Top 10 Public Relation Blunders of 2010

The year 2010 has seen a lot of positives as it has seen a lot of negatives. As the year comes to an end, here are some of the disasters that will be remembered for a long time. Someone said ‘when you don’t have anything good to say, just don’t say anything’. That is surely true for the blunders that happened this year (year 2008 and 2007 was also filled with PR blunders) . Hopefully, the coming year everyone will learn a thing or two from the current year.

1. BP: No talk of events in 2010 can be complete without talking about the Gulf Oil Spill. BP’s oil spill was one of the most talked about issue for a major part of this year. The blunders they did with their PR were certainly talked about and criticised a lot, and will be remembered for a long time to come. If CEO Tony Hayward came in early and downplayed the damage and issued sound bites like ‘it wasn’t our accident’ and ‘I just want my life back’, his successor did no better on the PR account. CEO Bob Dudley continued by accusing media and refusing to testify before a congressional committee. They tried everything in the book to play it down using social media and creating ‘sensitive’ adds. All of these attempt falling flat on their face. The more they did, the more they got criticised.

2. Craigslist: For a major part of the second half of 2010 Craigslist came under a lot of scrutiny for promoting advertisements that provided ‘Adult Services’. That too when they claimed that they were not into providing such services and that they personally scanned each advertisements before allowing it to post. First founder Craig Newmark response to CNN reporter Amber Lyon questioning was disastrous, after listening to the allegation he kept quiet and walked away.  Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster went further and blasted Lyon for her “ambush” against the founder. This went down badly with human rights groups and were criticised for the companies behaviour.

3. Johnson & Johnson: This company has been in the top 10 Fortune’s most admired companies list for over 5 years. Importantly, in the beginning of 2010 it was in the fourth position. However, misleading claims from them and a series of issues with well-known products such as Tylenol, Motrin and Benadryl had caused a lot of panic and critic. The worst, however, was the delayed corporate action on the subject. Following which “phantom recalls” didn’t help the cause. Their issue with the lack of corporate transparency ensured that the entire issue became almost impossible to manage, and lead to social media uproar and a congressional investigation.

4. Toyota: The year 2010 was definitely not one of the best years for automobile giants Toyota. Toyota had to deal with defects in nearly 10 million cars worldwide since the beginning of the year. The recall not onlu damaged the the world’s largest automaker’s reputation but also affected the world view of their cars focusing on for quality and safety. Los Angeles Timesattributed over 100 deaths to crash-causing manufacturing defects in the Toyota cars. The company suffered for months recalling their product. However, what sealed the deal as far as their bad PR goes was that there was little to no communication, the solutions were inconsistent. What was worse was them trying to blame parts suppliers. At some point they even blamed drivers that drove the car. This therefore became quite a PR disaster for 2010.

5. Google: Google has been trying to negotiate their position with China for some time now. But their biggest PR disaster move by the company yet, was their public fallout with China. Google decided to abandon China. China today is one of the fastest growing internet market in the world and Google’s own growth merged to create a lot of speculation on Google’s performance for year 2010. The PR failure was a result of disputes with the Chinese government. Google then went on to accuse Chinese government-support group broke their servers. Apart from losing its market share in a leading country, it also ended up losing a lot of money as part of revenue.

6.    Apple iPhone 4: Apple iPhone 4 was released in June. As soon as the release of the model Apple started to receive a lot of complaints. The PR failure happened when after this issue was received from many customers and Steve Jobs denied the problem stating that ‘We don’t think we have a problem. There is no Antennagate’. After enough protests he went from admitting it was a specific problem with how the phone was held and then said that all phones suffer some loss of antenna performance. Finally, after a huge reaction from the public, Apple promised to give a free an iPhone 4 case to every owner to fix the signal problem.

7.    Nestle: Nestle got into some trouble with Greenpeace supporters who protested against the environmentally questionable palm oil. If they had addressed the issue immediately, they still could have been saved. However, what they ended up doing was to drop the social media ball. Before addressing public concerns, the company choose to first lobby and have the video removed from YouTube. Additionally, the company accused Facebook posters of copyright infringement. They further initiated a combative online exchange with opponents and publicly debated the ‘rules of engagement’. This was not well received by their customers and attracted a lot of protesting fans on their Facebook page.

8.    Amazon.com: Amazon.com employed anti-censorship arguments as a statement to the Business Insider. Defending their stand to promote customers choice while selecting book, they had a foot in the mouth situation. They said that Kindle store has restrictions and that the restriction was that no porn would be provided at the Kindle store. This racked up a storm cause their decision for Kindle was that porn was out of bound but books on pedophiles was acceptable. This lead to massive retaliation and boycott of the site.

9. NPR: National Public Radio commentator Juan William received a lot of slack when he told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that he gets nervous while travelling with overt Muslims. He said this at ‘The O’Reilly Factor’. This statement invoked a lot of reaction and the NPR CEO Vivian Schiller was forced to fire Williams. There were reports too that at some point Schiller’s even mentioned that Williams even needed help. However, all did not go well because a lot of the Williams fans said it was against the First Amendments and that his rights should be supported. This is also the time when Fox News stepped in and gave William a multi-year contract. At the end of the day NPR’s response ended up costing them a lot more than it did for William and his comment.

10. Gordon Brown: There are many bloopers that we are exposed to in life but none such as the ones that Gordon Brown was a part of. He was in the middle of an election campaign. He was in Rochdale and was heckled by a 65-year-old pensioner called Gilliam Duffy. After trying to discuss and answer the questions politely, he was on his way.  After he sat in his car, he said ‘She’s just a bigoted woman that said she used to be Labour’. The only problem was that he hadn’t realized that his microphone was not turned off. Everyone heard the comment and needless to say his opponent David Cameron won the election.

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  1. December 24, 2010

    Biggest PR blunders for 2010…

    What are the top public relations disasters of 2010?CommPro says the top three are BP's oil spill response, Toyota's recall and Tiger Woods' marital woes. In addition, Apple's "antennagate" crisis and Hewlett Packard's axi…

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