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Major PR Fails That You Can Learn From

Roisin Henden

There are some pretty solid guidelines for what to do in order to build an online presence for your business, but sometimes the best lessons can be learned by exploring what not to do. These lessons ring true for some of the worlds most well-known brands, some of which have seen some pretty gnarly reputation catastrophe’s over the years as a result of not being careful online.

Woolies – Discussing Politics, Race Or Religion 

This is a hard one. Sometimes not talking about sensitive topics and events can also land you in trouble. Woolies in Australia has faced a fair few problems when it comes to their handling of ANZAC Day. Back in 2015, they released a campaign with the intention of marking their respect to fallen veterans, but their advertising missed the mark. Their “Fresh In Our Memories” slogan bought them a one way ticket to a lot of backlash and a public apology. 

They also received backlash just one year later when they failed to stop the music at any of their stores during the 1 minute of silence on Remembrance Day 2016.

The key when approaching sensitive topics such as this one, is to ask a few questions first:

  • Is it relevant to your business or audience?
  • Can you talk about it in a neutral way? Is there a respectful way to approach the topic?
  • Are your intentions for discussing this topic clear? 
  • Is staying out of the discussion sending a negative message?

Facebook – Negligence With Customer Data 

The Facebook data breach of 2018 affected nearly 50 million accounts. The worst part about this news surfacing was that it was revealed to be due to lack of security precautions and software weaknesses. Facebook lost 70 billion in 10 days following the incident and Zuckerberg did not release a direct public apology on his live tv interview 8 days later.

Customer data is an increasingly important topic in todays business landscape. With everyone storing their private data online or on their device in some way, businesses need to have the appropriate security systems in place. Whether you have billions of users like Facebook or whether you store retail customers card details in online accounting software, your employee training and security systems need to be up to date to protect that data.

BP Oil Crisis – Responding To Negativity 

The BP Oil crisis is a classic example of how not to respond to backlash. The event itself was a tragic environmental disaster, but the way it was handled only further cemented the damage done to BPs reputation. 

Publicly, BP’s lack of responsibility  compassion was summed up by former CEO Tony Haywood who, when interviewed on how he was handling the situation, stated: “I’d like my life back”. BP was also caught offering people large sums of money not to file a lawsuit.

Even if you’re really careful, mistakes can still happen. Most businesses will, at some point in time, face negativity online. Whether the business is at fault or not, the best way to respond is swiftly and appropriately.

Whether a negative review or a news article, you can follow these simple guidelines to make sure your customers feel heard:

  • Hear: Listen to the concerns of your customers or people in the public. Respond to those concerns instead of jumping into the defence straight away.

  • Empathise: Ask questions to try to understand peoples concerns and to find out exactly where you fell short or what you could have done better.

  • Apologise: Even if you feel like you did nothing wrong, or that you are not at fault, an apology can be the factor that keeps the peace.

  • Resolve: If you can back track and resolve what happened directly with the complainants, do so. The monetary loss of having a bad reputation is far greater than what it may cost to solve the problem directly.

  • Diagnose:  Figure out how and why the situation occurred internally so you can fix the root of the problem. This is not the time for an internal blame game, but an opportunity to fix your processes so that this problem does not occur again.

Nurofen – Misrepresenting Products Or Services

You should all be familiar with Nurofen – different coloured packets lined the shelves at your local grocery store. Each packet claiming to target different types of pain all of which contained the same active ingredient despite being priced differently.

An investigation into this advertising blunder found Nurofen guilty of “misleading” customers. The company had to reimburse anyone who came forward with a receipt of purchase for one of their specially branded products and they faced some hefty fines from the ACCC.

It is known that in order to sell a product or service, you need to make it look good. It needs to be the best of it’s kind or have some kind of unique competitive edge. However, as a business owner, any piece of advertising must be filtered to make sure that it is ethical, represents your products or services accurately and follows all marketing and advertising laws.

The U.S. Airforce – Being Careless On Social Media 

In haste of jumping on the #Yanny and #Laurel viral video of 2018, the U.S. Air Force made a major Twitter mistake that caused an online uproar. Their Tweet read: “The Taliban Forces in Farah city #Afghanistan would much rather have heard #Yanny or #Laurel than the deafening #BRRRT they got courtesy of our #A10.”

While jumping onto trending news as a part of your brands social media strategy a can be a good things, it needs to be done well.

Every business should take the time to put together guidelines and social media policies as well as regulate and create a system of approval for employees who have access to social media.

If you’re the one who decides what makes it onto social media, you’re in charge of thinking before you post. As a business owner, your personal branding is an extension of your professional branding so this includes what you and your employees post on  personal social media platforms as well.

Sunday Riley – Writing Fake Reviews

A recent investigation into skincare brand Sunday Riley revealed that they had been encouraging employees to leave 5-star reviews on their new products on the online marketplace Sephora. 

The result of this discovery left the public questioning the integrity of the brand and of the e-commerce platform itself. While it might be true that some businesses get away with posting or buying fake positive reviews, the repercussions of getting caught are too great. Trust in a brand is hard to build and very easy to destroy.

A lot of these mistakes may seem obvious and easy to avoid in hindsight, but these mistakes can easily slip through the cracks. Having an online communication and content strategy is the best way to prevent you from finding yourself in a public crisis that causes irreparable damage to your hard earned reputation.