2012’s Biggest PR Disasters- Thoughts?

04 Dec
Laura Stampler|Dec.  3, 2012,  8:21 AM
From corporate social fails to “pink slime”  scandals to Apple  launching a widely hated mapping feature, 2012 was filled with epic PR  disasters. While many of the public relations nightmares were due to typical company  failings, others were unique to the digital era. All it takes is a single employee’s bad tweet — like a Burger King staffer  standing in a tub of lettuce — to send corporate headquarters into damage  control mode.We’ve collected 10 of the worst PR disasters of the year.

10. KitchenAid tweeted about Obama’s dead grandma.

10. KitchenAid tweeted about Obama's dead grandma.

During one of the presidential debates, KitchenAid  tweeted to its 24,000 fans that “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b  bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president’. #nbcpolitics”.

KitchenAid immediately deleted the quote and tweeted an  apology.

A spokesperson said that “The tasteless joke in no way represents our  values at KitchenAid, and that person won’t be tweeting for us  anymore.”

9. American Apparel exploits Hurricane Sandy.

9. American Apparel exploits Hurricane Sandy.

American Apparel

People were outraged when American Apparel used Hurricane Sandy — a storm  that killed  over 100 people and initially left  8 million without power — as an excuse to sell merchandise.

The retailer were offered a 20 percent off sale if they typed “SANDYSALE” in  the online checkout “in case you’re bored during the storm.”

American Apparel decided to ignore the PR disaster and didn’t  apologize.

Gap, on the other hand, also did a Sandy sale and then tweeted  apologies for offending people.

8, The NRA’s magazine posted an insensitive tweet after  the Aurora shooting.

8, The NRA's magazine posted an insensitive tweet after the Aurora shooting.

Hours after the nation learned about the tragic Aurora shooting that left 12  people dead at a late night showing of “The Dark Night Rises,” American  Rifleman, a magazine for the NRA, tweeted: “Good morning, shooters. Happy  Friday! Weekend plans?”

The tweet went up at 9:20 am EST and was taken down three hours later.

A spokesman for the NRA stated, “A single individual, unaware of events  in Colorado, tweeted a comment that is being completely taken out of  context.”

PR lesson: be careful with pre-scheduled tweets.

7. Apple Maps was so bad, the CEO had to issue a public  apology.

7. Apple Maps was so bad, the CEO had to issue a public apology.

When Apple banished Google Maps from the iPhone in September, consumers were  concerned.

Apple’s own maps app turned out  to be riddled with errors, and didn’t even include public transportation  mapping.

CEO Tim Cook had to issue a public apology, conceding that the maps “fell  short” before suggesting users download competitors’ products from the Apps  store. Cook specifically called out Bing, MapQuest, or going to Nokia and  Google’s website.

The product manager who oversaw  the maps team was fired months later.

6. The Internet exposes a Burger King employee who stood  in tubs of lettuce.

In July, a Burger King employee thought that it would be a fun idea to post  pictures on 4Chan of him standing (shoes on) in two  large tubs of lettuce. The caption read: “This is the lettuce you eat at  Burger King.”

Within minutes, other 4Chan members tracked  down the culprit.

Burger King addressed the PR disaster in a public statement regarding the  chain’s “zero-tolerance policy against any violations such as the one in  question” and fired  three employees for the incident.

5. A Taco Bell employee tweeted a picture of himself  urinating on a plate of nachos.

Even though the Indiana worker assured people that the plate was going to be  thrown out anyway, Taco Bell dealt with the crisis immediately by firing  him.

4. Chick-fil-A’s president bashes gay marriage.

Chick-fil-A caused quite a stir when its president publicly  came out against gay marriage.

Dan Cathy, who also serves as the COO, told “The Ken Coleman Show”: “I  think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him  and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ I pray  God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to  think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”

This caused a national outcry — some for, and others against. Citizens held  boycotts and kiss-in protests at local chains, and mayors threatened  to ban the chain from their cities. (Which mayors can’t actually do.)

