As a past Costa Cruises customer I recently received a letter regarding the Concordia running aground. Any disaster such as this becomes a mission in saving face as there is very little any public relations campaign can do to repair their image in the short term. Costa, much like the White Star Line a century before, will face a backlash that can last for years. Although the Concordia and the Titanic weren’t on the same levels, both did great damage to their reputations, damage that may not be repairable. So here are the top five PR disasters:
5. Andy Gilchrist’s £800 Indian – In 2003 Fire Fighter’s Union leader Andy Gilchrist spent over £800 using the Union’s credit card. Between himself and his three guests they spent over £200 on food and close to £500 on alcohol including, “four bottles of Chateau Chasse-Spleen 1995, a full-bodied vintage Bordeaux, priced at £85 each.” This came at the height of a five month pay dispute which saw fire-fighters striking and being force to accept food and cash hand-outs.
4. Mirror Fake Photos – In May 2004 Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan was sacked after printing hoax pictures of British servicemen beating an Iraqi prisoner. Their statement read, “The Daily Mirror published in good faith photographs which it absolutely believed were genuine images of British soldiers abusing an Iraqi prisoner. However there is now sufficient evidence to suggest that these pictures are fakes and that the Daily Mirror has been the subject of a calculated and malicious hoax.” In the following month saw a decline in sales.
3. Hoover’s Free Flights – Never before, or since, has a plan to shift old stock gone so wrong. In August 1992 Hoover decided that to get rid of their stock that they would offer 2 return flights to a variety of destinations, initially to Europe, and later to the USA. Travel agents found themselves bombarded with applications for flights to Europe, which became much worse once they began to promote flights to US. This lead to a larger amount of takers than they had initially expected and only got worse once the press began to look into it further, which also reminded customers to apply. Around 220,000 eventually flew and cost the company £48 million.
2. Purer than Pure Water – As one of the world’s largest companies, Coca-Cola has a very strong reputation which many thought was untouchable. Then they decided to launch the Dasani Bottled water brand in the UK in 2004. Dasani was different from most brands off bottled water. Most of the big brands market their water as being from mountain springs, but not Dasani. Dasani was essentially just tap water. Admittedly it did undergo purification and had added mineral salts but it was still tap water. Its source was revealed in trade magazines and picked up by Press Association, which found it splashed across newspapers the day after its release. Coca-Cola persisted until it was faced with another, much bigger issue. They were forced to withdraw all 500,000 bottles after an accident at the plant that potentially contaminated the water. Within five weeks of its release Dasani was taken off the market.
1. Selling Crap – Gerald Ratner was the world’s biggest jeweller. He took over the family business and made £121 million in profits. But in 1991, during a speech at the Institute of Directors, he threw all that away. He said, “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, “How can you sell this for such a low price?” I say, “because it’s total crap.” The comment was seen as mocking his customers and they responded by staying away. A company worth £500m had soon become worthless.