Inside the Profession

Friday Five: Make it or Break it—How to Respond to a Crisis

The past couple of years have seen numerous brands find themselves in hot water and then have to find their way back to winning the hearts and minds of their customers, stakeholders, and society at large. Each of these crises seem to roll into each other and incidents seem to happen closer and closer to the last one. In part, this helps to remove some brands from the nasty spotlight shed over them while they flail. However, for any brand facing a crisis, the scrutiny is endless until a proper response is made.

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 how various brands in recent weeks have managed unsightly situations that led to a frenzy of criticism. We will take a few cues from celebrity playbooks on how to redirect your brand in the right direction, especially when a crisis prevails.

LinkedIn Shuts Down TopTal Ads That Featured Photos of Female Engineers (Huffington Post)

LinkedIn recently pulled an ad placed by Toptal, a small developer networking platform that offered information for engineers accompanied by an image of a beautiful woman. Apparently, many LinkedIn members complained about the image of a female web developer that no one believed could be a real engineer. LinkedIn acted under the same assumption and removed the ad, explaining to the Toptal that the promos could be run again pending a new image related to the product. Toptal CEO Taso Du Val was outraged by these actions and wrote a blog post titled, “In Defense of Female Engineers,” which explained that beautiful woman used in the ad image was, in fact, a female engineer and that LinkedIn displayed clear sexism assuming that the image was not related to the promo placement. LinkedIn has since apologized, reversed its decision and restored Toptal’s ad to the website. Toptal CEO was kind enough to update the blog post with the news and clearly took a higher road in acknowledging LinkedIn’s change of heart.

The Children’s Place Needs to Grow Up (PRNews)

The Children’s Place removed a controversial T-shirt from their stores after a poor reaction on social media. The company was selling a t-shirt that said, “My Best Subjects” and included the following options, Shopping, Music, Dancing and Math with checkboxes next to each. The t-shirts had all by Math checked off with “well nobody’s perfect” written in parentheses. A number of people reacted to this saying that it insulted young girls but even more so made evident how out of touch the clothing store is with its consumer audience. The message on the t-shirt moved so far away from empowering young girls and after a photo was posted on Facebook, leading to numerous angry comments and an outpour of angry comments on Twitter, the clothing store decided to remove the item all together. Clearly, this was a lesson in brand management for Children’s Place and shows that the company may need a push into the 21st century.

The Worst Video Media Disaster of July (PRDaily)

The derailed train in Quebec that killed more than 40 people has been talked about all over the news and social media outlets. While the news of this tragic event traveled quite fast, a response from the chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways Edward Burkhardt made its way to the public quite slow in comparison. Not only did Burkhardt take too long to respond to the situation, he also came across too analytical and emotionally unintelligent leaving much to be desired from the press conference, which took place several days after the tragic derailment. Burkhardt offers some great examples on what not to do in this type of situation. Get the full list here.

Farmers Protest Panera’s Shaky Anti-Antibiotics Campaign (PRNewser)

Can a well-meaning social media marketing campaign get a little too aggressive? Panera Bread learned this lesson the hard way.

The brand touted that it supposedly uses only “antibiotic-free” meat in its food by creating a campaign pushing the message that only lazy farmers use antibiotics on their animals. This campaign included a micro-site, a Facebook tab, and the satirical @EZChicken Twitter feed.

What was the result? Farmer and blogger “Dairy Carrie,” started a backlash against Panera’s campaign by pointing out that all chicken sold in the United States must meet the same FDA standards for antibiotics, meaning that Panera’s chicken is not so different from any other chicken consumed in this country. To add insult to injury, animal health expert Dr. Scott Hurd further discredits the company’s claims, noting that Panera simply can’t prove that it serves only “healthy” chickens and that certain antibiotic treatments are needed to keep dangerously undetectable diseases out of the food supply.

The #PluckEZChicken hashtag is still trending on Twitter nearly a week later. “The clear message here: don’t insult the people who supply your product—especially when your claims aren’t quite airtight.”

What Your Brand Can Learn From Today’s Biggest Celebrities (Fast Company)

Can celebrities teach marketers how the business of branding? Jeetendr Sehdev of Fast Company thinks so. According to Sehdev, the most successful celebrities have authentic personae. Here are some tips to put your brand in the right direction:

  • Take real risks: When Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting career began to wane, he reinvented himself into a politician
  • Overexpose yourself: Arguably the most over-exposed celebrity of all time, Kim Kardashian pulled in $12 million last year by remaining in the spotlight
  • Dare to be different: Think of Marilyn’s red pout, Lauren Hutton’s gap teeth, Adele’s contralto singing voice, or Naomi Campbell’s fierce runway walk.
  • Show your human side: After publicly apologizing in a press conference, Tiger Woods consumer sentiment improved and he’s now back in the spotlight for the right reasons–a good golf game
  • Reinvent yourself: The Spice Girls, called it quits in 2000, Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice) decided to strike out on her own, emerging as a full-fledged fashion brand and is now one of the most highly regarded fashion icons of this generation

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

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Nicole Castro

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