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posted on 30 April 2017

Three Public Relations Blunders And How Your Company Can Learn From Them

from Challenger Gray and Christmas

This April has the potential to go down in history as one of the biggest for public relations blunders. From United to Pepsi to Uber, it seems as though no company is safe from negative public opinion.

While we have yet to see the full repercussions from the recent public relations snafus, it is useful to look to at past PR issues to see their impact on companies. Here are three iconic PR disasters in recent history:

3. Urban Outfitters: Kent State Massacre Shirt

Then: In 2014, Urban Outfitters started selling a Kent State sweatshirt with what looked like fake bloodstains, referencing the infamous Kent State Massacre. Urban Outfitters claimed that the look of bloodstains was caused from discoloration, according to a Tweet they sent out from their official account. They also took the item down from the website in an attempt to avoid further backlash.

Now: Despite the fact that the Kent State Shirt was taken off the market three years ago, Urban Outfitters is still in the news often for controversial designs and decisions. According to Bloomberg, AEG, the representative for the California music festival Coachella, is currently suing a subsidiary of Urban Outfitters for infringing on Coachella’s trademark.

2. Domino’s Pizza: YouTube Scandal

Then: Two Domino’s employees shook the nation in 2009 when they released a video on YouTube of themselves tampering with and then serving contaminated food to Domino’s customers. Within days the YouTube video went viral and public opinion on Domino’s shifted drastically from positive to negative.

Now: Domino’s Pizza made immense changes in light of what happened in 2009, and what they have done has worked in their favor. According to an article by Business Insider from earlier this year, Domino’s share price is growing faster than many prosperous technology companies, and it is mainly due to improvements on their delivery app.

1. McDonalds: Super Size Me Documentary

Then: It is hard to find people who haven’t heard about about the 2004 documentary Super Size Me. This documentary follows Spurlock’s journey of eating only McDonald’s food for 30 days and the impact that it had on his body. Although some people claim that the documentary is little more a hoax, it still hurt McDonald’s image.

Now: Following Super Size Me, McDonalds got rid of their extra-large super-sized portions. According to an article by the Washington Post, McDonalds claimed that the change had nothing to do with the documentary, but, rather, they were switching to an “Eat Smart, Be Active" initiative. Regardless of motive, McDonald’s is still holding strong in the fast food market today. Said John A. Challenger, chief executive office of global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.:

The big take-away from these public relations disasters is that bad press does not always spell the end for a company. It is key that companies take responsibility and apologize quickly for mistakes.

More importantly, companies can continue to grow and move on from these events, by proposing initiatives, developing strategies, engaging directly with their consumers, and focusing on preventing these issues in the future.


Apologize for wrongdoing. In the age of social media, no perceived slight by a company will go unnoticed. The first step to protecting a brand and rebuilding trust is to apologize. It’s best that it be sincere and that it come from the top.

Involve employees from all levels to contribute to solutions. Not only should management apologize publically, but they should also apologize to their workers. Ask workers to submit ideas to better the company moving forward and acknowledge their contributions.

Develop policies that result in real change. An event that uncovers a problem with the culture of a company or specific policy is a great opportunity for companies to revisit these decisions.

Publicize new policies. Once new policies are put in place, talk about it! Not only internally, but to the media and to followers on social media. Engage with your customer base to make sure you hear their concerns and are working to correct problems.

Be transparent about results new policies produce. Especially if you see positive results, let your fans and customers know your work is paying off. If the policies do not seem to have a positive impact, make it clear that you are committed to working on this problem until you find a solution.

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