6 Types of PR Disasters You Want to Avoid

PR disasters

For all its scandalous activities, sin city Las Vegas is covered. For, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” PR disasters are different.

Unfortunately, in the Public Relations world, what happens doesn’t just stay happened, but also has a nasty habit of turning up in places you least want them to, or worse, turning into something you couldn’t have imagined.

So, here’s a run-down of 6 of the nastiest types of PR disasters you’d want to avoid.

Hashtag howlers

The story goes that Susan Boyle, the Britain’s Got Talent star, wanted to have a gig to mark the launch of her album. Naturally, Twitter figured high on the list of PR channels from which to crow from.

Blame it on misplaced exuberance, but her team got the hashtag all wrong: #susanalbumparty

Hashtags suffer from “word length diarrhea”, with unrelated words getting smashed together in an alphabet soup. Beware what your hashtag sounds or reads like before you make it official. PR disasters don’t get any more real than this.

Blogging bloopers

All bloggers are not PR whizkids.

Ask Vodafone. They ought to know.

The communications giant hired a blogger (who claimed to be a social media expert) to handle their social media accounts.

Big mistake.

Said blogger soon took to flogging the company’s customers online with some intemperate remarks and objectionable adjectives, even calling some “mentally retarded”. Expectedly, the brand bore the brunt of the backlash.

Beware whom you hire. More importantly, blogging skills are no substitute for a healthy dose of common sense.

Also read: 6 Sure-Fire Ways to Create a Kick-Ass Blog

Sleeping dogs

When you set out on a PR campaign, you want to keep your best foot forward. The last thing you want to do is shoot yourself in the foot.

But shoot itself in the foot is exactly what a major internet company did when they were roasted by a mainstream publication for their work culture.

The issue had died down after the initial brouhaha. Then, the company did the unthinkable. It re-stoked the dying embers after a few months, going hammer and tongs at the publication. And, the publication responded in kind.

Apparently, the company in question did not believe in “letting sleeping dogs lie”. Needless to add, these type of PR disasters usually have a field day.

Foot in the mouth

The foot has a special place in public relations folklore. For, not only can it get shot, but also can end up in the wrong place.

In the mouth, for example!

Brian Williams, a top journo serving on the NBC Nightly News, dressed up his helicopter experience in the Iraq War and almost emerged a decorated war hero in journalism.

Except that, army commandos who had accompanied him on his helicopter jaunt testified otherwise. Williams was found to be far from the thick of action which he had claimed to be in.

Remember, what you say can and will be held against you!

Ask and you shall receive

Australia’s flagship carrier, Qantas Airlines, thought it was doing the right thing in involving potential customers in a PR outreach. It asked its Twitter followers to tweet their idea of a “luxury experience” as part of a competition.

Only, the Twitterati had other ideas.

What followed was a barrage of social media stinkers and a backlash by angry customers apparently venting at past experiences. What didn’t help the beleaguered airline was that it had grounded its fleet earlier in response to union action, thus coming in with some baggage of negative publicity when it launched the Twitter contest.

Design your PR campaign not in isolation but in the context of what’s happening (or has happened) around you. For, in the PR game, ask and you shall receive!

Muck magnets

You could do everything right to handle the aftershocks of PR disasters but still come up short.

As Subway found to its chagrin.

The fast food brand was unwittingly embroiled in an unsavory public relations crisis when one of its brand spokespersons was convicted of child abuse.

Though Subway moved quickly to sever its ties with the external spokesperson and was declared not guilty of any offence, the muck stuck. Media headlines repeatedly strung together the abuser’s name with the company’s, sullying the brand’s image.

If you find yourself or your company in this situation, there’s not much you can do. Except perhaps resort to cartoons as external spokespersons!


Ensuring positive publicity for your brand need not be a hair-rising episode each time. Remember to inject heavy doses of common sense in your campaign and make sure you don’t commit any of the above gaffes.

Do you know of other major types of PR hara-kiri that brands have committed? Write in.

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