Home – 3 PR Failures of 2016 & the Lessons We Learn

3 PR Failures of 2016 & the Lessons We Learn

Posted on 01-05-2017 by Megan Burnside

Every calendar year is full of inspiring successful Public Relations campaigns - and some embarrassing mistakes. While the latter category may be promotions those companies would rather forget, they offer strong educational lessons for the rest of the PR community.

Critically looking back

Companies face difficulties and negative stories constantly, simply as part of existing. The responses to these problems, however, teach us how to be better PR professionals. Analyzing these situations and imagining better responses to them is good practice for us all.

To kick off the New Year, let’s take a look back at some missteps from 2016. By seeing what went wrong and sketching out alternate paths, it's easy to see where these failures could have been avoided or replaced with better options.

  • Minimizing a death: In a PR blunder that made the Inc. list of worst incidents of the year, Tesla's response to a driver's death was so neutral as to seem callous. The source pointed out that when Tesla founder Elon Musk spoke out in the wake of a fatal Florida crash involving his firm's auto-pilot feature, he stated that the death would not affect the company's finances. While leaders have a duty to look after their firms' fiscal well being, the time and tone were all off. Especially alarming when lives are at stake.
  • When mourning is branded: Fast Company pointed to Cheerios' Prince memorial as one of 2016's most miscalculated PR moves. The breakfast cereal brand released a memorial image with a Cheerio dotting the "i" in "rest in peace." The fact that a brand memorialized the artist isn't that strange - many companies paid tribute, and Cheerios is even based in Prince's Minnesota hometown. The problem was with the incorporation of brand imagery. It can seem flippant to use company trademarks in the mourning process.
  • Brandz are down with the kidz: Network World pointed to Microsoft's whole 2016 as a cringe-inducing PR period. The source noted that the tech giant tried several promotional stunts that backfired, including launching a chat program the public could interact with (the public trained it to say terrible things), using faux-hip millennial language to promote an intern event (making the brand look deeply unprofessional and irresponsible) and hiring go-go dancers for a developer event (drawing immediate accusations of creating a sexist environment). These missteps and more from the brand are worth studying.

Moving forward with confidence

PR professionals viewing the above problems may feel superior - of course those were mistakes! However, one bad decision can put any company in the same position. If the stories of 2016 PR blunders teach us a few lessons, they are that every communication deserves time, consideration and focus. PR statements, campaigns or stunts that go into the world half-baked and without a critical eye may be thrown back by the audience.

3 Ways to Apply This Information Now

  1. Keep up with the media buzz with a media monitoring and analytics solution like LexisNexis Newsdesk®.  
  2. Check out other posts relating to PR and to see how we’re using LexisNexis Newsdesk to track a number of topics.
  3. Share this blog on LinkedIn to keep the dialogue going with your colleagues and contacts

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