PR Fish Bowl

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June 2, 2017

A Few Recent PR Fails And Fixes

The past couple of weeks have seen quite a few public relations faux pas committed by folks who should know better. But it seems a combination of hubris, ignorance and impatience may have gotten the better of them! Some have handled the situations well, and others, not so well. Let’s review.

PR: The good, the bad and the plain weird

Kathy Griffin can’t head off trouble. Griffin’s shocking photos of her holding the “bloody” head of Donald Trump offer a caution for other provocateurs looking to push the envelope to gain attention. Good satire or other political statements can be effective when extreme, but in this case, Griffin exploded the envelope.  Most agreed with Chelsea Clinton, who tweeted that the image was both “vile and wrong,” as well as not particularly humorous. To add fuel to this fire, Griffin initially defended herself on social media; she apologized only after outrage grew. But the corporate powers that be took swift action, and Griffin lost her regular New Year’s eve gig on CNN as well as her deal with a product called Squatty Potty (an endorsement you just can’t make up.) Unfortunately, Griffin is a product of her own success. She had a nice career as a comic storyteller who, because of her self-proclaimed lowly status, could get away with poking fun at the “A-list.” But this stunt points out the danger in believing your own PR and failing to calculate risk-to-reward, something any smart PR rep would have advised against and that Griffin herself should have forseen.

Covfefe. As everyone knows by now, the president likes to tweet. Like most of us, he is impatient and imprecise, so therefore prone to typos. But, as the commander-in-chief, he should be more accurate with his social media. So when he typed an incomplete sentence complaining about the press that trailed off with the garbled word “covfefe” and left it uncorrected, it was irresistible to the press and the social media mob. What some didn’t notice, however, is what happened next. Given his temperament, we might have expected hostility or defensiveness, but Mr. Trump used his social bully pulpit to have a little fun. It isn’t often that we would praise his handling of a (tiny) press snafu, but this was a small surprise.

Image result for trump covfefe

Freelancer flayed for flippancy. Last week, David Leavitt was a freelancer for CBS News and Yahoo and a self-proclaimed social media “ambassador” for different brands. This week he’s the object of criticism who will probably have a tough time securing his next gig. Following the tragic Manchester bombings, Leavitt tweeted not one, but two, different Ariana Grande jokes. Neither was funny, and they prompted an instant backlash (albeit a few thousand RTs and “likes.”) Leavitt deleted the offensive tweets but continued to joke, even while apologizing, which anyone in PR (and most outside of it) would consider a poor move. As we have mentioned before, an effective apology should be timely, specific and most of all, sincere. Perhaps time will allow for a comeback, as it did for Justine Sacco, the young PR executive to whom Leavitt has been compared. Sacco posted a racially charged joke before getting on a plane and shutting off her phone for 18 hours. She landed and turned on her phone to an apocalyptic level of tweeted rage and was ultimately fired by her employer. Although she has resurrected her career, the experience was a reminder that Twitter will pnish you for your bad behavior, even if you hit delete.

Image result for ariana grande joke twitter manchester

Fat-shaming + Snow White = tone deaf marketing. “What if Snow White were no longer beautiful and the seven dwarfs not so short?” This is the tagline for a tasteless marketing campaign that sets a new standard for sexist messaging. In the same week that the image-positive “Wonder Woman” hits the screens, there comes this strange, animated Snow White rip-off targeted to young girls. The premise for “Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarfs” is that Snow White is actually an overweight, “less beautiful” girl who wears red shoes to become the svelte Snow whom we know. (Huh?) To all the participants in this mess, we can only say, #Fail. It’s curious how in 2017, the script even passed muster; young girls deserve better than a shallow spin on a classic fairly tale. More importantly, the marketing campaign is like a throwback to a Jenny Craig diet ad campaign, but one that sends body-shaming messages to women young and old. Anyone with a pro-woman platform ought to jump all over this, offering expert commentary, posting on relevant social sites and speaking up wherever appropriate. The best PR takes negative publicity and turns it into something positive.

Image result for red shoes seven dwarfs tweets

Finally, in an ideal world, brands and personalities would learn from these and other recent blunders. But history seems to repeat itself. It’s tired advice, but when something goes wrong, be prepared to respond swiftly, decisively, and – most of all – sincerely.

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