The Biggest PR Disasters Among Big Businesses And What You Can Learn From Them

  • Major PR disasters highlight the importance of prioritizing customer satisfaction and respecting social causes.
  • Data privacy breaches can significantly damage a company’s reputation and lead to PR crises.
  • Standing bold on sensitive issues, and knowing your audience, can differentiate your brand and sometimes pay off.
  • Transparency and ethical behavior are vital to preventing PR disasters; lying or cheating always has consequences.
  • Preventive measures include hiring PR professionals, creating clear policies, and promptly responding to customer feedback.

Public Relations (PR) is crucial to any business or organization. It is the practice of managing communication between the company and its audience, and it plays a significant role in creating a positive image of the company. PR disasters can have severe consequences for big businesses, and people have seen some major PR disasters in the past few years. Here are some of them:

1. United Airlines and the Dragging Incident

In 2017, United Airlines faced massive backlash when they dragged a passenger off an overbooked flight forcibly. The incident was caught on camera and went viral on social media, causing a significant hit to United’s reputation. The incident showed how United had put their profits over their customers’ safety and well-being. The lesson learned here is that maintaining customer satisfaction should be a top priority for any business. Putting profits over customers’ needs will only lead to PR disasters and a loss of reputation.

2. Pepsi and the Kendall Jenner Ad

Pepsi and the Kendall Jenner Ad

In 2017, Kendall Jenner was part of a Pepsi ad. The ad showed Kendall Jenner offering a can of Pepsi to a police officer during a protest, which was criticized for trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement.

The ad faced massive backlash, leading to Pepsi’s public apology. The lesson here is that companies need to understand the significance of social issues and address them sensitively. Attempting to capitalize on social justice movements for profit is morally wrong and leads to a massive PR disaster.

3. Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica Scandal

In 2018, Facebook faced a major PR crisis when it was revealed that the data mining firm, Cambridge Analytica, had harvested data from millions of Facebook users without their consent and used it for political purposes. Facebook’s failure to protect user data led to a massive PR disaster. The lesson is that companies need to take data privacy seriously. Establishing a culture of privacy protection within your organization is essential to avoid any PR disasters related to data privacy breaches.

4. Nike and the Colin Kaepernick Ad

In 2018, Nike released an ad featuring former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who had been vocal about police brutality and racial injustice. The ad faced massive backlash, and many people threatened to boycott Nike. Despite this, Nike saw increased sales, and the ad was praised for its boldness. The lesson is that taking a stand and being bold can sometimes pay off. Understanding your audience and taking the necessary risks to make a positive impact and differentiate your brand from the competition is essential.

5. Volkswagen and the Emissions Scandal

In 2015, Volkswagen faced a massive PR disaster when it was revealed that the automaker had rigged its diesel engines to cheat emissions tests. The scandal resulted in Volkswagen being sued in multiple countries, significantly damaging its reputation. The lesson is that lying or cheating on customers always catches up to you. Transparency and ethical behavior should be at the forefront of any organization’s priorities.

Preventing PR Disasters

Thankfully, there are also many ways you can prevent PR disasters. Here are three ways:

Hire a Professional

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It’s good to have a professional on your side. A PR service can help you understand the nuances of public relations and anticipate potential crises before they happen. These services can also specialize in recruitment and hiring. After a PR disaster, applicants might be hesitant to join your company. However, hiring experienced recruitment PR services can change all that. They can help you rebuild your reputation and ensure that future hires are well-informed.

Create Policies

Creating policies emphasizing transparency, ethical behavior, data privacy, customer safety, etc., will help ensure your team knows what is expected from them and how to act in certain situations. A clear set of policies and procedures will reduce the chances of PR disasters.

Monitor and Respond Quickly

Monitoring social media for customer feedback, comments, questions, or complaints is crucial to avoiding PR disasters. Pay close attention to any negative comments about your company or brand, and respond quickly with an appropriate resolution. Doing this will show your customers that you are listening and are willing to address their concerns.

PR disasters can damage a company’s image. They can also serve as significant learning opportunities. Each instance provides valuable lessons on prioritizing customer satisfaction, respecting social causes, and maintaining ethical standards. By establishing clear policies and actively listening and responding to customer feedback, companies can significantly reduce the likelihood of PR missteps. Remember, in public relations, prevention is always better than cure.

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