Every year brings an assortment of lessons for us — whether it’s in our personal lives or professional. 2021 was no exception, delivering an interesting year of “What were they thinking” moments for public relations pros. Here’s our pick of the top three PR blunders of 2021 — and what PR pros should learn from them.
Brake and Think
We’re not sure who at Volkswagen got the green light for this absent-minded idea, but the company released a statement on social media in March stating it would change its U.S. operations name to “Voltswagen of America.” Hoping to publicize the car maker’s efforts in electric options, the company instead received criticism for its diesel-emissions scandal, which happened in 2015. Talk about bringing up old baggage!
Similarly, beloved jewelry maker Tiffany & Co. was criticized for jokingly announcing it would change its signature color — 1837 Blue — to yellow.
Lesson Learned: Don’t play jokes on customers, especially about major changes to the company’s core brand, when the joke isn’t 100% obvious. It’s also best to tread lightly if your company or brand is still recovering from controversial news. Finally, don’t play with our 1837 Blue-loving hearts.
Stream Those Values
Publicizing your company’s values can be difficult when your actions don’t reflect those values. Netflix knows that firsthand after it aired a controversial show by comedian Dave Chappelle then reportedly suspended a transgender employee who spoke out against the show. Netflix initially defended its decision until the court of public opinion casted its verdict, which led to a non-apology apology from the CEO. What a primetime fiasco!
Lesson Learned: If your client or company preaches equity, inclusion and diversity — then live those values out with every action you take. And, if you want to apologize for any missteps — then apologize without defending your harmful actions. Acknowledge those bad actions and discuss how you will prevent them in the future. Nobody likes a half-baked apology. And nobody likes prejudice.
Control Out-of-this-World Comments
When the billionaires’ race to outer space was underway, much of the public followed the news with little fascination. After all, it felt like just another story about rich folks doing something non-rich folks could do. So when Jeff Bezos thanked his employees for funding the trip — at a time when there was repeated news about Amazon workers saying they were overworked and underpaid — it was jaw-dropping. The public didn’t react well, either.
Lesson Learned: No matter who you are or how many interviews you’ve done — you can always use another media training. Encourage your clients or executives to be mindful of how they react to questions or situations with a thorough media training. Even if the training is just 30 minutes long, that 30 minutes of debrief can go a long way.
As we step into the new year, we hope every PR pro takes these blunders as a learning experience. All three stories share one common theme — the need to think before acting.
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