Top PR Fails 2013

2888102664_8a07d8d0bc_oAs I’ve stated in other posts, the key to understanding how to successfully communicate during a crisis, is to look at what others have done and learn from their mistakes.

There are countless examples of failed public relations in the world every year. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to give a list of what, in my opinion, were the top three worst PR fails of this past year.

In no particular order:

Lance Armstrong – One of the most inspiring and reputable athletes in recent history, found his image in shambles after evidence surfaced that he used steroids. This situation was doomed from the get-go, as he publicly denied doping for nearly a decade before this information came out. He found himself in an amazing little crisis. In the aftermath, he went on an highly publicized interview with Oprah, in which he seemed insincere and lacking remorse. I wonder if this was due to lack of planning, or he just wasn’t able to reflect the emotions we expected from him. Regardless, he let all of his supporters down. Luckily, the LiveStrong foundation was able to separate themselves from him and this catastrophe.

Carnival Cruise Triumph- After a fire broke out in the engine room of Carnival’s Triumph ship while afloat in the Gulf of Mexico, passengers were stranded onboard for five days in horrible conditions. Human waste, limited water, extreme heat and horrible odors burdened the ship. While passengers were stuck on board, they were constantly tweeting about how horrible the experience was and this social media use took hold in media. Carnival’s restitution to passengers, $5,000 and a ticket for a free cruise. Since I’m sure so many of those people want to take another cruise… But now several of the passengers are suing Carnival claiming they have PTSD.

Justine Sacco – The tweet heard around the world. Justine Sacco is a communications director for the internet company InterActive Corp. When traveling to Africa, she tweeted an incredibly offensive remark, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” This coming from a professional communicator? Hard to believe she would make such an arrogant mistake. And she paid for it. Despite publicly apologizing she was fired from her position at the company.

Honorable mentions include Target’s credit card information breach, JP Morgan’s twitter conversation fail and the Chick-fil A CEO’s homophobic comments.


Social networking with a purpose


Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Networking online is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the PR industry. Well, any industry for that matter. I’ve spoken about how you present yourself on social media influences your ability to get a job, but now let’s look at how social networking sites use innovative tactics to potentially create job opportunities. Specifically LinkedIn.

As the premier professional networking site, LinkedIn aims to connect people with other professionals by interest or personal connections.

The article, How to nab a job using LinkedIn’s “Who’s viewed your profile,” gives insight into techniques the site uses to help users become better networkers. By strategically using these features, you can increase the likelihood of gaining job opportunities with organizations or people in your industry.

The “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” feature is one that if used correctly,can provide a common ground for communication between another person. Whenever someone else looks at your profile it notifies you and shows their profile. As the article explains, this is similar to knocking on someone’s door. You meet them, they meet you and then both of you have some common ground to talk about.

LinkedIn doesn’t stop there, they also provide a slew of analytics including how often people viewed your profile, who viewed it and how people have found you. This data allows the user to formulate a sort of situation analysis for your interactions on the site. It’s essentially the who, what, when, where, how of your social networking interactions.

The only part they don’t answer for you… Why. The way I see it, that’s the fun in it though. They give you a foundation of information to make educated an guess about why people seek you out. This also motivates interaction with the other person. I know at least for me, when people I don’t know view my profile, I am incredibly curious about why they sought me out and want answers.

I personally have a LinkedIn profile that I keep up-to-date with all of my experience and projects I have worked on. But, until recently I haven’t done much more with the site than endorsing skills of people I know or have done business with. The insight given in this article was particularly helpful in strengthening my understanding of how to use features like the “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” in my own personal networking strategy.

Moon-bound media relations


Image courtesy of Robert Daly

As a student of PR, I keep track of the general happenings of the industry. I try to critically look at campaigns, successes and failures and the historical context of public relations, to learn from what other people/organizations have done.

With that said, for some reason I have never considered the public relations that goes into the NASA program. Minor oversight… My bad.

That was until I read the article, “How PR landed humans on the moon.” Needless to say, my mind was blown.

The article looked at the PR and communications involved in the Apollo program. Apparently NASA’s PR team was relatively small considering the scope of the organization and the event of landing on the moon. But that’s where it gets interesting, much of the PR was contracted or outsourced to the companies that worked with NASA, such as Boeing. Considering these other companies wanted word to get out of their involvement with the Apollo program, their interests aligned. This is a story of communications partnership.

This partnership worked out to the enormous benefit of NASA. They could focus on the technical, scientific components of sending a rocket to the moon for the first time ever, not get bogged down by publicizing the event.

The article goes on to explain the enormous collaborative effort that went in to creating press kits for each of the partnering companies. They had to make their press kits stand out from all the background noise. I mean, anyone and everyone was putting out materials about the lunar landing. It was a historic event of epic proportions. If, say, Boeing wanted to get proper recognition of their involvement in the program, they had to send out press kits that were better than all the rest, give information that couldn’t be found elsewhere, or suggest interesting one of a kind stories.

But at the same time every other partner or stakeholder was trying to do the same thing. The competition was fierce. Reminds me of the dog-eat-dog atmosphere of the African savannah. But really, thats what media relations is. As PR practitioners it is our job to make our clients story stand out from all the noise. There is and will always be competition for media space.

Sometimes it takes a little innovation, some creativity on our part to get noticed.