The top 10 PR blunders of 2009, according to Fineman PR
Fineman PR released its 15th Annual Top 10 PR Blunders List and it includes bankers, social media fiascos, a blown photo op, a rude interloper and, of course, a little YouTube ditty about United Airlines.
The selections, which are limited to Americans, American companies or offenses that occurred in America, are limited to avoidable acts or omissions that caused adverse publicity; image damage was done to self, company, society or others; and acts that were widely reported in 2009, according to Fineman.
Here’s the full list, along with Fineman’s explanations.
1. Military’s Flop of a Photo Op
A “furious” President Obama was forced to order an internal review to determine why on April 27 a near-empty Air Force One VC-25 was allowed to fly at low altitude through Manhattan, seemingly pursued by an F-16 jet. The photo-op flyover to allow for iconic photography of Air Force One over the Statue of Liberty was arranged by the Defense Department and authorized by White House Military Office Director Louis Caldera. For people on the ground, though, it vividly recalled fears related to the 9/11 terror attacks and sent workers streaming out of office buildings and running through the streets in panic. ABC News reported that N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was also not informed, said that “poor judgment” would have been a nice way to describe the flyover. Caldera resigned and was replaced by deputy director George Mulligan.
2. “It’s a Fork, It’s a Spoon, It’s a… Weapon?” (The New York Times)
An enthusiastic six-year-old Zachary Christie, excited about having just joined the Cub Scouts, brought his Scout-style eating utensil, a combination fork-knife-spoon-can opener, to school specifically so he could eat lunch with it on September 29. Not only did officials at Delaware’s Christina School District confiscate the utensil, they suspended Zachary and sentenced the A-student to 45 days in reform school in compliance with the District’s “zero-tolerance” policy on “weapons” despite ample character evidence that the child acted naively and was not a danger. Mother Deborah Christie organized activist website helpzachary.com, sparking national media attention and sympathy for the innocent casualties of “zero-tolerance” policies, with TheNew York Times and other prominent publications reporting on numerous such cases. The District did allow the boy to return to school after an emergency school board meeting… that was prompted by the situation being featured on NBC’s Today.
3. “Goldman Sucks,” blogs Financial Post editor
After taking a severe media drubbing, it makes sense for the big banks to conduct public outreach demonstrating some level of humility. But many have criticized Goldman Sachs CEO and spokesperson Lloyd Blankfein for statements published in the November 8 edition of the UK’s Sunday Times in which Blankfein claimed the company was “doing God’s work.” Diane Francis, editor-at-large for Canada’s Financial Post, blogged that “Goldman Sucks” and derided its new small business support plan, noting that “if [the promised US $500 million] was a tip it would be an insult, particularly in New York. Goldman has set aside US $16.7 billion for year-end bonuses, equivalent to the total economic output of Bolivia or Iceland.” Huffington Post blogger Charles Gasparino blasted Blankfein, writing that “what makes Goldman so contemptible is that its level of spin has almost no basis in reality.”
4. “My God, they’re throwing guitars out there.”
Musician Dave Carroll was frustrated by United Airlines’ nine-month refusal to compensate him for $1,200 in repairs after he witnessed United baggage handlers literally tossing guitars, including his own $3,500 Taylor, during a transfer at O’Hare International Airport. In what Nielsen Online’s Joshua Hammond termed “a true ‘David vs. Goliath’ moment,” Carroll vowed that he would write and record songs about the experience - complete with music videos – and publish them online. The first YouTube video amassed over three million views in a single week. Within two days, United was in touch with Carroll, offering the long-awaited compensation, which he asked to be contributed to a charity of the airline’s choice. Ben Mutzabaugh of USA Today described Carroll’s success as demonstrating “just how quickly the Internet can help a disgruntled customer turn the tables on a company and its effort to manage its public image.” Unbelievably, United let Carroll down again in late October, losing his bags while he was “en route to deliver a speech about customer service,” according to CBC News.
5. Domino’s Recipe for Disaster
When footage of Domino’s Pizza employees fouling food was posted to YouTube in April, the company did not move quickly enough to counter the damage in today’s online world. Videos showing two employees performing unsanitary acts quickly amassed over one million views within 48 hours. After two painful days, Domino’s finally reacted, launching its first corporate Twitter account and posting a public apology on YouTube. According to BusinessWeek, Domino’s had become “the latest company to learn how quickly a brand can be tainted in a Web 2.0 world – and how important it is to monitor social media.”
