Lessons from 2018’s Biggest #PRFails

Every year, companies charge forward with the best of intentions in order to maximize brand awareness and earn trust with consumers. And every year, there are a few stand-out companies who completely and utterly tank in those efforts. Back by popular demand, we hope you enjoy this year’s #PRFails and what we should all learn from them.

2018 Brand PR Fails—And What You Can Learn From Them

Double check your work.

YouTube faced embarrassing heat from fans after posting the wrong flag emoji when asking fans to share their favorite American YouTube creators, while Chick-fil-A fans had a laugh at their response to a geography question gone wrong. This is a great reminder for us as marketers to double check everything we send—whether you’re sending an email, a tweet, or a press release.

The Lesson: Sending something quickly for the sake of getting something posted can have consequences. Remember that public relations is about perception—how many of us end up going on a second date with the person who shows up disheveled and sounding like they barely passed the third grade?

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Source @NinjaBinjaGAME on Twitter


Not all publicity is smart publicity.

Remember when IHOP teased its name change to IHOb over the summer? What started out as a clever and highly creative public relations stunt soon became the laughing stalk of social media. Not just that, but the brand spent hundreds of thousands of dollars – even remodeled a Hollywood IHOP to say IHOb – to announce its new burger offerings. Instead of driving additional sales at IHOP chains (which data shows it did not), the brand ended up confusing its fans and frustrating pancake lovers everywhere.

The Lesson: Risk-taking can be a great way to boost your brand, but make sure you can follow through on your promises and be able to measure results.

IHOP’s original tweets (sourced from @IHOP on Twitter):

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2018 PR Marketing Fails-DMA Solutions-Fresh Produce4

Response from fans and other brands:

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Source: @soIoucity on Twitter

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Source: @Netflix on Twitter

Be prepared with a crisis communications team & plan.

Several companies faced crises this year, including some from within our own industry. One most notably, however, was from coffeehouse behemoth Starbucks after a barista called the police on two black males who were waiting in the café without ordering anything. A local bystander recorded the removal of both men by Philadelphia police and the video went viral in a matter of 24 hours. Within 3 days, #BoycottStarbucks and #StarbucksWhileBlack were top trending hashtags and protests at the local store ensued. By day 4, the CEO of Starbucks was publicly apologizing on Good Morning America, CNN, and other news stations, and announced that all U.S. stores would close on May 29 for “racial-bias” training.

While the event itself was a #PRFail, what we love about this example of crisis communications is that Starbucks owned up to their mistake immediately. The CEO took full responsibility, even though this was based on the actions of one employee at one store. The brand also addressed its supporters on social media by letting them know what had happened and what was being done to rectify the situation – something that put Starbucks in control of their own story and gave fans a reason to trust that they were going to fix it.

The Lesson: Be armed with a communications plan for the things you know are possible/likely within your business (e.g. a recall) and have a team on-hand that can help you troubleshoot crisis situations that are more fluid (e.g. employees slandering the company).

Have a thought about these or any other #PRFails from the year? Tweet us at @TheCoreBlog.