More controversy arose when Jim Henson Co. slammed Chick-fil-A for its public  stance, and then Jim Henson toys were prematurely  pulled from the chicken chain.

3. “Pink Slime” is discovered.

In March, ABC News released a series of reports raising concern over a  hamburger ingredient dubbed  “pink slime,” a mechanically  separated and disinfected beef product officially known as lean finely  textured beef.

People began petitioning to get supermarkets, restaurants, and schools to all  stop carrying the slime, even though various consumer  experts said it was safe. This PR disaster led  to massive layoffs.

BPI eventually filed a lawsuit  against ABC for $1.2 billion for allegedly making about 200 “false and  misleading and defamatory” statements about the product.

2. McDonald’s #McDStories Twitter campaign gets out of  control.

McDonald’s January Twitter campaign asked readers to tweet their own special  #McDStories.

The problem: people  used the hashtag for horror stories like: “Fingernail in my BigMac” and  “Hospitalized for food poisoning after eating McDonalds in 1989. Never ate there  again and became Vegetarian. Should have sued.”

McDonald’s had no way to control what people tweeted, and all the stories  showed up whenever anyone clicked the hashtag.

McDonald’s social media director Rick Wion emailed BI that:

While #meetthefarmers was used for the majority  of the day and successful in raising awareness of the Supplier Stories  campaign, #mcdstories did not go as planned. We quickly  pulled #mcdstories and it was promoted for less than two hours.

Within an hour of pulling #McDStories the number  of conversations about it fell off from a peak of 1600 to a few dozen. It is  also important to keep those numbers in perspective. There were 72,788 mentions  of McDonald’s overall that day so the traction of #McDStories was a tiny  percentage (2%) of that.

With all social media campaigns, we include  contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned. The ability to  change midstream helped this small blip from becoming something  larger.

1. Penn State covers up the Sandusky scandal.

1. Penn State covers up the Sandusky scandal.


Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged and later  convicted of repeated counts of child molestation while at Penn State.

Although the scandal was unveiled in 2011, the university felt the full  fallout in 2012 when the Freeh  report stated that Joe Paterno and the administration covered up Sandusky’s  abuses, Major  companies pulled sponsorships of the program.

Part of the PR disaster was due to Penn State’s initial difficulty addressing  the problem. Pulitzer-winning  stories in The Patriot-News of Harrisburg initially uncovered the scandal in  March 2011. But Penn State remained tightlipped. PR firm Ketchum was hired in  November of 2011, and the school hired Edelman and La Torre for crisis  management in April 2012. The school pledged to spend  $208,000 a month for 12 months on PR support, but the damage was  done.

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Posted by on December 4, 2012 in Uncategorized


6 responses to “2012’s Biggest PR Disasters- Thoughts?

  1. meow484

    December 4, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    I think some of these are actually really funny, being someone with the power hired through a company should know the rights and wrong of what to post. Accidents and not knowing the facts like the American Riflemen happen though, it’s all about how it is handled. In most cases PR does do a good job on the apologies for a company but sometimes it doesn’t even make a difference. I think the Penn State situation could have been handled differently, four years without football? A little extreme in my opinion, I’ve seen commercials on TV highlighting the other aspects of the college but football was there strongest “grab”. Punishment obviously had to happen but take it out on the couches not the players. Also a lot of firing has happened because of PR wrongs, I think if someone is purposely trying to hurt the company obviously they don’t belong there but if it was just a mistake possible an apology from the person along with the company would be to. There is so mush stereotypes about how bad PR can be, the lying and the “spins” that is apparently put out by professionals in the business but more credit should go towards the PR that time and time again save the reputation of companies.

