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Eight Major PR Fails From the First Half of 2013

pr failPublic relations proves invaluable in establishing a relationship with potential clients. A slip of the tongue or one thoughtless action could result in tremendous losses. The following are five major PR crisis from the first half of this year.

Applebee’s Receipt – January 2013

After receiving a receipt with the note “I give God 10 percent, when would I give you 18 percent,” an Applebee’s employee put a photo of the receipt on Reddit. The photo got quite a bit of attention and the employee was fired for breaching customer privacy. Following the employee losing her job, Applebee’s received a plethora of attention on social media sites and not in a good way.  Applebee’s then disabled the comment feature and started deleting the negative comments, creating even more of an issue.

NASCAR / YouTube – February 2013

Spectators at Daytona International Speedway were suddenly in harms way after a pile-up sent debris shooting into the stands. Amateur video hit the web and NASCAR officials immediately blocked the clips on YouTube. After public complaints that the organization was shielding misdeeds, YouTube reinstated the images.

Carnival Cruise Lines – February 2013

In February, Triumph, one of Carnival’s ships, encountered a mechanical problem at sea. Power was lost and there were problems with the sewage system. More than 4,000 passengers were stranded at sea for four days. This problem comes about a year after one of Carnival’s ships crashed in Italy. The crisis of Triumph has been followed by a handful of other issues with the company’s ships, raising the question “Is it ever safe to choose Carnival?”

Facebook – May 2013

In May, Facebook was caught creating a smear campaign against Google. Burston-Marstellar, a well-known PR form was hired by Facebook to create the campaign. The main message from the campaign was that Google was violating people’s privacy. The firm planned to place articles in high-profile publications like The Huffington Post and The Washington Post. However, one of the targeted bloggers turned down the story and instead posted the emails. The USA Today then got wind of the situation and wrote a story about it. The company behind the campaign remained unknown, but a Facebook spokesperson eventually admitted the social media site was behind the campaign.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – May 2013

After federal issues caused a backlog with income tax returns, the agency took another hit in the spring. Officials admitted to illegally targeting tea party members for audits, and senior official Lois Learner admitted the following during an interview:

“I’m just not good at math.”

Just want you want to hear from a money handler. She tried backtracking, but the damage was clear. It will be interesting to see how the IRS digs out of that hole.

Abercrombie and Fitch – May 2013

A statement made a couple of years ago by CEO Mike Jeffries resurfaced. In the statement, Jeffreis says the brand is not for the fat or unattractive, which is why they only carry limited sizes. While many feel a company does not have to accommodate all persons, voicing the sentiment was inappropriate. His words created a PR nightmare while simultaneously generating tons of free publicity.

Wendy’s / Taco Bell – June 2013

Social media breeds stupidity sometimes causing corporations to suffer. The photo of a Taco Bell employee licking taco shells went viral, and the photo of a young man drinking from Wendy’s frosty machine shot to fame immediately afterward. One could claim the acts were isolated incidents, but it does inspire customers to second-guess that fast food run. Both employees received their walking papers, but not before causing major PR damage to both companies.
Microsoft – June 2013

Gamers around the world anxiously awaited the arrival of Xbox One. Microsoft briefly discussed media features, while glossing over the fact that users can only register games to one system. With a significantly higher price tag than its competitor and multiple shortcomings, the company may have single-handedly converted millions over to Sony. 

As each of these organizations are realizing, rebuilding public trust is crucial to cleaning up PR nightmares. Using voice of the customer (VOC) research allows a company to meet expectations and improve their image.

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