Pulse of the Profession

Friday Five: Brands Go the Extra Mile to Remain in the Public’s Good Graces

No brands are immune from havoc-causing situations. For some companies, internal parties such as employees can act as a crisis catalyst, while for others it can be as simple as a fan or follower misconstruing advertisements and messaging. When challenges arise, brands must have a stand-by crisis communications strategy  to prevent worsening circumstances and further public criticism. Still, even with the best crisis communications plan, sometimes it is necessary for a brand to admit their wrongdoing and engage with their audience on a personal level, taking customer relations back to basics.

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 five brands that have been involved in multiple crises over the last few months and through their adversity have found out (the hard way) that transparency is the leading tactic in reputation recovery.

JC Penney “Hitler” Tea Kettle Causes Social Media Uproar (Fast Company)

Recently, JC Penney has been taking hits left and right. Voting out former CEO Ron Johnson and their public apology campaign (developed in an attempt to reconnect with consumers) didn’t offer the retailer the type of success it desperately needed. Despite their efforts to recover, JC Penney is facing another challenging situation. A Redditor recently captured a photo of a JC Penney billboard displaying a tea kettle with a lid, asymmetrical handle, and saluting spout, claiming the image looked like Adolf Hitler. Needless to say the photo went viral and some very well-known media outlets and public personalities took to Twitter where they offered their own take on the tea kettle fiasco. JC Penney tried to contain the damage by tweeting a verbatim response to anyone who mentioned the tea kettle. Read more from Fast Company and take a closer look at the conversations that ensued online.

Facebook Vows Action After Advertisers Pull Ads Due to Site’s Failure to Bar Misogynous Content (PRNewser)

Facebook has lost more than a dozen advertisers, including Nissan, after a campaign drew attention to pages on the social media site that promoted violence against women. While there have been complaints from users in the past about the misogynous content featured on the site, the issue heated up when Women, Action and the Media, Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project, and writer and activist Soraya Chemaly launched a campaign last week where they published an open letter asking Facebook executives to “ban gender-based hate speech” on the site. The support received from advertisers on this initiative gave Facebook the added incentive to take action. In response, Facebook published a blog post that laid out a plan to ensure better monitoring and removal of such offensive content.

A Video Apology Can Fight Viral with Viral (PRNews)

A Sanford Florida Papa John’s pizza employee left a vulgar and racially charged message on a customer’s voicemail after the employee butt-dialed the customer accidentally. The employee alleged that he had been tipped poorly and proceeded to leave a voicemail filled with racist remarks. The customer posted the voicemail on YouTube and added a priceless piece of information. His pizza cost $15.26 and he tipped $5.00 which equates to a 21 percent tip. Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter jumped in immediately to defuse the situation. Not only did he make a public apology on behalf of Papa John’s and what they stand for but Schnatter reached out to the customer directly to extend a personal apology as well. PRNewsCaysey Waleton’s only additional recommendation to the brand is that Papa John’s could have benefited from making the apology via a video response given that video was the source of this viral content to begin with.

Embattled Cruise Line Carnival Launches Media Agency Review (Ad Age)

Carnival has had its fair share of reputation issues recently, including the Costa Cruise ship crash that killed 32 people, the Carnival Triumph disaster in mid-February where passengers were stranded with no hot water and few working toilets, issues with the diesel generator in the Carnival Dream that led to passengers being flown home and technical issues with sailing speed on the Carnival Legend. The brand had no other choice to retrace its steps and figure out a master plan that would allow Carnival to reinvigorate its business. Ad Age reported that Carnival has begun and media agency review. This week the cruise line sent a document inviting agencies to pitch new ideas on how Carnival might recover from all this mounting bad publicity. Carnival plans to spend less on advertising and invest more time and money in social media as part of the brand’s crisis communications strategy.

Nike to Stop Manufacturing Livestrong Bracelets (Ragan’s PR Daily)

After recent events surrounding Lance Armstrong, there was a significant uptick in sales of the Livestrong iconic, yellow bracelets. Despite this, Nike has decided to ceases manufacturing of the bracelets but will continue to support the Foundation directly by funding them. While Nike’s decision seems to set the stage for open criticism of the foundation, Livestrong followed up with a statement expressing gratitude for the continued partnership with Nike and ensuring the public that this opens up opportunity for the foundation to focus on patient-focused work. While Livestrong has faced numerous challenges managing their reputation after the whole ordeal with Armstrong, Nike found a suitable way to create distance with foundation without creating a domino effect of reputation issues for the brand.

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

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