  2. joylanadventurer01

    December 4, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    I also thought some of these stories were rather funny. However, as funny as they may be, they would not be good for the company overall, and I can understand why they are considered disasters. I believe that some of the disasters were handled very efficiently and effectively. I laughed to myself when I saw the tweet about Obama’s grandmother, but I knew how inappropriate and immature it was also. I believe they handled the situation very well, by apologizing and deleting the tweet. I also think that the picture about Burger King was dealt with effectively. They were able to track him down immediately and fire him, which is how they should treat individuals if they are not going to be promoting the company in a positive manner. We all know that even though companies deal with these disasters in a good way, there are also some that do not. Such as American Apparel; they offered a sale while Hurricane Sandy hit and this would outrage me also. They had no respect for the public and were just trying to get attention for themselves, which I can understand, but they should still be trying to build good relations with their publics. They never even apologized or anything. Depending on the disaster at hand, companies will deal with them very differently. However, if a disaster does come about for some reason, it is the duty of the company to amend the problem, and not to simply ignore it. The company’s success or failure is dependent on the way they handle their successful and unsuccessful actions. They should do their best to handle situations in the most positive and effective way as possible.

  3. flapjack92

    December 4, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    I believe that these, as funny as some were, were just too far gone to recover from at all. For instance the Penn State incidence, “The school pledged to spend $208,000 a month for 12 months on PR support, but the damage was done.” No matter how much PR you’ve hired in or money you’ve spent, when something as big as molestation hits the public, there’s no fixing it. Other situtations like the Burger King employee standing in the lettuce or the Taco Bell employee peeing on a plate of the nachos, they were dealt with quickly and properly, and people soon forget about these things. Overall, as effective as PR can be, it’s not a cure-all and people just need to be more careful about what they’re doing, or just not doing these things at all!

  4. bananas320

    December 5, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    In the instance of the NRA tweet, I find that completely unoffensive. I do not nor have I ever belonged to the NRA, but I mean, its the National Rifle Association for goodness sake. What do members of the NRA do on the weekends? Shoot things. While the timing may have been off and the Aurora incident was a horrific tragedy, that doesnt mean the tweeter knew about it, and that doesnt mean that the members of the NRA were not planning on shooting that weekend. Personally, I think its a little silly to even call that a PR disaster. Also, the Chick-fil-A incident, I dont find to be an incident. Where I believe no one has the right to tell another person who they can or cant be with, its the owner of the company, and it is his right to speak his opinion. It may not have been good PR on one side of the fence, but on the other side the statement earned the company alot of respect. It is all in what you believe.

  5. simmons1216

    December 10, 2012 at 2:51 am

    In the instance of the Chick-Fil-A, I found it completely idiotic that a company would come out against gay marriage. Especially because the LGBT community is one of the tightest knit and most well-organized communities around. I would have boycotted the chain if there were one anywhere near me. I do believe that people should have, and they indeed do, have the right to speak their opinion. In this case, though, it was an outdated and idiotic opinion (in my personal opinion).

  6. maverick41

    December 14, 2012 at 12:18 am

    After reading all those “disasters”, I feel that some were simply companies giving their opinion while others definitely would be considered a disaster. For instance, the Chick-Fil-A one. That organization is based and was formed around Christian beliefs. Why are people flipping out about it? I personally see no problem with what happened there. The guy spoke his mind, last I checked that is not a crime. After all, as simmons1216 said himself, “I do believe that people should have, and they indeed do, have the right to speak their opinion.” Why contradict your own words with the bashing of a company simply based on the rights all of us Americans have? In the other instances, some people were just stupid. And I say that for the lack of a better word. But seriously, why even tweet or post some of these things!? It’s like these people want to be fired or something. We should all realize that not every fast food restaurant is going to be perfect. The leader of these corporations can only control so much when they have a chain of restaurants that stretch across a nation. I understand the severity of many of these situations, but I also understand that many of them could have been easily avoided by having honest and well chosen employees. All I’m saying is, don’t blame the people in the big picture guys. Can’t judge an entire corporation for the mistake of one poor excuse of an employee.


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