Five Lessons From 2017’s Biggest PR Fails

2017 debunked the myth “all press is good press” as we experienced some of the most gut-wrenching PR disasters that created major setbacks for a handful global corporations. While these major mishaps were difficult to watch, each crisis provided amazing real-life teaching moments for public relations professionals everywhere. As we celebrate the New Year, let’s take a look at some of the companies that are still recuperating from their self-inflicted PR mistakes.

 

UNITED AIRLINES

The Crisis: 2017 unleashed a never-ending cycle of PR disasters for United Airlines. Most notably, the airline took the worst hit in the company’s 90-year history when a passenger was dragged off an overbooked plane, breaking his nose and knocking out teeth in the process. The incident was recorded by onlookers’ camera phones and immediately circulated on social media.

Once notified of the situation, United CEO Oscar Munoz made it even worse by apologizing for “having to re-accommodate these customers” and then later said in a leaked employee email about the incident that “employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this.” This came just one month after he was named 2017 U.S. Communicator of the Year by PR Week.

The company’s poor response to a customer incident caused its stock to drop $1 billion in value and has placed the entire airline industry under the microscope.

The Lesson: If you’d be ashamed for millions of people to see something your company does, don’t do it. Instead, if you need to inconvenience a customer, be willing to negotiate with them and never force it. Furthermore, if a problem does arise, remember that “the customer is always right.” This customer-centric mindset also needs to be evident in your crisis communications plan both internally and externally. In statements, never blame the victim but acknowledge the mistake and offer a heartfelt apology.

 

PAPA JOHN’S PIZZA

The Crisis: As one of the biggest sponsors of the National Football League (NFL), Papa John’s came under fire as CEO John Schnatter attempted to link its declining pizza sales to NFL players’ national anthem protests and that it might cease its sponsorship if the protests continued. Schnatter’s stance earned the support from The Daily Storm, a neo-Nazi newspaper, who even adopted the company as the “official pizza chain for the alt-right.” Schnatter was forced to issue a statement asking the group to stop eating his pizza, hoping to halt the PR disaster, and resigned as CEO.

The Lesson: Any business issues being addressed in a public-facing statement, such as social media, need to be approved by the chain of command listed in a communications plan. Even with the relaxed demeanor of social media channels like Facebook or Twitter, these posts need to be vetted out to determine any repercussions that may arise.

 

EQUIFAX

The Crisis: Equifax experienced one of the largest data breaches ever that affected more than 143 million customers. Not only was it being investigated by the SEC and multiple states along with hundreds of lawsuits, but Equifax also sat on the news for six weeks. To make matters worse, four well-informed company executives sold $1.8 million in stock well before the news became public.

Once the breach was disclosed, Equifax tried to charge comprised customers a fee for the privilege of protecting themselves and freezing their credit. Although it later waived the fee after public outrage, the damage was done. To this day, Equifax has still yet to tell anyone how hackers infiltrated the system or how the company is preventing it from happening again.

The Lesson: Transparency is key. When a problem arises, it needs to be disclosed sooner rather than later or else the perception will be deceiving rather than proactive. A company also needs to focus on promising corrective action and then effectively following through.

 

DOVE SOAP FACEBOOK POST

The Crisis: Dove has always been a huge advocate for inclusivity and diversity. For instance, it’s long-running “Real Beauty” campaign has celebrated the natural physical variation of women and invoked a new level of self-confidence in females of all ages worldwide. However, the brand experienced major backlash when the company produced a Facebook GIF showing an African American woman taking off her shirt to reveal a Caucasian woman. Social media users called it “racist” and “insensitive,” interpreting it as a message implying the dark skin was dirty and would be cleaned after using Dove soap. Realizing the error, Dove removed the post and issued an apology.

The Lesson: Given how many brands fumble in getting respectful messaging across about race and diversity, it’s vital for all communicators to ensure their brands have an internal review process for all creative content. This helps companies nix off-mark messaging long before it reaches the public. Although it may delay creative processes, gathering multiple viewpoints through audits of inclusion and diversity practices will help brands from “missing the mark” in the future.

 

CHEERIOS

The Crisis: It’s no secret that there is an issue with the world’s declining bee population. Naturally, Cheerios seem like the perfect brand to raise awareness of the honeybee’s critical role as a pollinator of many of the world’s most important crops. So, Cheerios’ parent company General Mills partnered with Canadian company Vesays Seeds Ltd. and distributed 1.5 billion wildflower seeds to customers to help with bee habitat restoration.

However, the promotion turned controversial when it was discovered that the packets sent out included seeds for plants that were invasive in some states and banned in others. In addition, ecologists revealed some of the seeds could pose a significant threat if introduced outside their native range. Cheerios pushed back on the accusations by sharing reactionary statements via social media, but the damage was done.

The Lesson: The public back-and-forth between experts and General Mills caused major confusion among consumers on the authenticity of the campaign. Even if the seeds may not have been invasive, the lack of consumer awareness and education on the ecology industry larger construed whether the campaign was truly good-hearted or just a PR ploy. Instead of shipping a basic mix of seeds that included some that were not native to America, General Mills should have used native flower specific to specific locations and made that evident in campaign content. It may have been more expensive and time-consuming, but the overall message would have been better accepted.

