Five public relations calamities, and how a Centennial College Public Relations student could fix them
Bad things will inevitably happen a company, it’s just how life goes. It’s how an organization deals with a crisis when it comes time to talk about it that’s important, and at that time, a good public relations professional is more valuable than gold. If you’re a student in our Public Relations programs, you’ll be learning the correct kind of response. Firstly, you need to respond quickly, and say that the bad incident that occurred wasn’t acceptable, and won’t be tolerated. You immediately and sincerely apologize, without giving excuses or shifting blame. Here’s what happened when companies didn’t have a good PR professional to tell them this, as sourced from Glean, inc.com, Fast Company and Everything PR. Case studies are an important part of the Public Relations program, so you’ll definitely be studying some of these.
The Fyre Festival’s failure
In case you haven’t heard, here’s what went down: A few weeks ago, a weeklong music festival in the Bahamas was supposed to take place. It was heavily advertised on social media, with several influencers like Kendall Jenner hyping it up. It was marketed towards the kind of crowd that Instagrams everything, which is why everything needed to go perfectly, since the internet was watching. The Fyre Festival was a disaster, with promised five-star lodging and food instead turning out to be FEMA emergency tents and bread and cheese. Two days in, it was cancelled, and getting everyone off of the island proved to be yet another fiasco. Naturally, this was all extremely well documented on social media, as was the non-apology by event organizer Ja Rule, who, rather than apologizing, simply said it was “NOT MY FAULT.”
United Airlines has no apologies
We’ve all probably seen this recent incident, too, where a passenger was forced to leave a flight he’d already boarded, because the plane was overbooked, and they needed his seat. He didn’t want to leave, and was manhandled and injured on the way out, an incident caught on camera. From a PR perspective, the story isn’t the man being dragged off of the plane, it’s how United responded to it. They shifted blame, and said it was the fault of the passenger for being belligerent, something that the public generally didn’t buy, thanks to video footage telling the opposite story. Either way, a plain apology, and a promise to do better should have followed right away, but didn’t.
As an aside, I’ve personally seen an advertisement for a rival airline on TV, specifically saying they “don’t overbook their flights.” That is how to conduct good PR.
Wells Fargo and their fake accounts
Wells Fargo is a U.S. bank, and trusted one, until last year, when they were busted creating 2 million fake customer bank and credit card accounts to hit their targets. The banks was fined $185 million for it, but the real problems came from their response: Firing 5,300 employees, and having their CEO come out and blame those employees, instead of simply owning up to their mistake. Naturally, those employees immediately went public with their stories, and explained to the media that this had been going on since 2011, and that they were pressured into doing so by a sales environment that full of unrealistic goals that they had to meet. The fiasco tarnished the bank’s brand.
Tesla’s Autopilot crash
Joshua Brown was a Tesla Model S owner who tragically perished in a crash, after supposedly using the car’s new autopilot technology, which was designed to make driving an effortless cinch. Unfortunately, the crash happened, and caused problems for the company. Naturally, there were inquiries, but the real issue was in Tesla’s response. CEO Elon Musk’s responded with a eulogy that seemed to be more about the company than the deceased driver. Naturally, it made him seem uncaring, especially since he’d also wave away the death as "not material" to the company’s financial wellbeing.
Cheerios and the death of Prince
This is why tweets need to be carefully thought out. In April of 2016, beloved singer/guitarist Prince passed away, and the twitterverse expressed its grief, Cheerios included, tweeting a Rest in Peace picture. The mistake was turning it into a branded picture, with the dot on the “i” being a piece of Cheerios cereal. It was a small thing, but it brought the wrath of the social media world down upon it, before promptly deleting it. The lesson learned was never to attempt to market yourself of off someone’s death, even indirectly.
By Anthony Geremia