Storming the stage in protest at a nationally televised awards show is practically an annual event for Kanye West, but his “performance” at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards was particularly ill-advised. When an allegedly inebriated West took the microphone from teenage country artist and Best Female Video winner Taylor Swift, claiming that Beyoncé – not Swift – deserved the award, he crossed a critical line. According to Linda Holmes of NPR’s Monkey See blog, “when you’re a big-mouth and you get in a tangle with another big-mouth, nobody necessarily thinks the less of either one of you. You get in trouble, however, when you’re picking on people who aren’t even old enough to drink – unlike you.” Later in an interview with Jay Leno, Kanye apologized and ashamedly acknowledged that his mother would have been disappointed.
7. “Kentucky Fried Fiasco,” reports Advertising Age
Fast food bastion KFC launched its new Kentucky GRILLED Chicken offering on May 4 by working with the “Oprah Winfrey Show” to announce a two-day internet coupon for a free meal. It seems like a marketer’s dream, but Advertising Age reported it as “an unmitigated disaster” when millions downloaded the coupon, and the company could not fulfill consumer demand and “actually had to rescind the offer.” While KFC did indeed accumulate a “sea of buzz” for its efforts, it failed to fulfill its promise, leaving many consumers empty-handed… and angry. Linda Holmes of NPR referred to the incident as “a massive customer-service failure,” adding that “if you throw in with Oprah, you have to be prepared to serve America – all of it, at the same time.”
8. We “Expect More” from Target
Human rights and immigration activists took aim at national chain Target for its pre-Halloween online promotion of an “Illegal Alien” costume that came complete with orange jumpsuit, extraterrestrial mask and, most controversially, a “green card” accessory. Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, called the costume “distasteful, mean-spirited, and ignorant of social stigmas and current debate on immigration reform.” Target spokespeople said the costumes were included in Halloween offerings “by mistake,” and pulled them from its website.
9. Housing Crisis Solved… the Malibu Way
Retreats for bailed out execs may be last year’s AIG Blunder, but the major banks still party on at home… or at someone else’s foreclosed home. A Wells Fargo executive liked a foreclosed $12-milion Malibu property so much that she allegedly took up semi-permanent residence, using it to stage “eye-catching parties,” according to the L.A. Times. What’s more, real estate agent Irene Dazzan-Palmer told the Associated Press that Wells Fargo repeatedly refused to show the beachfront Malibu Colony home to potential buyers. “[Wells Fargo’s allowing] this to happen in today’s ethically charged climate is quite suicidal,” W. Michael Hoffman, executive director of Bentley University’s Center for Business Ethics, told The L.A. Times.
10. Squawking over Tweets
Watch what you tweet or you may be the next person sued for online defamation via social media. Chicago renter Amanda Bonnen was sued by her landlord, Horizon Group Management, when she posted, “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon Realty thinks it’s okay,” on May 12 after disputes with the company. The company insisted that Bonnen’s tweet somehow damaged Horizon because it was published “throughout the world.” Bonnen had a meager 22 followers on Twitter by the time she terminated her account. But Horizon’s suit was covered by major traditional and online media, including The New York Times, Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, TechDirt and the Inquisitor. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that according to a Horizon spokesperson, “the company has a good reputation it wants to preserve.” Disconnect.
Perhaps you're thinking what I'm thinking: What about Richard Heene, father of the Balloon Boy, and the Salahis, the couple that crashed the state dinner at the White House?
Group calling itself the Iranian Cyber Army attacks Twitter
Did you see it?
Around 12 p.m. Central Time, a group calling itself the Iranian Cyber Army hijacked Twitter’s DNS records — basically the Web site’s domain name, Twitter.com — redirecting readers to a page that said: “This site has been hacked by the Iranian Cyber Army.”
It was followed by this message written in broken English: “USA think they controlling and managing internet by their access, but they don't, we control and manage internet by our power.” The BBC noted that the message then ends on a seemingly polite note, telling visitors to “take care,” accompanied by a winking icon.
The hackers, the BBC said, left an e-mail address, but could not be reached for comment.
Service to the site was restored after little more than one hour.
The Tech Heraldencouraged everyone reading about this story to basically relax: “It is worth noting, there was no compromise to any server used by Twitter, despite what the headlines in today’s news say,” The Tech Herald’s Steve Ragan reported (no relation to my CEO Mark Ragan, as far as I know.)
