AIG, Detroit Three, V.A. and Berkeley Featured Among Top 2008 PR Blunders
List, compiled by
features bailed out big shots, political snafus and a clueless Dept. of
1. AIG All-Expense-Paid Retreats … Paid By YOU
Mere days after receiving an
International Group Inc. dropped nearly half a million dollars on an executive
retreat to the posh St. Regis resort, complete with “spa treatments, banquets
and golf outings,” according to the Associated Press. Public reaction, as
many watched 401(k) and other investments deflate, was heated. Ousted AIG CEO
by Congress, and presidential candidate Sen.
executives “should be fired” during a debate with Sen.
compounded the damage when it proceeded with an
probe, saying “our message to AIG today is simple: The party is over.”
2. AP to Detroit Three: “old way of doing business just won’t fly.”
Already reeling from the
taxpayers and legislators were deeply offended when the leaders of the
nation’s Big Three automakers — General Motors CEO
separate corporate jets to ask Congress for
turnaround plan. PR Week reported that “it made the Big Three appear out of
touch, and evoked memories of the AIG retreat controversy.” The
made their second foray to
there in hybrid vehicles … and made sure everyone knew it. But
3. Department of Veterans Affairs says “Shh!” To Veterans’ Problems
In this day of digital justice it’s surprising that some federal officials
still believe their emails are private, as when messages between top officials
in the Department of Veterans Affairs indicated secrets were being kept about
appallingly high suicide attempt rates among veterans. According to the
Associated Press, Dr.
colleagues that “12,000 veterans a year attempt suicide while … under
[Veterans Affairs] treatment.” Katz wasn’t pushing for reform but hiding data
from CBS News, even beginning the email with a “Shh!”
chief communications officer for the VA, wrote that, “I don’t want to give CBS
any more numbers on veterans [sic] suicides or attempts than they already have
– it will only lead to more questions.” Emails get leaked in most
organizations, but the true Blunder is the Department’s disregard for
veterans’ well being. Rep.
on Veterans’ Affairs, told CBS News “this is disgraceful … a crime against
our nation, our nation’s veterans. [V.A. officials] do not want to come to
grips with the reality, with the truth.”
4. Letterman asks McCain, “do you need a ride to the airport?”
Presidential candidate Sen.
thirteenth appearance on CBS’s Late Night with
was suspending his campaign and “racing to the airport” to tackle the
impending financial crisis. Midway through the show, however, Letterman
learned that McCain was mere blocks away … sitting down with CBS stablemate
McCain’s response, when he did make it onto Late Night a couple weeks later,
was apt but unapologetic: “I screwed up.”
5. Nike Just Blew It
When self-described “good, solid” marathoner and elementary school teacher
Francisco Women’s Marathon, besting her personal record by over 12 minutes,
race sponsor Nike had a golden opportunity to support those who “just do it.”
However, Nike only checked times of those in the allegedly “elite”
front-running pack; by the time O’Connell realized she had been fastest, all
places had been awarded and Nike would not recognize her victory. Later that
week, pressured Nike recanted its initial stance, declaring O’Connell “a
winner” but not the winner.
lamented the tepid ending to “what could have been a lovely Cinderella story.”
Only after competitor Reebok stepped up to award O’Connell free shoes for a
year and a
place overall” trophy.
6. Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp.: Profits with Side Effects
Prescription for a Blunder: market cholesterol drugs Vytorin and Zetia
with a memorable
results showing that the combo doesn’t work as claimed … for 21 months.
Watch the drugs pull
though, may include widespread consumer backlash, around 140 civil class-
action lawsuits, and the unwelcome attentions of Congress, the U.S. Department
of Justice and a coalition of 35 state attorneys general, according to the
Associated Press. Makers Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp. allegedly
didn’t release the results due to internal scientific concerns.
study].” Under pressure, Merck and Schering-Plough pulled their quirky “Food
and Family” ads, but dwindling investor confidence still pushed Merck stock
down to Vioxx-era levels.
repeating its mistakes … It’s getting tough to find any Merck drug that
can hold up to scrutiny.”
Penn’s work on behalf of the government of
was also involved in arranging passage of a controversial trade bill opposed
by, among others, Clinton herself. Penn was removed from the helm, although
his polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, continued to provide
services to the campaign. He ultimately admitted to an “error in judgment,”
but how many of those can one person convincingly admit to? Penn’s other
unbelievable missteps throughout the year, including praising McCain attack
ads and demeaning Clinton supporters, calling them “downscale voters,” earn
him a seat among serial PR blunderers.
called Penn “dumber than previously realized” and a “despised, incompetent
… microtrending ninnybot.”
8. Senior Obama Campaigner Makes “a Monster” of a Slip
Sometimes a simple goof can be a major gaffe if committed by an insider.
March interview with UK newspaper The Scotsman, then realized her error and
immediately tried to withdraw her comment, claiming “that is off the record.”
However, in the dustup to follow, blogger
http://www.MondayMorningMediaQuarterback.com noted that, “you can’t do it.
There is no off the record.” Many journalists agree, including
the Scotsman reporter who interviewed Power, who noted that journalists are
“not in the business to self-censor … [they are] in the business to print
9. “Absolut Mistake,” says PR Week
Swedish vodka-maker Absolut is famed for its clever, well-executed
advertising campaigns, but the company hasn’t realized it’s a small world
after all. According to PR Week, ads for the Mexican market from the
company’s “Absolut World” campaign showing the western U.S. as Mexican
territory “courted animosity” and “stirred up negative sentiment from …
[those] who complain about the porous U.S. border” after appearing on U.S.
blogs. Absolut pulled the offending ads and proffered a public apology on its
corporate blogs, but competitor Skyy Vodka capitalized on the situation.
should do in a situation like this, [taking] advantage of a competitor’s
headache” by distributing a humorous press release in which it touts Skyy’s
U.S. origins and production. Smart opportunistic marketing … with a twist.
10. Hut, Two, Three, Four, Berkeley Rants Against Our Corps
atmosphere, one in which free speech and independent thought are held dear.
But when the Berkeley City Council denounced local Marine Corps recruiters as
“uninvited and unwelcome intruders” and “sales people known to lie to and
seduce minors,” it incited yet another nationally covered culture clash
individual members of the Council did admit that they may have acted rashly,
no apology was ever issued. According to
the incident demonstrated “that you can be within shouting distance of one of
the world’s great educational institutions and still be terminally stupid.”
About the Fineman PR Top 10 PR Blunders List
annual PR Blunders List as a reminder that public relations is critical to
businesses and organizations. Selections are limited to Americans, American
companies or offenses that occurred in America. Selections are limited to
avoidable acts or omissions that caused adverse publicity; image damage was
done to self, company, society or others; and acts that were widely reported
SOURCE Fineman PR