I've been working in PR for the past fifteen years, spanning a plethora of industries, from celebrity and fashion to B2B and consumer. From launching Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherd's Bush to handling the public relations for Disney on Ice, I have worked on concepts great and small, both extravagant and intimate. Therefore when I come across a campaign that is truly terrible, I feel as though it should be highlighted. PRs have gained somewhat of a bad reputation, and when you look at the following epic PR fails, it's no wonder why some are ruining it for the rest of us.
Firstly, the emergence and growing popularity of social media means that brands are even more exposed than ever before. It is becoming increasingly difficult for a brand's content to be controlled to ensure positivity at every juncture, when the customer has the option to voice their opinions to a vast, 24-hour audience. Automation tools have made the distribution of social content easier than ever before, however a lesson can be learned from the Tesco customer care Twitter account that made a PR fail during the midst of the horsemeat scandal.
Following the news that the supermarket chain had been selling burgers containing up to 30% horsemeat, an automated tweet was sent that read, "It's sleepy time, so we're off to hit the hay!" The tweet was met with an understandably strong backlash from the angry Twitter community, who couldn't believe the cheek, however the post was seemingly innocent at the time that it was scheduled. Lesson learned: always keep a check on scheduled social media posts.
Although this might not sound overly dramatic, a combination of small PR fails often adds up to an epic PR fail, and if mistakes are constantly being made then the client will suffer in the long run. Alongside my PR company Marvellous Communications, I am editor-in-chief of online magazine To Be Continued. Working across both businesses really helps to give insight into just how wrong PRs can get it.
To Be Continued has an audience of 21,000 young professionals, based in London with an international interest. For this reason I often wonder why I am being sent press releases for hearing aids/baby clothes/various anti-ageing lotions and potions. Compiling media lists saves time in a lot of ways, but one too many mass mail outs can seriously damage a PRs integrity and relationships with journalists. Lesson learned: individuality is the key; tailor your pitches to suit specific publications.
I recently received a mail out from a well-known and popular social networking site, which literally left me flabbergasted. The founder of the site had attempted to demonstrate the 'family orientation' of the international social media platform because he had recently had a child. The mail out included a link to his son's page, and as a consumer I found the whole affair a little on the 'too much information' side of things. Now, John Lewis pull on our heartstrings every Christmas with their soppy ads, but in this case it just seemed to make the whole brand seem unprofessional. Richard Godwin wrote an excellent piece for the Evening Standard, which summed up John Lewis' Christmas advert perfectly.
When it comes to PR it pays to add some personality, but be careful not to add too much (that includes kisses on emails), or you'll run the risk of deeming your brand unprofessional. Learned lesson: less is sometimes more, remain professional and let your product do the talking.
Although the points raised might not be on quite the same PR fail scale as Shell for example, the combination of the lot will equal a pretty unsuccessful PR campaign. As PRs, we face a daily uphill struggle to present our brands as the best that they can be, and with some making epic fails on a daily basis the hill is getting steeper each day. As we begin a new year, ensure that you're campaigns don't end up on the list for 2014.