Stupid PR tricks
December 12, 2005
• PR agency lists 10 worst public relations goofs of 2005
• What small business can learn from the big guys
A celebrity without a center, religious fundamentalism U.S. style, organized labor taking on the Marines and a not so beneficent employee benefits company, all highlight this year's list of public relations blunders compiled annually by San Francisco's Fineman PR.
The list is a collection of some of the year's worst public relations gaffes.
According to Michael Fineman, a business mistake can take on much bigger proportions if the company making the mistake tries to cover it up – and slips up.
(List to an interview with Michael Fineman by clicking on the link below.)
His list for 2005:
• 1. Tom Cruise's "War of the Worlds" press tour which blew up on the "Today" show after he got on his Scientology soap box and lit into host Matt Lauer. Mr. Cruise's diatribe against psychiatry included criticizing Brooke Shields for the medication she received during her post-pregnancy depression. “The press jumped all over Cruise, and so did Shields,” Mr. Fineman notes.
• 2. Pat Robertson’s suggestion that the U.S. 'take out' Hugo Chavez, president of oil-rich Venezuela. “The rather un-Christian comments ignited fire and brimstone from the world's press and lent credibility to Chavez' contention that President Bush, somewhat of an evangelical in his own right, is out to get him,” Mr. Fineman writes.
• 3. Organized labor is having enough trouble without alienating the U.S. Marines. United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger barred Marine reservists from its parking lot in Detroit if they drove foreign-made cars or sport pro-Bush bumper stickers. The Marines had parked there for years because they train nearby. Mr. Gettelfinger apologized for the unpatriotic ambush after the Michigan press played the story, but the Marines said they would find alternative parking.
• 4. It appears that Michigan employee-benefits firm Benefit Management Administrators Inc. needs help managing its own employees. Mr. Fineman cites a wire service report that said the company fired an employee for, among other things, taking too much time to say good-bye to her husband who left to fight in Iraq.
• 5. Publicly expressing sentiments that women are not good at math and science is not the kind of stereotyping you might expect from Harvard. So when Harvard's president, Larry Summers, said gender differences are why fewer women than men excel in those areas, the school's outraged faculty and alumni called for his ouster. According to Business Week, "his remarks about women may make it hard for Harvard to recruit top female scientists," and "harm fund-raising" for much needed reforms.
• 6. The U.S. military's Washington, D.C.-based communications subcontractor in Iraq has been secretly paying newspapers to run positive "news" articles in an attempt to polish the coalition's image, denounce insurgents and praise U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country. These articles, purportedly written by independent journalists, have been touted as unbiased news accounts when, in fact, they were one-sided stories delivered to Baghdad media by American troops
• 7. As if best selling video game "Grand Theft Auto, San Andreas" didn't have enough violence and debauchery already, its maker Rockstar Games added hidden animated sex scenes. The soft-core porn ignited a political firestorm forcing a new "adults-only" rating reported the Wall Street Journal. Other coverage said Best Buy and Circuit City pulled the game from their stores.
• 8. Hiding the risks associated with taking its painkiller Vioxx could cause Merck an $18 billion litigation heartache. Even though studies in 2000 showed Vioxx-takers five times more likely to have a heart attack than individuals using a generic medicine, Merck publicly downplayed the risks. A later study blew the lid off Vioxx resulting in several thousand lawsuits.
• 9. It was the first day of summer in steamy New York, so Snapple put a 35,000-pound ice pop in the middle of Union Square at midday. When the 25-foot high ice sculpture melted, bicyclists wiped out in the stream of kiwi-strawberry goo, according to the NY Daily News. The tabloid's headline "Gooing, Gooing, Gone" summed up the fiasco for Snapple.
• 10. When Lawrence Wein and Yifan Liu of Stanford University wrote a scientific article discussing how terrorists could poison thousands of people by releasing toxins into the U.S. milk supply, the National Academy of Sciences published it over the objections of the Department of Health and Human Services. Academy president Bruce Alberts editorialized that terrorists would not learn anything useful from the article and that such information is already available on the Internet. However, news organizations reported HHS's vehement disagreement with Reuters quoting HHS spokesperson Christina Pearson, "Our concern is that if the academy is wrong, the consequences can be dire."
Mr. Fineman says he does not expect to have any trouble rounding up another “top ten” list a year from now.