This is Marist PRSSA’s round up of 2014’s most notable PR crises and how they were handled. This list first appeared in Vol. 6 Iss. 2 of esPResso, which can be found here. Thank you to esPResso Committee Chair Lizzy Peper on all her help with this feature.
Most Poorly Handled Crisis
Winner: Ray Rice and the NFL
Ray Rice allegedly assaulted his fiancée in Feb. 2014, but the NFL decided to cover up the incident. When TMZ released footage of the event, the NFL’s PR strategy began to crumble. The firestorm of a PR crisis hit not only the football player but also the league. Still not fully resolved, it will be interesting to see its path.
Runner Up: Amazon/Hatchette Disputes
The mega e-commerce site was in a public dispute with Hatchette publishing for much of 2014. The battle was for the future of e-books and how publishers would be compensated. Amazon and Hatchette did not handle the situation well, gathering many critics along the way for antitrust
Worst Social Media Crisis
Winner: American Apparel Challenger Picture
In an effort to be patriotic American Apparel posted a photo to its Tumblr of what they believed was a picture of smoke. But to the company’s dismay, a young international employee did not know that it was a photo of the space shuttle Challenger exploding. The company apologized for the tasteless mistake, but that does not make up for the oversight.
Runner up: #MyNYPD
This hashtag was trending for all the wrong reasons. #MyNYPD was started as a campaign to thank the police force for its help and achievements, but it soon turned into a forum for people to post photos of police brutality. What had good intentions quickly showed that not every organization should use social media for branding.
Most Avoidable Crisis
Winner: General Motors Recalls
In February, General Motors began recalling more than 2.6 million cars after 13 deaths which were caused by a faulty ignition switch that went unrecalled for more than a decade. GM has been cited as being not empathetic about the situation and failing to respond properly to an issue that it has known about for years.
Runner Up: Target Photoshop Errors
Not once but twice Target was caught Photoshopping its clothing models in the most unflattering way. With thighs being erased and entire parts of the body missing, Target may want to consider hiring a new photo editor or at least look before posting an image.
Most Global Crisis
Winner: Ebola in the U.S.
In September the first of 14 cases of Ebola in the U.S. was reported. The next month health screenings and questionnaires were administered at U.S. airports receiving planes from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Obama later appointed a Ebola response coordinator but many criticized that the appointee has no experience in the field of health or medical care.
Runner Up: Malaysia Airlines
After eyes were already on Malaysia Airlines because of a plane carrying passengers that went missing in early March, another of its planes was shot down over Ukraine in July. Both flights were fatal for all on board. The airline considered changing its name to avoid the negative connotation currently attached to Malaysia Airlines.
Most Comical Crisis
Winner: Dumb Starbucks
In July, comedian Nathan Fielder created a parody coffee shop called “Dumb Starbucks” to use in his show Nathan for You. Starbucks took a laid back approach and representatives calmly stated that the trademarked name could not be used. The shop is now closed.
Runner Up: Bending iPhone 6
After the release of the iPhone 6 Plus in September, complaints that the larger phone was bending after customers kept it in their pockets for a prolonged period of time came to light. What became known as #Bendgate was trending on Twitter and numerous videos of the manufacturing malfunction were posted on YouTube.
Best Handled Crisis
Winner: Under Armour Olympic Uniforms
When the U.S. speedskating team started the Winter 2014 Olympics with worse performances than expected, several athletes blamed the Under Armour uniforms they were wearing. The company responded by supporting its technology without turning blame on the athletes. Before the Olympics came to a close, Under Armour committed to sponsoring U.S. speedskating until 2022, solidifying its support of the sport.
Runner Up: Virgin Galactic Crash Response
The crash of a Virgin Galactic space plane being tested for potential tourism resulted in the death of one of its pilots. The company’s chairman took control of the situation and visited the site of the crash in addition to providing a statement of respect to the people affected during a press conference and on social media.