The aim of public relations is to depict your business in the best way possible. This can range from establishing yourself in the market to doing damage control. Unlike advertising, your goal is not to pay for space in the media but to persuade the media to take an interest in your business and to write or report on your good deeds. Below are 10 of the most ridiculous Public Relations Blunders of All Time.



10. Abercrombie & Fitch

Most people who shop at Abercrombie & Fitch are frat boys and party girls. Unfortunately, this isn’t the market that the clothing company wants to target. So they asked Jersey Shore star Michael Sorrentino to stop wearing the clothes in 2011. By attacking Sorrentino, it made the mistake of insulting their buyers. They reported a 15% drop in sales as a result.


9. Susan Boyle- #susanalbumparty

Hashtag research is very important! Combing three or more words can be lethal. Susan Boyle’s PR Company made a big blunder in 2012 when they created a new hashtag #susanalbumparty for her. Unbeknownst to them, they had just invited fans to Boyle’s Bum Party.


8. Susan Boyle – #Nowthatchersdead

This was more of a promotional error, than a PR crisis, but still was worth mentioning. It brought great amusement to some, while shock and horror to others. When former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died, #nowthatchersdead started trending. Boyle ended up in another crisis because her readers weren’t sure if it was Margaret Thatcher or Cher that was dead. It’s best to keep hashtags to two words or less.


7. McDonald’s

Having a social media commenting and hashtag conversation policy is equally as important. In 2012, McDonald’s #McDoStories hashtag backfired when instead of offering “good news stories”, users began flooding the tag with claims of fingernails in burgers & other nasties.


6. United Airlines

In 2008, musician David Caroll’s $3,500 guitar was mishandled by baggage handlers at Chicago O’Hare airport. He spent the next year fighting the airline to get compensation. Eventually, he created a YouTube video and a series of videos titled “United Breaks Guitars”. United Airlines apologized and made a donation, but unfortunately the apology came too late.


5. President Obama’s First Presidential Debate (2012)

In the first Presidential Debate of the 2013 Elections, Obama enjoyed a good lead over his challenger Mitt Romney. Minutes into the debate, the President stammered through several lopping answers on policy and seemed of league against the confident, tough-looking Romney. By the end of the debate, Romney breathed new life into his campaign and the polls quickly tightened.


4. Applebee’s

A pastor who had eaten at an Applebee’s restaurant crossed out the automatic 18% tip charged for parties of more than eight and wrote “I give God 10% why do you get 18” above the signature line. A waitress at the restaurant took a photo of this and posted it on Reddit. She was subsequently fired for this. The action would have been understandable if Applebee’s had not posted a similar receipt just 2 weeks earlier.


3. Paula Deen

In March 2012, a former staff member at Paula Deen’s “The Lady & Sons” restaurant sued Deen, alleging racial harassment at work. In comments from the deposition for that lawsuit that surfaced in June, Deen admitted to using racial slurs, setting off a media firestorm that brought her reputation to shame. As a result, Deen lost her Food Network show, multiple lucrative endorsement deals —including ones with Walmart, Target and pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk. Were the comments worth the consequences?


2. Mountain Dew

PepsioCo, the maker of Mountain Dew, didn’t take appropriate steps to manage their PR crisis in 2009. An Illinois Consumer Donald Ball alleged that he found a dead mouse in the can of the popular beverage. The company tried to refute Ball’s allegations and insisted that the soda would have reduced the mouse’s corpse to a jelly-like substance. How did this backfire Alex???


1. Nestle

Overwhelmed by Greenpeace supporters protesting its uses of palm oil, international food giant Nestle dropped the social media ball. Instead of addressing concerns made by Greenpeace and the public, it first lobbied to have the video removed from YouTube and then accused Facebook posters of copyright infringement. This heavy-handed approach won Nestle no sympathy votes and drew thousands of criticisms from all over the world.


Honorable Mention – Rob Ford, Former Toronto Mayor

Rob Ford epitomizes every public relations practitioner’s worst nightmare. Every move Ford made caused more damage than good. He not only dishonored the reputation of Canada’s most populous city, but burned bridges with senior staff as well as the media and the Toronto police chief to name a few.


What can we learn from these PR misfires?

As with any new skill, public relations and reputation management come with some trial and error. And since every business is different, some tactics – as amazing as they may be and as hard as you try – may not be as successful as you were wishing them to be. When experiencing the feeling of discontent, don’t just toss them aside as tactics gone wrong – learn from the experience. Each brand and person listed here was able to move past their ridiculous mistakes and focus on their goals. And so should you!


About iRISEmedia is a web design, social media marketing, search engine marketing, and online reputation management firm in Toronto, Canada. Our team helps clients increase their reach and profitability by developing and implementing customized and targeted online and social media marketing strategies. We service clients in Toronto, Ontario, the GTA and throughout Canada as well as globally.


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