So, imagine for a moment that you lead a large company. Business is great; you’re turning a profit, and everybody is looking forward to a big bonus. However, you wake up one morning and discover that one of your executives has said something really stupid – in public.
Unfortunately, this is very common. There have been many examples throughout the history of business where people who have everything have seemingly thrown it all away by making a really dumb comment about something, and thanks to a 24 hour news cycle and social media, they made the news within a matter of hours.
Back in 2010, we saw one of the worst oil spills ever. The company who ultimately wound up being responsible for it was BP. Now, to start off with, they handled it fairly well. No company wants an oil spill, so it wasn’t surprising that they took proactive steps to try and help deal with the problem and commit to doing better in the future.
Unfortunately, it was the then CEO who appeared on live TV and said that he just “wanted his life back”. That was really not a sensible thing to say at all, and cost him his job in a rather short turnaround. As a pro tip, when something like this happens, don’t make it about you.
In 2017, Pepsi released an advertisement that did not go well. At the time, the political climate in the US was very tense. So, when an advert featuring Kendal Jenner (of Kardashian fame) breaking up a political protest by offering cans of Pepsi, it was considered to be rather tasteless and quite insensitive. Pepsi themselves would’ve come under heavy fire on social media if United Airlines hadn’t had an equally upsetting PR crisis just a few days later.
Well, they would have gotten away just fine had Justin Sunak not come out with, “Did the guy who was dragged off the United flight try offering security a Pepsi?”. Not a great move.
In 2021 a CEO fired 900 people in a single zoom call. It was wrong on so many levels…
First of all, you don’t fire 900 people in a single zoom call all at once. Second of all, you definitely don’t go onto a networking site afterwards and accuse the people you just fired of stealing money from the company. Third of all, you don’t do either of those things in the middle of a public pandemic. Understandably, it went down like a lead balloon with the public.
So, we mentioned earlier that the insensitive Pepsi advert was saved by United Airlines doing something rather stupid. Well, this is what they did.
There was a man on a United Airlines flight who was essentially dragged off the plane by security, sustaining injuries to his face. He had to go to the hospital to recover, but it was the CEO of United Airlines who said rather ignorantly that it was an “upsetting event” for the staff.
Understandably, this generated some outrage. The situation did not improve when an email was obtained sent from the CEO to his staff, essentially trying to absolve the United Airlines workers of any blame and taking their side. From a PR perspective, this was pretty much a nightmare.
So, you may have heard of the Abercrombie and Fitch brand. It is, admittedly, upper-class and a bit refined. They produce expensive and high quality fashion. However, even if you have gained a reputation on the streets for being a bespoke brand, the last thing that you want to happen is for your own CEO to turn around and essentially create class division.
Back in 2006, the CEO of the company said that the brand was pretty exclusionary and only catered to “cool kids”. It’s probably the worst example of reverse psychology gone horribly wrong because all it did was paint the brand as looking absolutely out of touch with its target audience.
So, if a PR disaster like this does happen, what do you do about it? We’ve already established by now that nobody is immune to making a mistake or giving a comment which might seem innocent at the time but quickly becomes a controversial topic.
The most immediate action should be to hire a PR management team. If a public controversy has damaged your reputation, you need to try and repair said damage. That’s why hiring professionals to help you make sensible decisions is important.
Throwaway comments happen all the time, and they’re rarely meant in a malicious way, but they can very quickly be picked up and twisted by outraged parties. Ultimately, you have to try and put as much distance between yourself and that as possible; the way that you do that is very important. Hiring corporate reputation management consultants can help make sure you do this effectively.
So, we’ve probably identified that anybody can make a mistake, and even a single throwaway comment can cause significant damage. That’s why it can be very important to have a business reputation management team on hand.
In the wake of a crisis or public scandal, those executives that are interacting with the public must be well briefed, have prepared answers to questions that would reasonably be likely to be asked, and monitored. Trying to wing it usually doesn’t go well. Even a seemingly innocuous comment can significantly harm a company’s reputation. The best thing that you can do in these situations is to hire a professional who can handle things in the right way.