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A week of PR nightmares


Written by Emma Giles

PR nightmaresThere has been some well documented PR nightmares these past couple of weeks. Namely Pepsi, United Airlines and Sean Spicer.

1: do not drag people off planes

2: do not compare any political situations (or anything for that matter) to the Holocaust

3: do not appear to trivialise demonstrations tackling social injustice

As well as these vital, and somewhat obvious lessons, there are also lessons in public relations we can remind ourselves of.

Let’s take United Airlines. What they failed to prepare for was the sheer velocity of citizen journalism. With a plane full of potential citizen journalists with camera phones, their PR team was always going to be up against the clock to produce comment before the video went viral across the internet. Yet the fact that an apology took almost a whole day, not only placed CEO Oscar Munoz under the microscope, but it was a case of ‘too little too late’ in the prying eyes of a global audience.

So, whilst lesson 1, and general human decency, should have prevented such a crisis in the first place, the PR lesson to take is to issue remorseful statements quickly. Very quickly. I mean, even the most remorseful response was not going to completely negate the shocking nature of the incident, but it would have at the very least dulled the attack on Munoz who was ironically named ‘PR communicator of the year’ in US PR Week just last month.

Now, Sean Spicer, where do we even begin? Yet again the White House press secretary has demonstrated the importance of spokesperson preparation. A lesson we can all implement in the PR industry. Well prepared and briefed spokespeople are less likely to reveal confidential or potentially contentious (or even offensive!) information when being interviewed. There’s always going to be a limit to how much we can influence what someone is saying in the moment, but at least we can hope and pray that if a spokesperson wants to leave an interview unscathed, they will think before they speak – at least more so than Spicer.

So as these companies and individuals continue to pick up the pieces of their reputation and the memes continue to circulate online, we hope there is something that the comms professionals and the industry as a whole can be reminded of.