Strong early field for worst PR blunder of 2017
It’s early in the year for this, but it is obvious competitors have been going out of their way to outdo each other, as already we have strong competition for the worst Public Relations/Crisis Communications blunders of 2017.
Competition is always stiff, but I must say I can’t remember the last time I saw such worthy entries within such a short time frame. I’d like to get your thoughts but first, let’s look at what I see as the top five contenders.
The first entry comes from a sector that is a perennial favourite – the airline industry. Bad enough United Airlines dragged a paying customer off one of their planes, smashing his head on an armrest in the process, but the icing on the cake goes to CEO Oscar Munoz who first put the blame on the man for not surrendering his seat willingly, calling him belligerent, and he then went the extra mile and characterized what happened not as the passenger being forcefully removed, but that he was “re-accommodated” in what the CEO described as an “involuntary de-boarding situation” Pure brilliance there, in that it allowed all those millions of people who saw the video to realize they didn’t really see what they thought they saw. You have to admit United has raised the bar from the days of simply breaking guitars.
Entry Number 2 goes jointly to Canada’s five banks for forcing their employees to push unnecessary services on customers. As you will see from other entries, the banks are true to the pattern of first suggesting there’s nothing to see here, then when that is proved untrue by a flood of bank employees saying there sure is something to it, with tales of how their jobs were threatened if they didn’t get enough passengers to pay for services they neither wanted or needed, turned to the tried and true apology, promising to clean up their act.
The third entry goes to everyone’s favourite White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. He was already in the running for his performance at his very first press briefing for insisting against all evidence that Trump’s inauguration saw the largest crowds in history for such an event. Showing himself as willing to lie at his boss’s insistence in his very first briefing was epic, but I think he felt threatened by United Airlines so he upped the ante with his comment that not even Hitler used chemical weapons. He walked it back later with what was actually a pretty good apology as apologies go, but it’s out there nonetheless, and anyone who has knowledge not only the holocaust but of battles from that war won’t forget what he said. As for the apology, let’s face it, every crisis always has at least one apology attached, and as the contestants realize, it’s not easy putting the toothpaste back in the tube.
Moving on, Entry 4 goes to Pepsi, for a completely tone deaf ad that tried to capitalize on civil unrest and Black Lives Matter by showing that these social tensions can easily be overcome if you take a famous, good looking celebrity, give her a Pepsi and let her use that to settle any differences. As the daughter of Martin Luther King Junior said in a tweet – if only her father had known about the power of Pepsi. Ouch!
The 5th entry, and remember these aren’t in any particular order, goes to a home town favourite, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant for his inept attempts to downplay the property tax assessment fiasco. In what has become a favoured strategy of many contestants, the Premier has refused to take responsibility for a scandal that just keeps getting worse, fabricated property tax assessments sent out to a lot of New Brunswick taxpayers. First, Gallant said there were fewer problems than other years; that it was a minor thing. Then it got a bit bigger, then a lot bigger, then CBC reports on a document that seems to suggest the Premier himself was behind rushing out the new software system that is at the root of the problem, something he earlier disputed. Meantime, he has gone silent, refusing interviews on the issue and apparently forbidding the Minister responsible, or not responsible as the case may be, from talking about it either, rationalizing that since a judge is going to review it, mum’s the word, apparently even on what the judge’s specific mandate will be.
It may only be spring, and there’s a lot of 2017 left, but it’s obvious other potential contenders already have their work cut out for them to outdo the bumper crop of overachieving PR blunderers we are are seeing already.
So now what say you? Whom would you choose for the less than coveted award of worst management of a crisis this year, so far? To review:
#1 – United Airlines
#2 – Canadian banks
#3 - Sean Spicer
#4 – Pepsi
#5 – Premier Gallant
Or perhaps you have another worthy contender that didn’t make my list – in which case, what?
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