Sara Ghaffari

Board Director

What can we learn from the PR blunders made by some of the world’s biggest brands?

As the end of the year approaches, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the PR nightmares of 2017 and the lessons organisations of all sizes can learn.

1. Say you’re sorry, quickly

We’ve all seen the horrific footage of a United Airlines passenger being violently removed from an overbooked flight. The video, together with the half-hearted apology from the airline’s CEO, caused public outcry and weeks of negative media coverage. When crisis strikes, apologise, show you care and do it quickly. United failed to provide a “human” response and did not adequately address the concerns of their customers, harming their brand and reputation.

2. Remove the content

Showing that you are taking steps to rectify the situation is vital in any crisis situation. For many, that means removing the article, video or post that has caused offence. Both Pepsi’s Kendal Jenner advertisement and Dove’s ‘racist’ GIF, were taken down after around one day, with many commenting that the content should have been removed within hours of critical public reaction. Organisations want to be seen to be reactive and responsive to the views of their customers – take the decision to remove the content and assess later.

3. Your apology should come from a senior employee

Who your apology comes from is extremely important. The public wants to see that the issue is being taken seriously by the most senior people in the organisation, often the CEO. A good example comes from Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, whose public profile has skyrocketed since his appointment as he continues to respond directly to issues left by his predecessor. Leave no doubt that an issue is being taken seriously – choose an appropriate and well-prepared senior employee to speak to your audience.

4. Starting thinking of good news stories for later

Train delays, driver strikes and disgruntled commuters has meant that Southern Rail has been on the receiving end of a continuous river of bad press this year. However in July, the company was offered some sweet relief in the form of work experience student Eddie Smith. Eddie caused a Twitter storm when he took control of Southern’s social media channel, winning over thousands of disgruntled commuters and getting #AskEddie trending. Whether this was PR genius or a lucky break, Southern jumped on the story, securing widespread positive coverage in national media and online. When a reputationally sensitive matter threatens to strike, putting together a proactive positive strategy, to secure those good news stories in the aftermath will be vital to re-build your reputation.

Find out more about PLMR’s crisis communications and reputation management experience here

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PLMR’s crisis communications experience is second to none, and includes pre-emptive and reactive work across traditional and social media channels. We work with a range of organisations to offer critical communication support when they are faced with difficult and challenging scenarios.