Dittoe PR Goes Hollywood with ‘COLUMBUS’ Film Premiere

Every day at Dittoe PR, clients from various backgrounds and industries bring exciting projects that challenge us and push us to the next level in public relations. Most recently, our team had the opportunity to bring the glitz and glam of the movie industry from Hollywood to Indiana by working alongside the talented production team of the critically acclaimed and award-winning film “COLUMBUS.”

Despite our limited background in film, this was a challenge our team welcomed with open arms and tackled triumphantly. “COLUMBUS” quickly made a name for itself after its debut at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival where it earned glowing reviews and awards for featuring the world-renowned architecture of Columbus, Indiana, alongside a deeply intellectual storyline about parental and family relationships.  Its connection to the Midwest architecture mecca sparked the “COLUMBUS” director’s burning desire to create a larger-than-life splash in Indiana.

 

The film enlisted the Dittoe PR team to help promote the film statewide – with a greater focus in the Indianapolis and Columbus areas – through consistent, influential media coverage that would spark interest and drive ticket sales to the film’s opening at Keystone Art Cinema (Indianapolis) and YES Cinema (Columbus).

 

During the media relations push, Dittoe PR secured media opportunities with reporters throughout Indiana, connecting them with Kogonada, “COLUMBUS” writer, director, and editor, as well as lead actor John Cho, lead actress Haley Lu Richardson, and key contributors from the Columbus community. In addition to print, online, TV, and radio coverage pieces, the film appeared in organization’s e-newsletters and on influential social media pages. During premiere weekend, our team worked closely with the film’s cast, crew, and management teams to execute local media tours with relevant TV and print outlets, including the Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis Monthly, WTHR, FOX59, WISH-TV, RTV6, WZPL Smiley Morning Show, and more.

 

Media relations has been the core of our business for many years, but our PR services go far beyond media. We were also tasked with assisting in the event planning for the VIP film premiere events as well as planning and running a red carpet event in Columbus. Working alongside the talented team at Columbus Visitors Center and YES Cinema, we pulled off one of the biggest event weekends of the year for the Columbus community, and its hype carried into Indianapolis as well.

 

The film’s hometown premiere earned a per-screen-average of more than $15,000, beating out its initial New York and Los Angeles premiere just a month earlier. “COLUMBUS” went on to be the most popular film ever at YES Cinema by the end of its first week of screenings, selling out all of it 20 initial scheduled shows, and continuing to show through early October. Its popularity kept it around in Indianapolis as well, where it screened for more than a month. As the film approaches its iTunes release on Nov. 4, it boasts box office sales nearing $1 million.

After the Indianapolis and Columbus openings, the “COLUMBUS” team expanded Dittoe PR’s efforts into other markets, which allowed us to generate additional media attention in major cities like Phoenix, Chicago, and St. Louis, as well as more than 15 additional cities through Indiana. Altogether, our savvy PR skills secured more than 250 media hits, 68.5 million media impressions, and a total publicity value of $860,000.

 

If you are interested in learning more about how Dittoe PR can assist with outreach for your company or event, request a consultation today!

Four ways your brand can benefit from a media tour

While social media has made journalists more accessible than ever, and a well-crafted email pitch can secure phenomenal media coverage for your brand, there’s still no substitute for meeting face-to-face with a journalist to share your story.

Do you have a great company story, product or service for which you’ve struggled to get media coverage? Here are four reasons why a media tour might make sense for your brand:

You have a product or service to demo. Some products and services are more challenging to get attention in the media simply because they aren’t convenient for a journalist to try out for themselves. Many journalists are hesitant to tell their readers about a product or service unless they have experienced it firsthand. This means you can drastically improve your chances of obtaining media coverage by bringing the product or service to them, providing a brief demo and answering their questions. Not to mention, you’ll receive valuable feedback that you can incorporate into future versions of the product or service.

slack_for_ios_upload_720In-person meetings establish you as a trusted source for future stories. If you regularly produce research that journalists can use in future stories, or you are willing to go on the record to comment on industry news and trends, then an in-person meeting offers a great venue for you to explain the type of information you can provide to them that would appear in their stories. When these journalists need information from outside sources for their stories, you’ll be top of mind to them and asked to contribute your statistics or perspectives. Your company name will be cited in these stories, which only further establishes your credibility amongst your target audience.

Video enhances your brand’s story. If a picture says a thousand words, then a video is worth a million. For products or services that benefit from a demonstration as opposed to a still image, there’s no better place to be than filming an in-person studio interview with a media outlet that reaches your target audience. Video is one of the most popular storytelling formats around. In fact, the average U.S. adult spends more than 10 hours each week watching videos on digital devices.

Your enthusiasm for your company story, product or service is infectious….and way more effective to hear in person. There’s nothing that can match the power of your presence to capture the attention of journalists. Email pitches and social media outreaches can, in no way, convey the passion you have in your voice when you talk about your company, product or service. The right pitch, delivered in person, can effectively convince a journalist why you have a great story, product or service that their readers should know about.

We recently conducted a media tour in New York City for our client Redux, a device that brings liquid-damaged smartphones back to life. The meetings we scheduled have already resulted in coverage in Mashable and New York Magazine, and there are still several pieces of great media coverage to come. Could your brand benefit from a media tour? If so, let’s talk.

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