What PR crisis event has stood out for you during 2015 and why?

November 23, 2015
Rosita Zukowski

Goldie TockThe Volkswagen emissions crisis has definitely stood out to me, for sure because VW is such a large business, but on top of that it was not an accident that lead to a crisis, rather a contrived lie. It is not only that Volkswagen lied about their emissions, but they created a test that would give false results in order to dupe the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stakeholders, and the public.”

Mark Gregory

“I’d have to say the Volkswagen emissions scandal is the PR crisis of 2015 due to its global impact. The continuing damage on our environment and the serious implications for Volkswagen owners and the company are off the PR Richter Scale. If you do a quick scan of the media coverage since the scandal broke, you see quickly what happens when you fail to communicate well. In the vacuum; others tell your story. Volkswagen has a very long road ahead to rebuild trust. See the CPRS Trust Matters blog on this issue.”

Katherine Perrin

A PR crisis and controversial topic that stood out for me this year was the Ashley Madison hack. This stood out to me because of the way that they handled it, or didn’t handle it per say. The crisis went down mid July and their first Facebook post wasn’tt until July 20th and their next on August 18th. And at the same time they weren’t partaking in any interviews. For the domino effect of events that happened afterwards it was pretty clear that they should of handled the situation more head on in the beginning. (i.e. suicides, huge family issues)Ashley Madison had missed the most critical opportunity for online crisis communication. The conversation was going on all around them and the conversation is going to happen with or without you so it’s better that you’re a part of it!

Mary Siegner

Wow – some great examples and analysis! I agree – some interesting examples of how something “seemingly small” escalate quickly!

I’ve found it interesting to consider how the actions of individual employees can translate to a possible brand crisis for a company. We’ve seen several high profile people leave CBC lately (Ghomeshi, Solomon and Lang –http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/jun/13/cbc-canada-evan-solomon-jian-ghomeshi-amanda-lang-ethics) and the behaviour of an individual identified as a Toronto Hydro employee (on personal time) highlighted in the media (fired and recently rehired –http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/hydro-one-rehires-man-fired-after-fhritp-incident-1.3300059). Together, they provide some interesting case studies for organizations to examine their policies and processes.

Karima El Bilali

“The Subway Scandal definitely stood out to me this year so far. Jared Fogle, the weight-loss poster child, that put Subway on the map pled guilty to child pornography charges. He was the face of their brand for 15 years. It really exemplifies that a spokesperson can be a great way to solidify a brand but can be very dangerous at the same time.”

Laura Vertucci

The VW scandal was also the one that resonated with her because of the magnitude of the issue, the liability involved, and because of the long-term impact to VW’s reputation. Her sense was that the root of it was an issue with corporate culture – while there was a lot of apologizing being done by the executives, in their apologies they were also trying to distance themselves from the issue. Comments were made along the lines of “I feel badly this happened, but I had no knowledge of it.” As we saw with Maple Leaf Foods (who have a very strong and pervasive corporate culture) and their listeria crisis of 2008, when you have an excellent reputation prior to a crisis, take ownership during, and make it clear what you’re doing to fix the issue and ensure it never happens again, the public has a high tolerance for forgiveness. Companies that try to adopt the MLF response as their own template for recovery need to realize it was deeply rooted in culture and a true belief that taking responsibility and doing the right thing regardless of the impact on the bottom line is the right thing to do – period.

Andrea Price, MCM(c), ABC

“It’s amazing to go through some of the scandals of 2015 – there certainly hasn’t been a shortage of them. And they do provide great case studies to examine and learn from. Another blunder I found interesting was when Joy Behar from The View made fun of Miss Colorado for wearing what was, in Joy’s words, a “doctor’s stethoscope” on stage. The power of social media was displayed when Joy’s comments went viral – the response from nurses, the medical profession and the public at large was quick and angry. The hashtag #nursesunite quickly made the rounds on Instagram and Twitter, and Joy felt the need to apologize on a subsequent show. Examples like this show how social media has given a very public voice to the average person. Social media has changed where we get our news, how we interact with one another and the world around us, as well as how and what we are able to influence.”

Nahren ShamokaThe PR crisis that stands out for me is the E. coli outbreak at Chipotle. I know this doesn’t come near some of the others like VW, however that being said, this does strike me because Chipotle is an incredibly popular restaurant, that has a large following. Chipotle is also about all about “food with integrity” and the meat they serve is from animals that have never received antibiotics. This move has forced change in the restaurant business. To hear of this outbreak is surprising to say the least. A nutshell background for who hasn’t read about the case: the E. coli food poisoning that has affected 39-41 people, mostly dining at eight Chipotle restaurants in the greater Seattle and Portland areas. Chipotle’s has closed all 43 outlets in those cities since Oct. 31st. Apparently, it is suspected that contaminated fresh produce caused the current outbreak.

Michelle Ferguson

The Duggar scandal stood out for me. The show has become a brand and their older son jeopardized his credibility when news broke of his molestation and infidelity on being Ashley Madison. In the show, he advocates what marriage should be about but when the truth came about his misdoings, he was exposed. The lesson here is, mind the log in your own eye before you attempt to take the speck out in your neighbour’s. The credibility was lost and the show was canceled as a result.

Thank you to everyone that participated in our annual contest! There were a lot of great comments, examples and viewpoints.