Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Yes, Virginia, There Is Such a Thing as Bad Publicity

For the 15th year in a row, San Francisco-based Fineman PR has released its list of the 10 biggest public relations blunders of the year. If to err is human, then these are super-human screw-ups. Just take a look:
  1. The Obama White House cleared Air Force One to fly over Manhattan with an F-16 in pursuit last April. The purpose: A panoramic shot of Air Force 1 over the Statue of Liberty. The goal: Make President Obama look, well, presidential. But to New Yorkers still living with the horrible memories of 9-11 it was a cold, callous political stunt not worthy of any president, let alone one who had won the city's vote handily in 2008. 
  2. A school district in Delaware suspended a six-year-old for bringing a camping utensil into school. The little boy had been so excited at joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to bring his new toy in to eat lunch. The academic mandarins who run the Christina School District "reasoned" that the tool could be used as a weapon in the hands of a dangerous six-year old excited about scouting.  No amount of book learning can substitute for common sense.
  3. Goldman Sachs, the venerable poster child for fat-cat investment bankers, decided it needed some pro-active PR to counter the impression that the $17 billion in bonuses it gave out last year showed it hadn't learned a thing from the global anti-banking anger that followed the onset of the current recession. CEO Lloyd Blankfein bragged to the UK Sunday Times that Goldman was "doing God's work," and pointed to the small business loans it was making.  God had a pretty good year this year. Wonder what His bonus will be?
  4.  United Airlines' post-9-11 slogan was "it's time to fly" again. Apparently not if you're traveling with a musical instrument. Last year Canadian David Carroll sat aboard a UA flight and watched down below as the baggage throwers tossed his $3,500 guitar around like it was a javelin. Carroll sent the airline a $1,200 bill for the damage to the guitar. United ignored Carroll's demands, providing a textbook case for why old line industries just don't get this social media thing. Musician Carroll recorded a music video about the incident and posted it to You Tube. Within a week the video had amassed three million hits, and United was quickly back in touch with Carroll about a settlement after nine months of stonewalling.
  5. Two employees of a Domino's Pizza shop were videotaped doing disgusting things to the pizzas--things usually done in private. They then posted the video to You Tube. The company dithered for two days trying to come up with a response. Faster than you can say pepperoni the video had one million views. Finally the company tried to contain the crisis using its own social media campaign. Let's hope their deliveries are faster than their crisis management responses.
  6. Let's take made-for-TV award shows with a grain of salt. Still, when singer Kanye West grabbed the mic out of the hands of teenager Taylor Swift, MTV Music Award winner for Best Female Video, and told the world that his friend Beyonce should have won the award it was a bit much. Even in an industry built on overindulgence and self-promotion West's act was not a career builder. He later made a public apology on the Tonight Show.
  7. Last May Kentucky Fried Chicken learned that it's not who's coming to dinner, but how many are coming to dinner that matters. In a campaign destined for the "Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time" Hall of Fame, KFC did a coupon tie-in to The Oprah Winfrey Show as a way to introduce its new grilled chicken product. The rationale:  Oprah could deliver a lot of potential customers in the KFC key demographic. The problem: Oprah delivered a lot of customers in the KFC key demographic. Lots of them. In fact, millions. They downloaded the coupon for a free KFC grilled chicken meal and then descended on KFC restaurants like a free kegger at a college fraternity. The result: More mouths than meals, and a lot of angry and disappointed customers turned away. Somewhere the Colonel is plotting his comeback. 
  8. Department store Target held an online promotion last fall for an "illegal alien" costume, complete with an extraterrestrial mask, orange prison jump suit labeled "ILLEGAL ALIEN," and a large "green card." (No word on why you'd be illegal if you had a green card.)  Target blamed the incident on a data entry error that caused the offending costume to be ordered. Regardless,  advocacy groups descended on Target faster than a bunch of grandmas on Black Friday. In a world gone made with political correctness and over-sensitivity Target somehow launched a promotion that even the most ardent anti-immigration partisan would find offensive. Bad Target.
  9. The Los Angeles Times reported that a Wells Fargo bank executive had foreclosed on a $12 million Malibu beachfront estate and then used it for throwing swank parties. Allegedly the foreclosed owner had lost his wealth in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. It's worth mentioning that at the time Wells had received  $25 billion from U.S. taxpayers to stay in business. A lot of these taxpayers had themselves been foreclosed on by banks like, well, Wells Fargo. Any wonder why nobody likes bankers?
  10. A Chicago landlord, Horizon Group Management, had a dispute with a renter last spring. The renter tweeted something nasty about her living conditions in an apartment managed by the landlord. Landlord Horizon sued the renter, claiming that the Twitter message was broadcast all over the world, potentially damaging its reputation. The renter at the time had a grand total of 22 Twitter followers. She would have reached more people shouting her message at a crowded El stop. Unfortunately for Horizon the story about the suit was picked up by major traditional media like  the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press. The newspaper business is fading like cheap wallpaper, but they still have a hell of a lot more than 22 readers. The only worse move for Horizon would have been to hire the coyote to go after the roadrunner. The PR lesson here: In David vs. Goliath stories, nobody ever roots for Goliath. 
There you have it, thanks to Fineman PR.   Sometimes no publicity is better than bad publicity!

Just thought you might like to know!

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