Well, what a year it has been! 2021 has almost come to a close and in all honesty, we are still trying to process 2020…

It’s been a year full of some amazing PR stories and campaigns and also some that didn’t quite hit the mark. For our final PR campaign round-up of the year, we’re going to take a look back at the top 10 PR disasters and see what valuable lessons can be learnt from them.

Matt Hancock Ironically Breaks His Own Rules

Well, this one needs absolutely no explanation really – what a disaster it was! Matt Hancock, the then Health Secretary, made the social distancing rules that were in place for the whole nation as part of the COVID-19 pandemic and then decided to not listen to them… A PR nightmare for the COVID comms team we imagine!

The sheer number of memes that his affair with millionaire lobbyist Gina Coladangelo generated should probably win him a spot on the good PR list alone but in reality, there is absolutely nothing good about the video that his family/the general population had to see. It certainly wasn’t a good move and after an influx of social media comments and press articles, it of course resulted in him resigning. Yikes!

Burger King – women belong in the kitchen

Burger King sent out a tweet, on International Women’s Day 2021, that read: “Women belong in the kitchen.” The since-deleted tweet was part of a thread meant to empower women and encourage an increase in the number of women in head-chef roles.

Burger King replied to the tweet, adding that women “belong in the kitchen” because they should be encouraged to pursue a culinary career if they choose to. The clarification did little to avert the massive backlash the brand received.

They admitted that it intended to shock, but never to offend any consumers. Burger King wanted to grab global attention, and succeeded—the problem is, that first tweet is the only thing that got amplified, the actual message of empowerment was unfortunately lost. A slight oversight from the brand and an example of how to not tap into an awareness day for your PR campaign!

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Caterpillar Gate 

Hats off to Aldi’s social media team! They are always on it when it comes to social media content and really has crafted a fantastic social media presence. But, we imagine they truly rubbed their hands with glee as they absolutely dominated Twitter in April during the ever so famous, Colin Vs Cuthbert trial. This year saw Marks and Spencer’s take legal action against Aldi over its copycat caterpillar cake – a bit of a PR nightmare!

Aldi swiftly removed Cuthbert the Caterpillar from their shelves before M&S took any legal proceedings. Then came the hilarious twitter ‘brandter’, which attracted thousands of likes and retweets. Aldi’s PR team was widely praised by social media users for its humorous approach – they really nailed it! A truly great example of taking a potential PR crisis in your stride and turning it around. Well done Aldi, we’re big fans of the way you handled this PR crisis.

Yorkshire Cricket Club’s racism scandal

Our very own Chris Norton, founder of Prohibition PR, shared his thoughts on the scandal with PR Moment: “The Yorkshire Cricket Club’s handling of racism allegations has to be the biggest PR disaster of 2021 for me – the perfect example of how not to handle a crisis.

Not only did it fail to publish an investigation report and communicated very little, far too late, its positioning on the matter appeared worrying – which it may not have been, but unfortunately its comms suggested so. Sometimes silence really is louder than words and by not even acknowledging the matter until recently, it raised a lot of questions which led to weeks of national coverage.

The club should have been much more open and honest from the start and identified a spokesperson to offer up its side of the story immediately. It also failed to explain what it was doing to investigate the allegations, how fast and what would happen as a result, which should have been the first thing it did.”

Facebook got caught keeping secrets

This year Facebook learned that its audience doesn’t take kindly to the platform keeping secrets. It was exposed, by the Wall Street Journal, as having known for over two years about the negative impact that Instagram was having on young people’s mental health.

Facebook has been studying the impact of Instagram on its users since 2019 and the internal study was leaked to the newspaper. It showed just how bad the app can be for the teens of today. One part of the report said: “We make body images worse for one in three teen girls,” whilst another read that teens blame Instagram for an increase in anxiety and depression. It’s really damaging to see the negative sides of social media. Hopefully, next year more will be done to combat this and create a more positive online space.

Facebook was exposed, by the Wall Street Journal, as having known about the negative impact that Instagram was having on young people’s mental health.

Peloton – is it that dangerous?

This year a graphic video of a child getting trapped underneath a Peloton Tread+ Treadmill spread like wildfire across the Internet. For obvious reasons, this created the perception of a dangerous machine. Peloton was initially defensive, arguing that the device was safe when used properly. But, for those customers who had seen the troubling video clip, Peloton’s response wasn’t nearly enough.

When consumers decide that a product is dangerous, it’s usually more effective to address the concerns rather than to argue with the public and get defensive. The brand could have taken action a lot quicker by recalling the product, instead of choosing to fight the claims. This of course received huge backlash online! When it comes to managing a crisis, honesty, clear communication, and action are incredibly important.

A Royal Ruckus

I mean, we simply can’t talk about 2021 without bringing up that Royal exit, can we? Prince Harry and his new wife, Meghan Markle, announced that they would be stepping down from royal duties, therefore will no longer be titled members of the family. In March, the couple did an Oprah interview – which we’re sure had the Royal Family’s PR teams on high alert! Especially after the couple dropped the massive revelation that one of the family members had questioned Archie’s skin colour – which sent shockwaves through not only the UK but the world, a total PR nightmare!

The Royal Family’s response to this? To announce that the Queen was saddened by the things discussed in the interview and that any comments about race would be talked about privately as a family. We’d love to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation…

The ‘Pingdemic’

The NHS COVID app definitely deserves a mention this year. Over 600,000 people that were using the app in England and Wales were sent self-isolation alerts between the 8th and 15th of July alone. The suitably titled ‘pingdemic’ caused staff shortages in a lot of industries, including the hospitality sector which had about one in five workers isolating. Pubs, restaurants and hotels had been forced to temporarily shut.

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Twitter Made Us All Facepalm

Social media platform, Twitter, oddly decided to out itself in August. The network confirmed that its image cropping algorithm was favouring attractive faces and predominantly white people. Of course, people on social media and the press got wind of the news and it rightly so, received negative backlash.

Twitter confirmed that its image cropping algorithm was favouring attractive faces and predominantly white people.

That OnlyFans Disaster That Left Everyone Cringing

OnlyFans performed a massive U-Turn in August of this year. The site made plans to ban all pornographic content from the ever-popular app. But after some furious backlash from some of the creators, the adult content subscription service ditched the plans to stop the posting of sexually explicit material on the site.

All is now well again and OnlyFans confirmed that the proposed policy changes would be scrapped. Meaning workers who relied on the platform as a source of income were able to continue as normal – a bit of an awkward move from the platform that received a lot of backlash!

At Prohibition, we work with a range of brands across all sectors, B2B and B2C, to create innovative PR campaigns that deliver real ROI and help meet business goals. Get in touch with us today to find out how we could support you with your Public Relations. You can contact us here or give us a bell on  0113 430 4160.

For more interesting articles from us on Crisis Management PR check out these posts:

  1. The top 11 crises of 2020
  2. Top nine PR crises so far for 2019
  3. Why it’s important to prepare for a PR crisis
  4. 10 Crisis Communication Tips Every Business Needs
  5. 11 Steps For Crisis Management

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