A couple weeks ago, the Golden State Warriors finally found out they would be playing the Utah Jazz in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. To many Warriors players, the news came as a disappointment, but not because they were concerned about facing the Jazz in a seven-game series. The confident Warriors were simply hoping they’d be spending their off nights in a more exciting city than Salt Lake.
As 2016 comes to a close, we take time to reflect on the year’s biggest PR disasters:
Ryan Lochte is an accomplished Olympian who in almost any era would be recognized as one of the greatest swimmers of all time. Unfortunately for Lochte, though, he swims in the Michael Phelps era. That frustration may have contributed to his decision to “over-exaggerate” – his term – the details of an alleged armed robbery at the Olympics in Brazil. After video emerged of Lochte and other U.S. swimmers appearing to vandalize a gas station bathroom, the armed robbery started looking more like a request for restitution. Lochte apologized, but the consequences were swift: sponsors Speedo and Polo Ralph Lauren dropped him immediately, and he solidified his spot as an Olympic punch line for generations to come.
SAMSUNG … What do the global electronics giant’s mobile phones and washing machines have in common? They both explode.
It was a tough year for Samsung, who twice found itself at the top of the list of the year’s biggest safety recalls. First, it was the company’s flagship mobile phone, the Galaxy 7, some of which were spontaneously exploding. It got so bad that the Department of Transportation eventually banned the phones from all U.S. airline flights. And then Samsung was forced to recall 2.8 million washing machines because they could explode. That caused a viral sensation because no one could really wrap their heads around how a washing machine could explode. But YouTube videos gave us our answer, much to Samsung’s dismay.
In public relations, it often is the small things that make big differences. The U.S. Women’s National Team goalie, Hope Solo, learned that lesson the hard way when she was suspended from the team for six months this week.
What were the little things that went so wrong for Hope?
- She used colorful language. Many athletes engage in sour grapes after a tough loss by complaining that the better team actually lost. They will use expressions like, “They didn’t win; we gave it to them.” Hope expressed those thoughts, too, but she made her quote more colorful by calling the Swedes “a bunch of cowards.” In my non-scientific survey, the word “cowards” appeared in 100 percent of the media coverage. Journalists love colorful, which can work for you or against you.
- She had priors. No criminal appearing before a judge would expect to catch a break when he or she has been convicted before. And Hope should have known that she had little margin for error based on her previous actions this year alone that included a domestic violence arrest and allowing her inebriated husband to drive a U.S. Soccer vehicle.
- She set the stage. A lesson that every professional wrestler learns is that it is okay if they love you or hate you; it is indifference that will end your career quickly. Hope loves the spotlight, and she established herself as the anti-hero of the Rio Olympics before she even left the U.S. by tweeting photos of herself in heavy-duty, mosquito-proof outfits. She thumbed her nose at her Olympics hosts, and she was already the center of attention when she arrived.
- She violated the spirit of the Olympics – When athletes are paid mercenaries (i.e., performing in for-profit leagues while being paid millions of dollars), fans tend to be pretty forgiving for lapses in etiquette. But when you act like a jerk on arguably the biggest sports stage in the world that is also synonymous with sportsmanship, it becomes a problem.
Pop quiz: Is Twitter an opportunity or a threat for your business? The answer, of course, is both.
Social media allows businesses to connect more directly with customers and prospective customers than in any time in history. And it also allows competitors and detractors to screw with your brand more than in any time in history.
The stakes are real, and so is the data. A recent study conducted by a professor at Belgium’s University of Leuven found:
- 94 percent of all PR crises either started or were fanned by Twitter, and online trolls were a “key catalyst” for spreading awareness of PR issues
- 19 percent of PR crises actually broke on Twitter, making the social media platform a bigger threat to brands than Facebook (16 percent), YouTube (4 percent) and blogs (4 percent)
- Consumers are more comfortable criticizing brands on Twitter. Users are 17 percent more likely to send a negative Tweet than publish a negative Facebook post.
