After watching the recent Red Cross swim poster debacle unfold in traditional and social media I found it unfortunate that this 100-year-old organization failed in some ways on a public relations level.
Although the agency was quick with a response and apology, it was lacking that human touch. Rather than put a face and a name to the mia culpa, the letter posted to its website and circulated to the media went unsigned.
Most news headlines read: “American Red Cross” apologizes … In fact, it wasn’t until a few days after the news broke that Executive Director Gail McGovern, via a blog on The Huffington Post website, finally stepped up to the plate, apologizing and assuring everyone that they were doing everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen again. What took her so long?
The recent tragedy in Orlando that claimed the lives of at least 49 people (as of this writing) at a LGBT nightclub has sparked an outbreak of social media ranging from outrage to the outrageous. Everyone from the LGBT community to politicians to the average person on the street, has (for better or for worse) been able to voice an opinion.
Some are designed to bring people together; others seem to do little more than try to further fan the flames and rip us apart. For companies and nonprofit organizations, the events of the past week also have served as an opportunity to step up to the plate and show support not only in words, but also in action.
Walt Disney, Darden Restaurants and the Orlando Magic, which call Orlando home, have pledged financial support to help those impacted. Jet Blue began offering free flights to the families of shooting victims. Nonprofits also have offered their support with one sending “comfort dogs” from as far away as Chicago and Iowa. Even some Orlando area Chick-fil-A franchisees, whose company president and COO has been a vocal opponent of gay marriage, responded by opening on Sunday to hand out free sandwiches and iced tea to those waiting in line to donate blood. Though a Chick-fil-A company spokesperson has said the decision is being made by individual franchisees and it is not a company edict.
There’s no business like the PR business. Our job is to make clients look good and get positive media exposure, which in turn should help grow their business. But sometimes PR goes woefully wrong. Today, not only must companies deal with reporters asking the tough questions, but they also have to deal with the mass disapproval of customers who, via social media, are quick to voice their disapproval.
As we come to the end of the year let’s take a look back at five of 2015’s PR and social media mishaps.
You can just hear the excited chatter that must have taken place before state-owned Banco de Costa Rica launched Banca Kristal, a subsidiary dedicated exclusively to female customers. “What a great idea,” some male executives must have said. “Let’s create a bank that looks like Barbie’s dream house, women will love it.” And, “Yes, and let’s have a giant pink castle outside one of the branches so they will feel like royalty when they walk through the door.”
The five branches that have opened so far are decorated in white and pink, which has many calling it the “Barbie bank.”
With the launch has come a firestorm of criticism from just about everyone, including its target customers – women. Hundreds have taken to social media to blast Banca Kristal, calling it, among other things, sexist. Wrote one woman on the bank’s Facebook page “GIVE US WOMEN BACK THE 100 YEARS YOU HAVE TAKEN AWAY BY DOING THIS BARBARIC THING.”
Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli is a public relations pro's worst nightmare and proof that no matter how good your PR company may be, if you don't listen to their advice, it's going to come back and kick you in the teeth.
In case you haven't heard by now, Shkreli's company has been called out in articles around the globe for raising the price of its recently acquired drug Daraprim from $13.50 to nearly $750 a pill. What reason, other than greed, makes someone take a drug that's been around for more than 60 years and jack up the price some 5,000 percent. Daraprim is used to treat a parasitic infection that can be life threatening to some including those with AIDS and cancer.
By doing what he did, Shkreli has been labeled, among other things, the most hated man in America. Even Donald Trump called him a spoiled brat.
And, every day the news just gets worse for Shkreli. After taking to Twitter and essentially giving anyone who criticized him the finger, Shkreli put his Twitter account on private and backed down in the wake of a tremendous backlash. He's since come out saying it was all a mistake and he would lower the price of the drug.
But it's too little too late. He's being blacklisted by a lot of people, including the drug and biotech industry trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which tweeted "@TuringPharma does not represent the values of @PhRMA member companies."
Big Pharma's efforts to distance itself from Shkreli is in a sense ironic since it too has been criticized for years for essentially doing the same thing. He's even prompted Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to come up with a plan to take on the entire pharma industry. So, not only has Shkreli given himself and his company a black eye, but he's shone a negative light on the entire industry.
We work as strategic partners with clients, learning about their business, creating a PR plan and develop key messages. If there is a product or service involved, our job is to create and build awareness. If there is the possibility of something bad happening, we work with clients to mitigate the damage. This doesn’t mean we try to whitewash a problem, rather we help them to find ways to respond in the best way.
It’s been a while since South Florida has seen a hurricane, so many people either may never have experienced one, or they have become complacent and unprepared.
As a native Floridian, I have weathered many a storm. And, as a journalist, I saw up close and personal the devastation hurricanes can bring.
Preparing for a storm can be a lot like preparing for a public relations crisis. We hope it never comes, but if it does, we can make it through if we are prepared.
As Tropical Storm Erika makes its way through the Atlantic, many people are taking a wait-and-see attitude. But is that really the best approach? As with public relations, probably not. These days you can’t take a stick-your-head-in-the-sand approach and hope that whatever happens blows over.
As a hurricane nears the last thing you want to do is decide that now is the time to run out and buy plywood for your windows and stock up on water and batteries. The same applies in public relations – prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
The following are some things you should put into place before a crisis occurs:
Garton-Miller Media is a full-service, South Florida-based public relations firm. Founder Susan R. Miller has 30 years of experience as a writer, journalist and PR professional.