How a lacklustre PR response can cause chaos

Joe Paley






By Joe PaleyAccount Executive [email protected]

Multinational corporations spend millions of dollars on PR campaigns every year to build their brand and engage with their target market. Nevertheless, over the last decade a number of large, transatlantic companies have suffered PR disasters – from the Malaysian MH370 air disaster to the Amazon tax avoidance scandal.

In an age of social media, corporations worth billions of dollars in assets have failed to deal with the way news is now consumed on websites such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Sites such as these can create viral phenomenons in an instant, leaving CEOs red faced and the image of their company in disarray. Here we examine 5 examples of public relations gone wrong and what should have been done to stop the situations from escalating:

  1. MH370: The Malaysian authority’s response to missing flight MH370 could not have been handled any worse. With the media speculating about what had happened to the plane, the airliner took what seemed like an eternity to put operations into effect and attempt to locate the plane. Furthermore, when it became apparent that the missing plane wasn’t going to be located, the Malaysian authorities, under tremendous pressure, decided to break the news by sending text messages to the relatives. Robert Jensen, CEO of Kenyon International Emergency Services said that the key to handling a situation like MH370 was to “not make it worse, because you can’t make it better”. Unfortunately for Malaysian airways, sending out text messages was an insensitive move and made things a lot worse.
  2. The Apple/U2 Gig: In late 2014, Apple and U2 teamed up for an album release through a music partnership. This sounds fine in itself, apart from the fact that when users signed into Apple iTunes they automatically received the Irish rock band’s new album on their device – whether they wanted it or not . Apple had to retract the move and create a function which allowed users to delete the album from their account. Why? Because people like to be treated as individuals – not as a collective. Apple’s response was one of panic – and this case is an example of how a company as well established as Apple can receive a PR backlash.
  3. The Dominos Saga: Pizza firm Dominos had a PR disaster in 2008 when a video featuring two employees violating health hazards while preparing food was uploaded on YouTube. Through the power of social media, the video became a viral hit. In a poll by YouGov, Domino’s approval ratings went from positive to negative within days of the controversy and consequently created a brand disaster for the firm – especially as Dominos did not release an immediate statement condemning the employees out of fear that more people would watch the video. Sometimes, the more time a firm waits to release a comment, the bigger the crisis becomes. Commenting and addressing the situation in adequate time is the key.
  4. Bailout + Private Planes: During the 2008 financial collapse, the CEOs of firms including GM, Ford and Chrysler made their way to Washington to negotiate a bailout deal for the auto industry. However, when the media caught wind that that the CEOs were travelling to negotiate a $25 billion bailout on private jets; the mood changed dramatically. At the next bailout hearing, all the executives travelled in hybrid cars; they had learnt their lesson.
  5. Amazon avoidance: In 2013, companies including Amazon and Google were embroiled in a tax avoidance controversy in the UK. After Amazon had reported £3.35 billion in sales in 2011, they paid only £1.8 million in tax. Additionally Google turned over £395 million but only paid £6 million in tax. Whilst the companies had used accountancy firms to legally avoid paying more tax, both Google and Amazon faced a backlash from the British public in times of cuts and considerable unemployment. Both companies came out at the time and explained that their actions were legal and that through paying less tax, they were able to create jobs. The public didn’t buy that excuse however. Instead the organisations involved in the scandal should have apologised and agreed to work with authorities on the issue.