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This article was published on May 5, 2012

11 major public relations mistakes (and how to learn from them)

11 major public relations mistakes (and how to learn from them)
Scott Gerber
Story by

Scott Gerber

Scott Gerber is the founder of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young Scott Gerber is the founder of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at

“There is no such thing as bad publicity,” unless your company’s latest advertising campaign completely backfires and angers countless loyal customers. Even the most established brands are not immune to a faulty public relations blunder — including household names like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola — and it takes more than an apology to correct a company image and recover lost revenue.

I asked a panel of successful young entrepreneurs to share a misstep made by a major brand, and what they’ve taken away from the experience as seen from afar. Here’s how they learned from other companies’ mistakes and how they’re using the new knowledge to improve their own businesses.

Name one major PR blunder that you’ve seen a major brand make recently. What one lesson should all entrepreneurs learn from their mistake?

The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads  #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.

1. GoDaddy’s Position on SOPA

“GoDaddy, one of the largest domain registrars, listed as a SOPA supporter during the detrimental legislation’s consideration in Congress. It was a huge PR blunder as GoDaddy’s tech-savvy customer base began to voice protest by transferring domain names away from the brand. GoDaddy promptly recanted support for SOPA. It’s a lesson for all founders to align with the best interests of their clients.”

Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.

2. Susan G. Komen shuts out Planned Parenthood

Alexandra Levit“Obviously, Susan G. Komen didn’t factor in its entire base of supporters when making this decision. The shut-out has quickly gone viral and constituents are irate. Entrepreneurs need to think through consequences when making sweeping decisions based on personal ideology.”

Alexandra Levit, Inspiration at Work

3. Kris Jenner National TV Appearance

Kris Ruby“The biggest recent PR Blunder? Kris Jenner appearing on a national morning television show and stating her daughter (Kim Kardashian) made “no money” off of the wedding after accusations that the marriage was a shame and Kim went to the bank on it. The lesson is to tell the truth! The Kardashians have severely tarnished their brand and lost major deals as a result of this fiasco!”

Kris Ruby, Ruby Media Group

4. Path Address Book Uploads

“It was recently disclosed that uploads your entire address book to its servers, automatically and without the knowledge or consent of its users. Rather than automatically deleting all the ill-gotten data, they defended the move by saying “This is currently the industry’s best practice.” Don’t grab private user data without clear consent!”

Matt Mickiewicz, 99designs

5. McDonald’s on Twitter

“McDonald’s promoted the hashtag #McDStories on Twitter, and almost immediately the hashtag was deluged with negative comments about McDonald’s. McDonald’s pulled #McDStories after two hours and criticized Twitter users for their “snarky” comments. The lesson here is that you can’t control the conversation on social media, and you can’t act surprised when people start saying things you don’t like.”

Arjun Arora, ReTargeter

6. M.I.A. Flips the Bird during Super Bowl

“The entertainment industry had another “malfunction” during the Super Bowl when the singer M.I.A. flipped off the audience during her performance. Not only was it a $500,000 fine, but it was detrimental to her brand as a performer. Be careful when being controversial in the spotlight because you can ruin years worth of brand building and connections in an instant.”

Lucas Sommer, Audimated

7. Netflix to Qwikster and Back to Netflix!

Lauren Maillian Bias“Netflix made a terrible PR blunder in 2011. The company greatly inconvenienced and disappointed their customers by forcing new pricing and package structure that ultimately created an unwelcome user experience. The new name Qwikster received mixed reviews, and the CEO went from being considered a media visionary to an out-of-touch leader for having ignored initial consumer feedback. Listen up!”

Lauren Maillian Bias, Luxury Market Branding

8. Coca-Cola Cans Canned

“In 2009, Tropicana ditched their signature orange with straw imagery for a cleaner look on their cartons. Customers were confused when trying to purchase their beloved OJ and the juice maker quickly reversed the decision after fan outcry. In 2010, Coca-Cola made the same mistake with their white cans and suffered the same public outcry and decision reversal. Stay true to your brand packaging.”

Benjamin Leis, Sweat EquiTees

9. Domino’s Pizza Viral Video

Lane Sutton“In a video on YouTube, two Domino’s Pizza employees taped themselves spitting in a customer’s pizza. This went viral, and customers would not dare use them. While the company fired those employees, the CEO had to make a public apology in a video and put up a Times Square NYC billboard to display customer comments (good or bad) uncensored, and it showed they ended up staying true to their brand.”

Lane Sutton, Social Media from a Teen

10. Know Your Grammar Rules!

Peter Minton“If people are analyzing your word usage, they are not thinking about your message. Nobody is immune; when Steve Jobs once called an iPod the “funnest” ever, the following buzz was not on the features of the new product, but on the correct usage of “fun” in the English language.”

Peter Minton, Minton Law Group, P.C.

11. The Constant Begging Blunder

George Mavromaras“I think it’s pitiful how large corporations “beg” customers and users to “Like” their Facebook page. If they are so large and their product works, why should you have to remind us to “Like” your page. Please leave that line for startups and small businesses to use with their own clients.”

George Mavromaras, Mavro Inc.

Scott L. Williams via shutterstock