingenuous. That?s what happened to SeaWorld in 2015 in wake of the documentary Blackfish (which portrayed a lack of care for its animals). The park tried ‘educating’ the public with an #AskSeaWorld campaign. It invited users to post questions on Twitter that would then be answered on a SeaWorld Cares site.

“People quickly asked SeaWorld questions it was?trying to avoid in the first place. The whole incident raised the profile of the documentary even further, exactly the opposite of what SeaWorld wanted to achieve. This just shows brands can?t expect to cultivate positive discussions around the brand, consumers now drive the conversation.

?PR disasters come in all shapes and sizes. In almost all scenarios the answer is not to bury your head in the sand and hope the crisis will eventually blow over. It?s often better to proactively manage a crisis with consistent, clear communication. And, if you?ve done something wrong, accept responsibility and apologise.?

(10) A series of “unfortunate” events ? 2017

Richard Tompkins, managing director?at W Communications, said: “The worst PR disasters are formed not by the problem or action of a company or person, but the way the communication is handled thereafter. Consumers?are not an unsympathetic bunch ? they understand mistakes and accidents happen, they know that (most of the time) these are not deliberate. But what is key?is transparency and clarity. It is when this is missing, or there is a feeling of being misled that issues become disasters.

“The main offenders tend to be the big corporates, those with the most to lose, those with a share index price that may take a beating with investors who?ll be banging down the door and those with a CEO whose head will be on the block for any financial impact on the business. Nowhere has this been more true than with Uber and the behaviour of CEO Travis Kalanick.

“Revelations about a secret spying programme, sexual harassment and embarrassing leaks about executive conduct led the majority of investors to see Kalanick and his (failed) attempts to keep these issues quiet, as a serious liability to the company?s future success. Uber?s recent trials encapsulate the ingredients of all the worst PR disasters. Kalanick?s resignation was inevitable. The blame lies firmly with him for his attempts to cover up the disgraceful actions within his company.

“Businesses that fail to take responsibility,?that think customers won?t have images or phone footage, that there won?t be leaked info to media, that content and opinion won?t whip around the world across social channels before they have the chance to prepare an inevitably watered-down statement, will face considerable economical and reputational damage. Uber?s self-inflicted PR disaster should be held up as one of the best examples of what not to do.”

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