Inside the Profession

Friday Five: PR Crisis: What Makes a Brand Sink or Swim?

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We all know that hindsight is 20/20, but thinking about a crisis before it happens gives companies the chance to consider their strategy without the pressure of news choppers hovering over their facility or the possibility that your brand might be trending on Twitter for all the wrong reasons. For some brands, however, trouble may not present itself in a full-blown crisis. Sometimes trouble lurks in leadership issues and quick fixes aren’t always an option.

In this week’s PRSA “Friday Five” post — an analysis of the week’s biggest public relations and business news and commentary — we look at a number of brands who made waves in social media with quick, strategic and enduring crisis communication responses. We will also delve into brands that have suffered long term challenges and are still trying to work their way back from corporate trials and tribulations.

How KitchenAid Spun A Twitter Crisis Into A PR Coup (Fast Company)

During the presidential debate on Wednesday, October 3, KitchenAid tweeted, “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he came president.’ #nbcpolitics.” After some backlash over the tweet KitchenAid implemented several tactics that led to a swift and well maintained response. Here are a few steps that KitchenAid took to avoid death by social media:

  • KitchenAid immediately deleted the tweet. KitchenAid knew that leaving it out there would not help their cause.
  • After deleting the tweet, they quickly issued their “deepest apologies” via Twitter for what they called an “irresponsible” tweet, including the hashtag #nbcpolitics.

In addition to KitchenAid’s response, the company’s didn’t shy away when additional criticisms were posted both on Twitter and through blogs.

Where’s the Shareholder Outrage at Hewlett-Packard? (Bloomberg Businessweek)

In an October 5 article in Bloomberg Businessweek, contributor Roben Farzad looks at the many challenges that Hewlett-Packard has faced since the end of 2009. Farzad describes “board infighting, botched multi-billion-dollar acquisitions, multiple strategic false starts, and high suite C-Suite turnover[s]” and asks where the shareholders’ voices are in all of this? With HP’s shares down the company continues to underperform and high turnover in leadership does not seem to solve any problem for long before a new one pops up. So how does a well-known public company dig itself out of this hole?   Finance professor at the University of Texas, Austin Jonathan Cohn, suggested that attracting the attention of activist investors may get HP moving in the right direction. However, this strategy costs money that the investing world does not easily produce, especially in the case of underperforming companies. Of course, until that happens investors will continue to own a piece of HP as it is run today.

Ikea ‘Regrets’ Airbrushing Women Out of Its Saudi Catalog (AdWeek)

If you look at Ikea’s regular online catalog and compare it to the Saudi online catalog you will notice some significant differences. In the Saudi catalog all of the women are missing from the photographs. Some of the photos were Photoshopped and some were reshot completely. Government officials in Sweden were not too happy about this omission, as it made Ikea look like they did not have “a commitment to women’s rights.” Ikea apologized for their blatant exclusion of women from the Saudi catalog. Saudi Arabia does allow women to be depicted in advertisements, which makes it unclear as to why Ikea made this decision in the first place.

Unlikely PR genius: Big Bird (Ragan’s PR Daily)

After Mitt Romney vowed to pull PBS funding as an example of one way he plans to cut spending, the social media uproar created an unforeseen PR opportunity for Big Bird and his pals from Sesame Street. PR Daily contributor Michael Sebastian reported that “Big Bird” was the fourth-highest-rising search term on Google, a series of fake Twitter accounts popped up within minutes, and a #SaveBigBird hashtag appeared. What ensued were tweets from Big Bird via the @SesameStreet handle and backup from the @SesameWorkshop handle. PBS also issued an unusually strongly worded statement in response to the comment. According to the Los Angeles Times, the statement read, “Governor Romney does not understand the value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers to our nation.” Finally, President Obama during a rally in Madison, Wis. joked with the audience and said, “I just want to make sure I got this straight. He’ll get rid of regulations on Wall Street—but he’s going to crack down on Sesame Street.”

Does Apple Have a Bruise? (The New Yorker)

Today marks the one year anniversary of Steve Job’s passing. While Apple is still excelling financially and has a pristine reputation, The New Yorker contributor Nicholas Thompson points out that company is facing challenges that they are still having trouble navigating since Jobs’ death. While Apple continues to improve the functionality of their current array of products, the company hasn’t come out with anything “big and new” according to Thompson. In addition, Apple has launched lawsuits against Android-phone manufactures and is simultaneously fighting with its suppliers as it faces countersuits and counterclaims. Jobs obsession with nuking Android may have had something to do with their decision to replace the Google Maps app on iPhones with one that consumers are not happy with because it doesn’t have similar functionality. Steve Jobs left a legacy after his death  and today critics question whether that perfectionism in the company has been compromised with the loss of Jobs. Will it still be the think-outside-of-the-box company it once was?

Nicole Castro is the public relations associate at the Public Relations Society of America.

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