Along with Twitter, 50 other Web sites fell victim to the attack.
Study answers the question: How diverse is Facebook
In the five years since it launched, Facebook has seen a marked increase in the number of African-American and Latino U.S. members — nearly to the point where the diversity of the social network reflects that of the U.S., according to a study conducted by Facebook.
“Illustrating the growing diversity of online users as the Internet matures, a study by Facebook researchers found that about 11 percent of the social network's approximately 100 million U.S. members were African-American, about 9 percent were Latino and 6 percent were Asian … a much higher share for blacks and Latinos than four years ago,” San Jose Mercury News reporter Mike Swift wrote.
Facebook posted the results of this study to a blog Wednesday evening, Swift said. (The story doesn’t link to the blog, nor could I find it.)
According to the Mercury News, Facebook members were mostly white and Asian when it launched in 2004 among students at Stanford and Harvard. Only about 3 percent were Latino and 7 percent were black by late 2005, Swift reported.
“But starting in mid-2007, the share of Facebook users who are Latino began to grow rapidly, as they gained numbers even faster than the social network's overall growth,” Swift said. “And in 2009, the share of African-American members in particular has grown rapidly, with both groups on Facebook now approaching estimates for their share of overall Internet users.”
The African-American population of Facebook has nearly reached the 12 percent that makes up the overall U.S. population. Latino membership still lags far behind the 15 percent of U.S. population.
You can read more about the study — including how and why Facebook conducted it — at the San Jose Mercury News.
'Ketchup Truck Hits Hamburger Stand': Newspaper headlines from the Simpsons
This 8-minute slide show of the newspaper headlines from the TV show the Simpsons is a must-see, even if you’ve never watched the show. Pay special attention to the details.
For instance, the primary newspaper for Springfield, the city where the Simpson family lives, is called the Springfield Shopper and its price jumps from FREE to 35 cents to 50 cents—a reflection, perhaps, of the fluctuating prices at the real newsstands.
Also, at the 1 minute 32 second mark there’s a shot of a classified page. Pause it and peruse the ads on this page, like “Flame thrower Viotnam Era, Orig. takes Reg. unleaded, FREE.” Yes, Vietnam is spelled incorrectly in the ad.
Maybe he's mindful of H1N1: The difference between Barack Obama and Gordon Brown
Great 25-second video of President Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown greeting a cop outside 10 Downing Street. If this happened in the U.S., and the situation was reversed, the media would dub it Handshake-gate.
UPDATE: Terrific video added to the story. Thanks, Mary!
Despite a warning from an English professor—that sarcasm is a crutch for the stupid, or something—I employ sarcasm every day.
I’m something of a sarcasm connoisseur, a trait I believe I picked up from my father, who constantly told me, “No one likes a smart ass, Michael,” before saying something like, “Oh yeah, I’d love to take you to the toy store.” I was a confused child.
But using sarcasm in your writing can be tricky, especially when you’re writing for a business audience. Most people, I assume, avoid it altogether—unless, of course, there was a special font for it.
Imagine if you wrote a company e-mail that said: “Remember to turn in your billing for the month. I know all of you love doing that on a Friday.” The people unable to pick up sarcasm might think a) I do love entering that information each month, or b) What a jerk. Could that guy kiss the boss’s ass any more? This is why I hate the corporate communications department.
Now you could always use italics, a popular way to denote sarcasm. Now that line looks like this: “Remember to turn in your billing for the month. I know all of you love doing that on Friday.” Some people may now see the sarcasm—or just assume you think they really do love that task.
What if, instead of this ambiguity, there was a font for sarcasm? What would it look like? Or, what if we just designated one particular font as the sarcasm font, like , for instance?
Turns out there’s actually a movement for this, called, you guessed it, the Sarcastic Font movement. This Web site suggests people use backward italics (which I can’t figure how to do)—because the people behind this movement clearly have a lot going on.
If you actually read the story from CNBC, which this post doesn’t link to, it says: “Critics might say that Gatorade is just reacting to the recent news, but industry trade Beverage Digest actually reported the discontinuation of the Gatorade Tiger Focus line on Nov. 25, two days before the accident occurred.”
The Beverage Digest story is locked down to nonsubscribers, so we’ll just take CNBC’s word for it.
