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What We Can Learn From PR Crises

By June 30, 2018September 6th, 2019Public Relations

The saying goes that, “any publicity is good publicity,” but this doesn’t always ring true. In fact, PR Disasters can happen to businesses of any size in any industry. So, we’re here to call out a few recent PR catastrophes and explain what you can learn from them:

Tide Pods. To eat or not to eat? (Hint: Definitely do NOT eat)

Just a couple of months ago, a PR crisis came out of nowhere. As we all know, Tide makes tri-colored detergent pods, but we didn’t know that teenagers would try to eat them. When they did, it brought to light  a different problem—that younger kids have accidentally ingested the pods because they look like candy. Suddenly Tide found itself in the middle of an unexpected PR crisis that it didn’t cause.

Takeaway: Tide did a great job combatting the crisis by using Twitter to reply to people having “trouble” with its products, telling them to contact their doctor or local poison center and also providing the company’s customer service number. The company also called in some big guns, having Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski, a spokesperson for Tide, record a video for the brand’s social media channels where he talked about the dangers of eating Tide Pods.

We all remember BP

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill was an industrial disaster that killed 11 people, left 200 million gallons of oil in the ocean and resulted in BP paying $18.7 billion in fines. How did the then BP CEO Tony Hayward respond? He blurted out, “I’d like my life back,” when trying to apologize to US Gulf Coast residents for the worst spill in the country’s history.

Takeaway: Not preparing a statement and robust PR strategy before responding to a crisis can lead to serious consequences. In the unfortunate circumstance that the entire world is scrutinizing your organization’s every move, the best solution is to take responsibility for any wrongdoing and factually state what your company is doing to rectify the situation. In that moment, nobody is interested in your emotional turmoil. No one wants hear how hard something is—they want to see the end result.

Dove misses the mark in its commercial

Dove made an enormous mistake in judgement when it posted a video clip on Facebook of an African American woman lifting her shirt to reveal a white woman. Consumers erupted in outrage at the ad on social media, criticizing it as racist. What made matters even worse is that a white supremacist group posted its support for it. Dove immediately took the clip down and issued an apology, saying they “missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color and deeply regret the offense that it has caused.” Despite the apology, the damage was done.

Takeaway: If a company doesn’t look carefully at a campaign and have people from various backgrounds and perspectives provide feedback, devastating damage can occur. A company’s intentions may be innocent and the campaign may even be designed to provoke thought or raise awareness, but it can have the opposite impact if executed poorly.

Adidas says congratulations…at the wrong time

Just a day after the end of the Boston Marathon in 2013, Adidas sent out an email campaign to promote a clothing line developed in partnership with the Boston Athletic Association and the marathon itself. The promotion would have been fine, except the subject line said, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” Given that the terrorist attack took the lives of three people and injured over 250, it came across as incredibly insensitive. Adidas was quick to acknowledge its mistake and apologized on Twitter for the email campaign.

Takeaway: Even if you’ve built a campaign in advance, before you push it out it’s important to see if circumstances have changed in a way that renders the campaign inappropriate. In this case there was no way Adidas could have known that the bombing was going to happen, but once it did, the company should have reacted faster and stopped the email from going out. Nevertheless, the company did the right thing in issuing a prompt mea culpa; even if a mistake is honest, a company should always take responsibility and apologize immediately without making excuses.

How these companies handled these PR disasters provide great takeaways for PR pros about how—and how not—to react to catastrophes.
Until next time!
Critical Mention
Jolie Shapiro Picture
Jolie Shapiro

Passionate about all things communications, Jolie found her dream job as a copywriter with Critical Mention, where she’s continuing her passion for writing and editing. With a background working for high-profile clients in the financial, hospitality and technology industries, she’s excited to bring her experience to Critical Mention. When she’s not writing you can find her at music festivals, hiking or snowboarding.


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