10 of 2014’s biggest PR mistakes

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By Kimberly Eberl | Posted: December 23, 2014

From Ragan’s PR Daily

 [FREE White Paper: Prepared for Ebola: How Emory University Hospital Managed the Crisis and the Health Care Message.]

Kimberly Eberl is the owner of Motion PR.

 It’s that time of year when we take a look back at the most egregious PR mishaps, disasters and catastrophes and ask, “What were they thinking?”

This year had no shortage, as the news seemed to be riddled with PR disasters. Some were a simple misstep or careless Tweet, while others seemed to be a litany of bad decisions that left us cringing.

Here are some of the best examples of the worst offenses from 2014.

Urban Outfitters’ Kent State sweatshirt

Urban Outfitters is notorious for selling some wildly offensive merchandise.

Most recently, the clothing company sold a distressed Kent State sweatshirt that appeared to be stained in blood. The public was outraged by the insensitivity. Urban Outfitters later issued an apology, saying, “It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such.”

This is not the first time Urban Outfitters has been on the hot seat, already having marketed shirts with the words “Eat Less” and another with “Depression,” making it much harder to excuse this Kent State mishap as unintentional.

DiGiorno Pizza’s #WhyIStayed tweet

One fateful day in September, DiGiorno pizza was looking to latch on to some trending hastags. The brand’s social media managers came across “#WhyIStayed” and posted “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.”

Had the managers taken the time to look at any of the other Tweets using the hashtag that day, they may have realized it was created as a way to spread awareness about domestic violence and show support for victims. DiGiorno deleted the tweet and apologized.

GM’s recall letters

As General Motors rolled out more and more recalls of its vehicles through the first half of 2014, the company was forced to apologize when it accidentally sent recall notices to the families of people who died in crashes related to the ignition defect that prompted the recalls. A GM spokesman said the company was “deeply sorry” for the mistake.

Bill Cosby’s AP challenge

As sexual assault accusations piled up late this year, Bill Cosby conducted an interview about an art exhibit with an AP reporter. When the reporter asked Cosby about the accusations, Cosby challenged his integrity and asked that the footage of those questions not be shown. The video instead was posted online and viewed by around 2 million people.

Malaysia Airlines’ ‘bucket list’ promotion

In the aftermath of two plane crashes that resulted in hundreds of deaths, the airline asked where people would want to travel before they die. It was called the “My Ultimate Bucket List.” Critics called the promotion a “sick joke.” The airline changed the name of the promotion to “Win an iPad or Malaysia Airlines flight to Malaysia.”

Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial

South African Sprinter Oscar Pistorius became the first amputee to win an able-bodied world track medal and became a worldwide sensation. In February 2013, Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He maintained it was an accident. Pistorius hired a crisis PR specialist, who launched a Twitter account on his behalf.

It didn’t save him. In October, Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide and a concurrent three-year suspended prison sentence for a separate reckless endangerment conviction. Not only has the prison sentence sidelined Pistorius’ career, but it has also left a permanent scar on his record.

Tony Stewart’s deadly crash

NASCAR Superstar Tony Stewart was in the media spotlight for a crash that killed fellow driver Kevin Ward Jr. at a dirt track in New York City.

Though Stewart claimed this was an accident and Ward acted recklessly, the video caused damage to the NASCAR favorite’s reputation, to the community and to NASCAR itself. He’s since been on an informal PR apology tour/PR campaign to repair his fractured image.

Donald Sterling’s racial comments

Former L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling lost his team as a result of racist remarks that were caught on tape and spread on the Internet.

In April, the NBA announced that Sterling had been banned from the league for life and fined $2.5 million, the maximum fine allowed. He was stripped of virtually all of his authority over the Clippers, and banned him from entering any Clippers facility. He was also banned from attending any NBA games. The punishment was one of the most severe ever imposed on a professional sports owner.

Police Departments’ protest response

Police departments in Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland were thrust in the media spotlight after police-involved killings. Protests across the country are still active. Departments nationwide are on defense regarding the actions of their officers.

To make matters worse in Missouri, the city of Ferguson hired an entirely white PR firm to handle the racially charged issue. The city responded by hiring a black PR rep, Devin James, to help save face. As it turns out, James had been convicted of reckless homicide in 2006. That sparked another wave of outrage, eventually leading to his dismissal.

While the way Ferguson handled the media was far from the most upsetting about the entire incident, it only helped to fuel the flames and damage the public’s confidence in the city.

The NFL and discipline

It is hard to find a worse PR fumble than the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case.

