In celebrity-speak, going from the “A” List to the “B” List is a failure. It’s like going from Academy Award-winning Jennifer Lawrence prominence to Kim Kardashian status, and frankly it’s a little embarrassing. So it’s appropriate that the biggest PR fails so far this year all have one thing in common … the letter “B.”
The year has barely even begun (we’re just 1/6 of the way through to be exact), and it feels like we’ve already had a whole 12-month’s worth of high-profile PR blunders. It all started with the Beyoncé lip-syncing-the-star-spangled-banner incident at President Obama’s second inauguration and was followed closely by a disgruntled Applebee’s employee’s receipt-post on Reddit. Then came the way-too-generous Best Buy Facebook coupon and the UK Burger King horsemeat scandal. And lest we forget the Bieber Instagrammed pot picture, we definitely will remember the Super Bowl Blackout.
Here’s how some of these “B” List PR blunders could have stayed on the “A” List:
The “B” List Fail: Beyoncé came under fire for pre-recording and lip-syncing her “Star Spangled Banner” performance at the 2013 inauguration ceremony. After a lot of confusion on whether or not she lip-synced it and mixed messages given from people involved in the performance, Beyoncé came out and admitted to pre-recording the performance. She then sang a live version at a press conference to prove she can, in fact, give a stellar performance of the song.
How to Make the “A” List: Way too much time passed between allegations that Beyoncé lip-synced and her eventual admission. If, perhaps, she had “come clean” about it right away, and explained that many factors played into her decision to pre-record the song, it wouldn’t have blown up so badly. In PR, timing is everything.
The “B” List Fail: After a customer at an Applebee’s in St. Louis left a waitress a 0 percent tip and wrote, “I give God 10 percent, why do you get 18?” the waitress went and posted a picture of it on Reddit. She was fired after the photo went viral “violating [the customer’s] right to privacy,” which incited thousands of negative Facebook and Reddit comments directed towards the brand. Applebee’s disabled the feature on Facebook that allows fans to post a comment on the page and issued a statement. As the negative comments kept pouring in, Applebee’s started deleting some of them, inciting even more anger.
How to Make the “A” List: Because almost all companies have a social media presence now, it is important for PR to play a large role in social strategy and how communication is managed in a crisis situation. Instead of deleting comments, Applebee’s should have addressed as many complaints as possible. People were going to use this as an outlet regardless of what was said to them in response, so it was best to let people feel like they were being seen, heard and understood, which would have been accomplished by not deleting their posts.
The “B” List Fail: Burger King in the United Kingdom entered into the news spotlight after the discovery was made that it was serving unlabeled horsemeat in its burgers. Uproar about this unsavory meat choice spread throughout the UK as well as the U.S., too. Burger King issued a statement saying that it is looking into its suppliers and are going to be working on looking more closely at what the suppliers are sending to the restaurants. The credibility of Burger King has still been diminished and steps to fix this are only just beginning.
How to Make the “A” List: In order to gain control of the situation, Burger King should take a step further and look into starting an effort to create or uplift policy against having horsemeat in consumer products. BK management should begin an effort to speak out against this type of thing happening again, and with all the additional stories breaking in the UK right now about other places using horsemeat; they still have the chance to be leaders in an effort like this.
The Super Bowl Blackout ended up being a PR fail for some brands that unsuccessfully planned their input in the Super Bowl conversation, like Coke, and a PR win for others like Oreo. As for the Biebs, someone needs to get him a better PR manager… and quick.
What other big PR fails have you noticed this year?