UPDATE: The Chicago Tribune spoke with Beverage Digest editor John Sicher, who confirmed that he heard about Gatorade's decision last month.
As you may have noted by now, Weisenthal failed to include this fact in his post. Seems a bit insidious, doesn't it? Without a link to CNBC, he has to assume most readers won’t check his facts. Then again, maybe he's just lazy, or, to give him the benefit of the doubt, rushed. After all, the CNBC story is a whole seven paragraphs long.
One enterprising reader did read the entire CNBC story and pointed out Weisenthal's oversight in the comments. Here's that reader's comment:
At this point, you'd probably expect Weisenthal to acknowledge the oversight and drop an update in his post. Instead, he offered this remark in the comments:
So let's get this straight. Without an update or retraction, Weisenthal is assuming that Gatorade is full of it. His comment seems to suggest that he's sticking to his guns and that soon enough the truth will be revealed. This means that—since Beverage Digest reported on the move two days before the incident outside Tiger's home—Weisenthal is suggesting that Gatorade not only knew that Tiger was cheating on his wife—which could be true—but also foresaw that he would get in a one-car accident outside his mansion while allegedly fired up on booze and pharmaceutical drugs and that's why Gatorade discontinued it's Tiger focus line.
Someone mocking you on Twitter? Here are 5 steps you can take to minimize the damage
What would you do if someone tried to muddy your reputation by creating a Twitter account similar to your own? One that is unflattering, even defamatory.
It’s easy for someone to do. All it takes is an e-mail address and a little time. One day you’re happily tweeting away, the next day you’re wondering who the hell started a Twitter account that suggests you want to be the next Clay Aiken.
Just ask Richard Laermer, the CEO of RLM PR and one of two authors behind the Bad Pitch Blog. This fall, two different Twitter accounts launched parodying him.
There’s Raermer, a Twitter account begun in September by a Mr. “Lichard Raermer,” and Evil Laermer, which launched in September. The infrequent tweets from Raermer mainly poke fun of the real Laermer’s propensity for spelling errors.
Unfortunately, you can’t prevent this from happening; all you can do is minimize the damage. So, I asked the real Richard Laermer if he had any advice to share.
Here are five steps you should take if someone starts a shadow Twitter account mocking or parodying you, courtesy of the real Laermer.
1. Get in touch with Twitter. Request a verifiable account.
Send the company an e-mail detailing the situation, ask if they’ll disable the offending account or give you a verifiable account, which includes the badge you see here.
Unfortunately, getting Twitter to act on a request—unless you’re famous—is like getting the Pope to give you an annulment. Harder, probably. Laermer has written to Twitter, with little success so far.
2. Tweet: “It’s not me.”
This one is easy. Do it right away. If someone is aping you on Twitter, send a tweet that says, “Evil [Me] is not me.”
3. Spell it out in your Twitter bio.
If the counterfeit Twitter feed is strikingly similar to your own then indicate in your bio that you are not the author. Laermer has not taken this step, even though some people have suggested that he authors Raermer. (He said he doesn’t; it’s done, he said, by a former employee that quit after he refused to give her a raise. PRNewser blog quoted the Raermer author as saying he/she has never worked at RLM.) As for Evil Laermer, the real Laermer remarked, “No smart people think I’m behind it.”
4. Search Twitter lists. DM people if the fake accounts are on their lists.
Some people might mistakenly include the fake Twitter accounts on their Twitter lists. For instance, if someone is quickly creating a list of PR people, they might unknowingly select Raermer or Evil Laermer. If this happens to you, simply direct message (DM) these people to ask if they will remove the accounts from their lists. That will limit their exposure.
5. Be vigilant! Block the person so they don’t start following your followers.
When Raermer and Evil Laermer first went live, the people behind these Twitter accounts began following Laermer’s followers. In turn, many people may have followed them back, perhaps believing it was the actual Laermer. In this case, make sure you block the account (or accounts) immediately, so they can’t see your followers and start following them.
Laermer said he might pursue legal action if the tweets become libelous or if they start to affect his business or continue to insult his friends—as Evil Laermer has done.
Remember, you can’t control what’s being said on social media. But, in cases like this, you can minimize the damage. And you can even have a laugh. Laermer admitted that he reads Raermer’s tweets occassionally.
Michael Vick’s second act has begun—with cheers, not boos
If I saw this in a movie I would roll my eyes and think: What a bunch of bullsh**. That would never happen in real life—oh, but it did.