There are a few basic rules to crisis management, which include being as transparent as possible, admitting when you are wrong, and never underestimating or insulting the intelligence of your audience.

The NFL did it’s best to downplay video of Rice punching his then-fiancee, which was released and after Rice was slapped with a measly two-game suspension. After a second video was released, officials changed their tone and suspended Rice indefinitely. Makinthings The AP reported that the NFL had access to the second video months before to TMZ released it.

In what may be the most awkward press conference of 2014, Commissioner Roger Goodell promised change while failing to outline any actual plan or action steps the NFL would take. In early December, the NFL did release a new conduct policy.

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Great advice from two who should know

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Resume advice in a moment. But first: From Rep. Jon Runyan (R-NJ) -If your are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. Surround yourself  with good people. How true.

Now, from Hannah Hamilton @ Monster dot com:

Five phrases you should never put on your resume (visit http//: careeradvice.monster.com)

  • Hard Worker
  • Out-of-the-Box
  • Salary
  • References Available Upon Request
  • Objective

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Bricks-and-mortar shopping

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With the holidays fast approaching why not results of a study revealing why holiday shoppers go to physical stores (source: uSamp for 1010data holiday survey of 1004 adults via USA Today):

Want gifts now = 52%

For inspiration = 47%

To view then buy online = 43%

Compare prices = 41%

Don’t trust shipping = 41%

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Eastern Michigan University PRSSA — Shares 2014 National Conference Take-aways

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Eastern Michigan University Dec. 5, 2005 blog. Lots of good information.

Raven’s recap of PRSSA 2014 National Conference

Posted on December 5, 2014 by EMU PRSSA | Leave a comment

In October, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to our nation’s capital. It wasn’t for pleasure but I did have a blast. I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the 2014 Public Relations Student Society of America National Conference. The site seeing was absolutely amazing and getting to relearn some of our nation’s history was enlightening. Through the five days of various student development sessions, networking opportunities, and breakout sessions, I learned a large handful of things.

Here my top 10 takeaways from the conference. (In no particular order)

  1. Say “Hello”

Being all by myself in a place that I’ve never been to was scary yet liberating. If I wanted to be around people during our evenings out, I had to actively meet people and establish relationships. Don’t just stay in one place, get out and say “hello” to a stranger every once in a while. You never know who you’ll meet.

  1. Peers can be mentors

Having a mentor is almost essential to the way our society works. There’s just something about getting to know someone who was once in your shoes. Professionals are good to have but peers were also once in your place. They know what you’re going through differently than a professional may because they were there very recently. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone only a few years older than you.

  1. It’s the Era of Engagement

Keynote speaker and President of Powell Tate, Pam Jenkins, believes now is our time to do stuff. “We have to do something because we have the skills to make a difference,” says Jenkins. The engagement means that people no longer turn to experts when they need something. They turn towards the people. Be the people who lead others towards good.

  1. Develop your skills, but understand your weaknesses

We can’t all be graphic designers, video editors, copy editors, social media gurus, etc. Take a minute ant think about what you do well. Develop those skills even more! If you can’t do everything then you might as well be good at what you can do. And at the very least, respect and understand the people who are good at your weaknesses.

  1. Teachers are right!

The relationship between public relations practitioners and journalists is built on trust. Teachers tell you that the relationship is built on trust and a good relationship and they are absolutely right. During a breakaway session, I learned that a lot happens off the record so you have to truly develop those relationship to get to that point. Understand that everyone has a boss breathing down their necks and definitely respect everyone.

  1. You’re making your connections now

The people that I’ve met at the conference and the people I’m meeting in classes now are going to be my coworkers, bosses, and employees years later. People are so concerned having networking events but not many realize that getting to know classmates is hugely important.

  1. Three Bone Approach

To succeed, three bones are necessary. A funny bone. A back bone. A wish bone.

  1. Life is like gym class

You fail if you don’t show up but if you do then you at least get a “B”. Go to events. Go to PRSSA. Even go to PRSA events and meetings. Get involved and you’ll be just fine.

  1. Agency versus Corporation

Both are every good options. Weigh the possibilities for both. Take a look at your personality type as well and see which works best for yourself. Think about the environment you really want to in.

        10. Move people towards action

Simply telling people how things are isn’t going to get them moving. We have to move people from awareness to action. Speaking of which, comment below with any recent takeaways that you have learned from a conference, networking opportunity, or class. You can even comment with what you want to learn from PRSSA throughout our meetings next semester!

If you want any more information on the National Conference or even upcoming National Assembly or Regional Conference then don’t hesitate to take action and email EMU!

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