These figures are as stunning as they are frightening. If social media monitoring isn’t part of your marketing budget, you are making a serious mistake.
GroundFloor Media’s Gil Rudawsky was quoted last week by communications publisher Ragan.com on how EgyptAir was handling communications in the hours following the disappearance of the airline’s jetliner.
In the article, Rudawsky acknowledged that it was a fast-moving story that news outlets were covering round-the-clock. In the initial hours, media was speculating on the cause, without any supporting facts. EgyptAir went on the offensive and chastised the media for jumping to conclusions.
More and more, as public relations practitioners, especially if you work with clients on crisis communication, you will work with attorneys – either the client’s in-house attorneys or outside counsel. Bill Ojile, an attorney and partner at Armstrong Teasdale and former GFM client, recently met with the GFM team to share his insights on how to effectively work with legal counsel.
According to Bill, lawyers’ jobs are to make people uncomfortable, to ask a lot of questions and to be skeptical. He also noted that lawyers don’t write for everyday people, and they don’t write for the media; they write for every contingency. With that said, how do PR people and lawyers co-exist and together create the very best communications and outcomes for their mutual clients? Bill provided the following tips for how to navigate the legal waters:
But before your company or client pulls out all the stops to try to save its reputation, here are some common sense criteria to help navigate through the storm:
Where is the negative issue brewing?
Negative comments on your company’s social media pages should most likely be addressed as these comments are now on your “home turf.” Issues that fall into this category include negative comments or reviews by members or the general public. Since this commentary is considered to be on your home turf, it is worth a response. This does not mean comments found outside own social media properties will not be addressed; but it is a good first question to ask.
How “loud” is the comment?
The Internet is a BIG place, and without some filters a lot of time could be spent addressing everyone who shares negative issues on social media. Ask how much “noise” is being made about this particular topic? Pay attention to commenters with a small audience, but don’t fan the flames. More visible outlets might need a more proactive strategy.
Is the information blatantly inaccurate?
While many postings are about an individual’s specific situation and thus somewhat subjective, occasionally true misinformation will be posted online. In these cases, it is important to correct the facts.
What is the tone or topic?
If the tone of an internal conversation or post on a message board is not overtly negative, a response may not be needed. That said, if the comment raises slight concern, it should be addressed appropriately.
And remember to have a thick skin.
Marketers have long known that constraining supply often piques demand. Coors, In-N-Out Burger and Blue Bell ice cream are all examples of products that have created national reputations, in part, by not being available nationwide. People desired what they couldn’t have, and absence definitely made the heart grow fonder.
That level of customer fanaticism can help propel brands to amazing heights, but it also means that customers feel personally invested, and that can create complicated situations when the brand does not, in their eyes, live up to its brand promise.
The latest controversy has to do with a skit about ISIS that was a parody of a Toyota commercial that ran during the Super Bowl where a father drops his daughter off at the airport as she’s embarking on her military career. Chances are the firestorm that’s taking place on media and social media will subside soon, but not before it drives thousands, if not millions of people to watch the video on its site and tune back in to SNL.
So, is controversy good for ratings? You bet. NBC Nightly News’ ratings are up due to the embarrassment it recently faced when Brian Williams admitted to “embellishing” his wartime experiences.
I’m pretty sure everyone agrees that Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is the biggest loser of Super Bowl XLIX. With just one shockingly bad play call, Carroll went from G.O.A.T. to goat.
But many people are pointing to insurance provider Nationwide as the second-biggest loser of Sunday’s Super Bowl. Its depressing Super Bowl ad aired in the first quarter of the game, and it was widely – and immediately – ripped to shreds. A decade ago, you had to wait for tomorrow’s newspaper to see how people responded. But Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms give advertisers real-time feedback – and allow viewer opinions to quickly go viral.
Fortunately for Nationwide, its social media and public relations team quickly came to the rescue of its focus group-challenged advertising team. Within an hour of the ad airing, Nationwide released a statement online explaining the ad and took to social media to join the conversation. The company noted in part: