Tag Archives: gaffes

Biggest PR Disasters of 2016

As 2016 comes to a close, we take time to reflect on the year’s biggest PR disasters:

lochteRYAN LOCHTE … An Olympic swimmer perpetually overshadowed by Michael Phelps finally finds the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

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.

Read more after the jump…

Mind your off-the-record comments and what you say during sound checks

There’s no such thing as “off-the-record” anymore.

It used to be, at least in theory, that politicians and business executives could safely assume that if the cameras weren’t rolling, or if a reporter had set down his pencil, they could speak freely and there was little risk of the comments showing up on the 6 p.m. news or tomorrow’s headlines.

Given the number of modern, high-profile “sound-check gaffes,” most notably with President Reagan, it’s unclear whether the notion of “off the record” was ever really followed that closely. And it certainly is not the case these days. We live in a 24-hour news cycle that is just waiting for the next story, and everything we say has the potential of being recorded, and then beamed to millions.

Last week, President Obama fell victim to the “always on-the-record” world in what is being called open mic night for the president at a Chicago restaurant. A live audio feed carried Obama’s comments to the White House press briefing room where he was caught challenging Republicans to repeal healthcare reform, saying: “You wanna repeal health care? Go at it. We’ll have that debate. But you’re not going to be able to do it by nickel and diming me in the budget. You think we’re stupid?”

His comments came after the White House press pool had been escorted out of the briefing room. But, his comments made at an exclusive fundraiser, were recorded by NBC News and CBS News. They promptly played the tape for their audiences and posted it online.

The White House press team played off the gaffe, saying that the President was not embarrassed that the remarks were made public.

In the last month, a Google news search for the terms “microphone” and “gaffe” came up with numerous high-profile blunders. Given the rich history of these missteps caught on tape, it might help to review some best practices with regard to speaking to the media:

1. “Off-the-record” is not considered off the record anymore. This even applies if the reporter agrees to the off-the-record rules. Many reporters face too much competition to not run with a scoop, regardless of how they came about it.

2. Following up on No. 1, never say anything to a reporter that you wouldn’t want to see in the evening news.

3. Temper your comments in public places. Remember with social media and mobile phones, everyone can be a reporter, beaming “caught on tape” comments, photos and videos from a short elevator ride to the world.

4. After you are done speaking to a reporter, make sure they are not continuing to listen, through an open mic or otherwise. One of my best scoops came when an elected official forgot to end a cell call with me, and inadvertently gave me the unfiltered inside story, as told to his staffer.

5. And finally, it’s best to keep to simple – and non controversial – topics during sound checks, and not joke about bombing Russia, as Ronald Reagan infamously did during the height of the Cold War.

~ Gil Rudawsky