lifestyle PR + digital media

The 3 worst PR crises of Q2

July 23, 2018

You know when something uncomfortable, awkward, or unsettling is happening before your eyes and you just can’t look away? It’s that feeling that you’re witnessing a train wreck.

Well, there’s a PR version of that—watching brands mishandle crises. And it’s time for our quarterly rundown of which brands have publicly train wrecked.

  1. The airline industry has been one of the worst offenders for terrible customer service that results in disaster. Back in April, it was Delta Airlines’ turn, when the airline tied a woman who suffers from MS to her wheelchair after a flight and told her to “shut the f*$k up”. Not a good look, Delta. The airline’s response made things worse. Its statement included this gem: “We regret the perception our service has left on these customers.” Uhh…k? That’s the corporate equivalent of “I’m sorry you’re jealous.” Delta would’ve helped themselves with a genuine apology (and an offer of more than 20,000 SkyMiles -__-).
  2. Starbucks’ faced a crisis of its own when employees at a Philadelphia location called police to arrest two patrons of color who hadn’t yet ordered; the public outcry over racial profiling that followed caused issues for the brand. The apology that followed was exceptionally short and vague—which didn’t help their cause. #BoycottStarbucks trended for the next few days, and protesters’ constant presence at the location where the incident occurred practically rendered the location closed. Eventually the brand announced it would close all locations for four hours to hold anti-bias trainings. That would amount to a few million dollars’ loss in sales, which sounds like a lot but is pretty insignificant when it comes to Starbucks’ annual $22 billion+ in sales. Ultimately, a lot remains to be seen in terms of whether Starbucks’ training was a PR spin or whether it will have lasting impact on the way the brand treats customers of color.
  3. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the Trump administration’s rollout of its policy of separating immigration children from their parents at the southern border (without no apparent plan for reunification). The policy itself is horrific, because it lacks any semblance of compassion or empathy. But from a PR perspective, the rollout was what made for a PR crisis of epic proportions. The communications crisis was rooted in unclear messaging—one member of the administration would say there was nothing to be done but follow the law; the next would say that Trump could undo the separation policy if he so chose. Trump himself first asserted that his administration was following the letter of the law, but later said the administration’s Zero Tolerance Policy would be discontinued. In part because of inconsistent messaging (and, of course, because the policy is deeply inhumane), Americans’ approval rating of Trump’s handling of immigration issues has dropped five percent in the last month, according to a CNN poll. In an administration wracked with scandal, this issue is perhaps one of the most detrimental to Trump, and his administration’s handling of it didn’t help.

What crisis would you add?