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Top 10 PR Blunders In Recent Years

Written by Top 100 Arena on 2012-09-21
People make mistakes. Everybody does. Companies and organizations do too. In this day and age, those mistakes can easily be seen by general public. Not only that, these can be blown out of proportion thanks to social media and blogs. When your organization is unprepared, unconscious, undecided, unfair, and uninformed then these PR mistakes will happen. A public relation mistake can kill your company in many ways. Thankfully, we have no shortage of such mistakes done by other companies to learn from. We have prepared top 10 PR blunders in recent years so that we all can learn from these mistakes and not repeat them.

10 Penn State University

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Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sundusky was arrested on charges of sexual abuse. But what made things worse was the university's lack of action for over more than 10 years, and it really angered the public and media. Instead of doing something for the eight abuse victims, the university President Graham Spanier made things worse by initial statement which featured more support for two University officials accused to have been covering up a 2002 incident. PR professionals and prominent media urged Penn State to take responsibility, prioritize the victims and get the bad news out as quickly as possible. Poor crisis planning and public relation was so obvious that although they got months of advance notice, Penn State's board didn't do anything to enact a communications plan. More info

9 Herman Cain

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PR mistakes can also happen when you are not prepared to answer questions from reporters in conclusive manner. Herman Cain, former National Restaurant Association head and Republican presidential hopeful made a major mistake when Politico's questioned him about accusations of past sexual harassment. He didn't deal with those questions promptly and completely, which basically invited a tidal wave of damaging speculation from the media and public. Although he had a lot of time to prepare for the crisis and managed his staff by making them prepare a contingency plan and suitable responses, he didn't. He had at least 10 days for that but Cain and his staff appeared completely unprepared when media scrutinize on this subject. More info

8 Oakland Mayor Quan

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It seems normal for politicians to be two-faced, or change their support as long as it serves in their favor. However, once things blow up, the crisis that follows is never pleasant. This is exactly what happened to Oakland Mayor and former community activist Jean Quan. When the Occupy Movement tested city officials nationwide, how she handled it was critically and widely covered. In the first two weeks, she attended the encampment as a supporting speaker. Then later, she authorized a police raid to clear the site, which cost $1 million. She later denied that she had no idea when the raid will take place when nationwide criticism of the violent confrontation broke out. After the raid, the very next day Quan invited the protests back and even encouraged city employees to join an Occupy-sanctioned general strike against the "establishment". Now how is that for being two-faced? We really think that Quan can become the Two-Face in next Batman movie. More info

7 Bank of America

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Banks in US like J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo & Co., Bank of America and several other regional banks tried to bolster their revenue by new debit card fees. But when it caused a massiave public outrage, other banks dropped the plans. However, Bank of America was the last one to abandon its plan and thus suffered significant reputational damage. It got attention from public, the media, and even in Congress. Senator Richard Durbin of Illiois even urged consumers to "vote with your feet". About 650,000 customers joined credit unions after Bank of America's incident.

6 Rick Perry

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When Rick Perry dredged up the birther meme in an interview, Perry later tried to defend himself by saying he was totally kidding. However, he inevitably associate himself with a conspiracy theory which was already debunked last six months ago. That conspiracy theory is only some really downright cranky paranoids will continue to subscribe, but Rick Perry already had done a damage, by associating himself with a nutty view. More info

5 Netflix Price Hike

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At first, Netflix increased 60% of the price and it led to losing hundreds of thousands of customers. Common sense dictates that the management will try something to remedy the situation and fix it. The company's management didn't do a single thing for two months, then two months later, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced plans to splift off Netflix into two companies. The result? More customers abandoned Netflix and they had to backpedal their plan to split the company into two. However, their stock prices remained severely low. More info

4 Facebook's Assault on Google

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Any of you monitoring and reading blogosphere in the last year will know about this scandal. Facebook and its Mark Zuckerberg are overly obsessed with transparency. So much so that they even tried to accuse and question how Google's Social Circle collects and uses personal data. If they did a public call for such investigation, that would be different. However, Facebook contracted a prominent PR firm to do so, and insisted on client anonymity. Only problm is, when bloggers get a wind of this, things get blown up. Christopher Soghoian, one of the bloggers that the agency's pitched to, got annoyed and posted the agency's pitch emails online. And USA Today reported of false claims in pitches as well. Later, Newsweek tech editor exposed Facebook as the mystery client, and noted that it was "a mess seemingly worthy of a Nixon re-election campaign". Guess Facebook doesn't practice what they preach! Facebook Page

3 Dodger Owner Frank McCourt

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Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt seems like he needs to fire his PR team and hire new one. Why? He took a beating from the press for one long year for his handling of numerous issues. It just shows how incompetent his PR team and himself are. One of the biggest blunder was his insensitive reaction to a coma-inducing beating of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow in the park lot of Dodger Stadium, which happened after the March 31st opening day game. According to the Los Angeles Times, McCourt described the assault as tragedy, but he was also "very very satisfied with his organization's effort to make Dodger Stadium the safest venue in sports" and even went on to say that it would be very unfair to have a fantastic day be marred by a few individuals. He spent much of that year defending Dodgers instead of taking responsibility and prioritizing the victim. What made things worse was wen his lawyer tried to place blame on Stow for the incident. More info

2 Kansas Governor Brownback & Social Media

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Sometimes when the older generations don't understand how social media works, and try to police it, things just got out of control and backfire. This is exactly what happened with Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and his staff when they demanded an apology letter from an 18-year-old Emma Sullivan who tweeted "told him he sucked" about Brownback, to her 61 followers. Brownback's communications team contacted Sullivan's principal with demands for a written apology but Sullivan never wrote that. When this incident blow up, it rapidly gained national recognition and Sullivan got over 12,000 followers on Twitter. Brownback had to eventually apologize for the incident, saying that his staff overreacted. Now who should we target to get more Twitter followers? More info

1 Ben & Jerry

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We all love Ben & Jerry. It's not just their ice cream flavours, but also their edgy unusual falvor names. However, when they name their latest flavor "Schweddy Balls" which is an obvious homage to Saturday Night Live character Pete Schweddy, families and consumer groups get enraged. Ben & Jerry dismissed claims from American Family Association affiliate One Million Moms and other consumer groups by saying that they have always used such irreverent names. However, many supermarket chains refuse to carry the flavor simply because of the name. More info

We hope that these PR blunders will teach us from repeating similar mistakes. Public relation is a serious thing. Today's technology makes it possible that the whole can hear any mistakes at one small corner of the world. If you know any other interesting PR blunders, please let us know in the comments below.

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