Three PR Mistakes of 2016

Donald Trump at New Hampshire Town Hall on August 19th, 2015 at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, NH.
Donald Trump at New Hampshire Town Hall on August 19th, 2015 at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, NH. Photo by Michael Vadon (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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PR mistakes happen daily. The rapidly changing, digital media landscape makes it very easy for those mistakes to go viral. Whether it is a tweet sent with questionable judgement, a larger-than-life spokesperson or a company-wide epidemic, PR disasters exist on different scales and across all industries. While there have been numerous PR mistakes in 2016, I’ve highlighted three that I believe are worth talking about below:

Donald Trump

Donald Drumpf. Where to begin? The man ended 2015 by declaring he wanted to build “a great, great wall” on our Mexican border and started 2016 by disgusting more than 16 million viewers when he addressed the rumors behind his small hands at the Republican debate. He is a walking PR disaster yet somehow he has managed to elevate his profile to one that has no real shock value. While some may argue that his larger-than-life caricature persona is actually a brilliant PR strategy, I disagree (and this is my list, so…).

I’m not going to inundate you with each of his most head-turning moments in 2016—misguided comments on North Korea, flip-flopping stances on abortion, the time he impersonated his publicist twenty years ago to brag about his love life. I’m not going to say his face looks like it was molded out of orange Play-Doh or that his hair is not, shockingly, the most offensive thing about him. I’m just going to tell you to google him and select one of the politically irrelevant, obnoxious or misogynistic statements he has made in the past 48 hours and add it to this list.

Photoshopping Fails

The trend of over-the-top Photoshopping needs to end. It is 2016 and body positivity should be embraced and celebrated. Cleaning up an image is one thing but altering it to a point where the subject is no longer recognizable, or four sizes smaller is crossing the line of social responsibility. Publications guilty of over-exaggerated Photoshopping or plus-size labeling are being publicly berated by the subjects themselves, and it’s one of the easiest PR disasters to avoid. Magazines often have a lead time of three months and photos are selected well in advance of the publication date. Purposely selecting a photo that is overly Photoshopped is gambling with the possibility of public backlash.
Kerry Washington recently said her dramatically altered AdWeek cover made her “uncomfortable” and “echoes that little girl who thought, ‘I wasn’t enough.’” Meghan Trainor addressed the digital alterations made to her body in her “Me Too” music video by saying it “was insulting” and Amy Schumer blasted Glamour magazine for labeling her as “plus-sized.” Publications need to support and embrace the body-positive movement and will look antiquated and superficial if they continue the practice of over-exaggerated Photoshopping.

Chipotle Social Media Policy

The 2015 E. coli outbreaks had a severe effect on Chipotle, both financially and in terms of public image.  Stock prices plummeted and sales decreased. 2016 looked like an opportunity to restart and rebuild in the new year, yet Chipotle has continued to struggle. After facing public scrutiny in 2015, Chipotle is now coming under fire from employees in 2016. In March, a judge ruled that Chipotle’s social media policy was in violation of federal labor laws in the civil suit James Kennedy vs. Chipotle.  Kennedy was fired after violating Chipotle’s social media policy,  which banned “disparaging, false” statements when he criticized Chipotle’s lack of work breaks for employees. Chipotle lost the lawsuit and was ordered to post signs acknowledging that some of its employee policies, in particular, its social media rules, were illegal. Chipotle must be mindful of all aspects of their business, especially employee relations, during this delicate phase when they are trying to rebuild public image and earn back trust. The ruling is important because it marks a milestone in the fight for the social media rights of fast-food workers protesting wages and working conditions.

A PR crisis has probably occurred while you were reading this blog post, and they will continue to affect even the best companies because mistakes happen and you cannot prepare for every possible scenario. This is why it’s important to have a solid PR crisis plan in place, including a procedure outline detailing next steps once the issue is addressed. Don’t be a Drumpf. Make your PR great again.

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