This weekend, the disgraced NFL quarterback Michael Vick spiked F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous (alleged) quote, “There are no second acts in American lives.”
Vick is, of course, the NFL quarterback, who went to prison for financing dog fighting. The press and the public vilified him for the disgusting and outrageously inhumane treatment of dogs that he oversaw. Upon his release from prison this year, many PR and sports pundits wondered if his image and his career could make a comeback.
Tiger Woods, take note.
On Sunday, Vick, who now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, returned to Atlanta, site of the first half of his successful NFL career. Amid boos and jeers from the crowd, he ran for just seven yards in the opening half of the game.
And then, in the second half, he ran and passed for two touchdowns and the Atlanta fans cheered him. The crowd even chanted, “We want Vick! We want Vick!”
“It sent chills down my spine,” Vick told reporters after the game.
Have you seen last week’s most popular viral video?
Advertising Agepublished its weekly list of the top viral videos, based on data from Visible Measures, and the most popular video during the week of Thanksgiving was, “Sexy Pilgrim.” According to Advertising Age, the video has racked up more than 3 million views. Its purpose is to promote Muscle Milk, a muscle-building supplement that looks like chocolate milk, or something, and makes you look like the guy on the right in this picture, I imagine.
I didn’t want to laugh at this video—the star and the concept turned me off. But when the pilgrim sings, “How’d I get these abs? Crunches? How do I solve crimes? Hunches.” I laughed. Yeah, it was cheap, but hey, it’s Friday. What do you want from me?
A new Web site that aggregates news and includes a dose of user-generated content has launched in beta form. It’s called iSpotaStory.com.
The site aggregates the top “news” from around the Web and then allows readers to add not only comments but also video clips, images, eye witness accounts and links to other Web sites. Meanwhile, iSpotaStory.com also employs human editors—remember those?—to complement the algorithm that collects the stories.
How do they complement the stories? By assessing “whether clips are actually funny or interesting,” according to a press release. Whatever that means.
Why is this important for PR pros? Because it gives them an opportunity to add stories or comments to an article posted about their company or client. Presumably, this means that if a story runs about, say, the ouster of a CEO, a PR pro can add a video that shows someone from his or her company explaining the move.
However, in the second paragraph I noted that the Web site aggregates “news” stories from around the Web. Why the quotation marks around news? Because if you look at today’s top three stories on iSpotaStory.com, they are—in order—“Jon Stewart Makes fun of Obama's Speech to the Nation,” "Ron Artest: 'I used to drink Hennessy at halftime,'" “Hangover 2 Script Half-Finished, Moving Out of Vegas.”
New celebrity scandal! Video surfaces of Marilyn Monroe smoking pot!! Will it save Tiger’s rep?!?
Did you hear the shocking news?
No, no, it’s not the escalation of the war in Afghanistan.
Nope, not the White House party crashers. Try again.
Tiger? Oh please, that was so Tuesday.
Are you sitting down? It’s Marilyn Monroe. She used drugs—and someone caught it on tape!
Old footage of the long-dead Hollywood star has emerged and the owner of the footage claims it shows Monroe smoking marijuana. Will the reputation of Monroe, who died of a drug overdose in 1962, ever survive this shocking revelation?
What would you do if you were Monroe’s PR rep? Or the PR pros for her (also deceased) ex-husbands, Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. What will the Kennedy clan have to say about all this?
Tiger Woods must be thanking his lucky stars, since this shocking revelation will no doubt dominate the news cycle.
Here’s the footage:
(Wait a sec. Does anyone else think that looks like a plain old cigarette?)
Why is Sesame Street presenting at the National Press Club? Knell and Grover plan to discuss the way Sesame Street—after 40 years on TV—has reached beyond television sets to bring its entertainment to popular media platforms like cell phones and mobile gaming devices.
It actually sounds like an interesting talk. If I was in Washington on December 8 I’d probably attend. I just wouldn’t bring my niece.
I used to cover the blogosphere for Ragan.com, so I can’t help but note that today is a banner day for bloggers. It’s the day new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines take effect, which means bloggers who accept cash or free giveaways for writing posts must begin disclosing it.
Tell us how you manage unrealistic expectations, meet reporter needs, churn out news when there is none, deal with a client you can't stand, and what you say to people that slam PR. Or anything else that's on your mind.