PR Tips

Top 3 PR disasters from the 2010s and what we can learn from them

By Cathal McCabe
PR disasters

With this decade nearly over, it can often be mind-boggling to think of how much has happened over the last 10 years. The media landscape has changed dramatically in the 2010’s, and yet many prominent people have still fallen victim to classic PR mistakes.

Here at MediaHQ, we have compiled three lessons which can be learnt from these recent PR disasters.

Beware the Streisand effect

The Streisand effect is a phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information unintentionally creates greater awareness of that information. Named after singer Barbra Streisand’s attempt to suppress photographs of her Malibu home, it has become much more dangerous since the emergence of the internet.

In 2014, a YouTuber uploaded a video detailing how his Samsung Galaxy S4 had spontaneously caught fire, which garnered some traction online. Samsung offered to replace his phone, but only if he deleted the video, absolved the company of all liability, waived his right to sue the company, and never made the terms of the agreement public. The dissatisfied customer decided not to accept, and instead uploaded a second video where he read out the settlement proposal to an eventual audience of over 1.5 million people. Now, 1.5 million potential customers were not only aware of the fire-starting capabilities of Samsung’s phones but that they also required you to relinquish many of your consumer rights in order to get a replacement. The lesson here for those in PR is to not attempt to supress your critics, as a warlike response may only shine more light on your company’s faults.

Initial statements are key

 Ever since 2017, whenever you hear United Airlines, your mind jumps to one image, Dr David Dao being dragged out of an overbooked flight by security guards. After the release of the now infamous video, CEO Oscar Munoz sent out an internal letter that quickly went public, describing the victim as “disruptive and belligerent”. Pundits and meme-makers ridiculed Munoz for the “tone-deaf” comments, especially as new videos of the incident began to emerge which contradicted his statements. The company soon changed tack, releasing apologetic statements and having Munoz express remorse while being interviewed. However, due to his initial statement, the public consensus was that his apologies were lacklustre and insincere, with United’s market value falling by almost $1 billion.

The lesson here is that you should be very cautious in regards to your initial comments on a sensitive PR matter. When a scandal first breaks, it is rare that you will have access to all the crucial information and evidence. It is much better to release an ambiguous holding statement than announce your first views on the matter. This will allow you to gather your thoughts and make them more cohesive. Then, you can project them onto a structured press release, giving your company the appearance of having a unified and consistent view on the matter, which will allow you to seem much more genuine than United Airlines did.

Don’t risk a clever retort

In the summer of 2013, the console wars between Xbox and PlayStation were raging, with both brands announcing the next generation of their hardware. Xbox were mired in a controversy over the fact that their new Xbox One consoles always needed to have an internet connection, breaking with industry norms. In an interview with Head of Xbox Don Mattrick, a journalist asked how those in the military (specifically those on nuclear submarines), were supposed to play their new console. Mattrick infamously replied “We have a product for those who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity, it’s called Xbox 360.” While this statement was perfectly true, and the percentage of Xbox’s customer base who are on nuclear submarines is admittedly small, it played terribly with an American audience, as it seemed as if Xbox were dismissing the military. This PR blunder eventually led to the Playstation 4 selling twice as much as the Xbox One (for reference the Xbox 360 had soundly beaten the Playstation 3).

What’s the lesson here? Although Mattrick’s comment did make sense, it was a PR disaster and most PR experts would have recommended saying something more reconciliatory instead. Although it may be tempting to attempt a clever and witty remark, when facing a bad PR situation this almost never plays well. Nine times out of 10 it will come across as a snide comment which makes it seem as if you don’t appreciate the gravity of the situation. Humility is your best friend in a PR crisis.

Here at MediaHQ, we pride ourselves in always looking out for our clients in any situation, even a PR disaster. Looking for more information click here or call Gaye on (01) 2541845 to find out more.



Cathal McCabe

Share This Post