Why trying to capitalize on news headlines can be a bad idea

There are some news events and trends that lend themselves nicely to media relations for your client or product. For example, if your city is experiencing a huge snowstorm and your company delivers groceries to shut-in seniors, you could have a great pitch. If an election is underway and your restaurant is having a burger poll of the top candidates, you could get some media attention. But if a war breaks out, a natural disaster is wreaking havoc, or say, an airplane full of passengers disappears and is presumed to have crashed, that may not be your best opportunity for a pitch.

And yet, it happened. Last March, when Malaysian Airlines flight 370 disappeared with all passengers presumed dead, TeamWork Online, a US sports industry job network, decided it was a good opportunity for them to market themselves. With thanks to @unmarketing, check out this tweet from @TeamWorkOnline:

Why trying to capitalize on news headlines can be a bad idea


Yikes! The backlash was pretty immediate, and TeamWork Online soon changed the tweet’s text, but it was too late. One marketing blog called this:

“One of the worst examples of bad taste I have ever come across.”

Another said:

“This one will go down as one of the worst examples of newsjacking since newsjacking was invented. Or, maybe since anything was invented. The idiocy is simply incomprehensible.”

I’m going to give TeamWorks the benefit of the doubt and assume they don’t have a PR specialist on their team. So let’s chalk this one up to another good reason why you need good PR advice at all times, and why anything in the public eye needs to be thought out strategically. Because when you don’t do that, you do this kind of “idiocy.”

When you mess up (again), at least be apologetic


Oh, Rob Ford, how is it you’re still in office? Still, I probably shouldn’t complain. You’ve been a gift to bloggers like me who write about mistakes in the media. You’ve been a treasure trove, really!

Recently, after swearing you’d turned a corner and were laying off the hard stuff, you had a slip. You not only slipped, you fell when you were videotaped in a fast food joint ranting drunkenly. Really, really drunkenly. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXpwflzSF4M] But worst of all for you, you were unapologetic. That’s what the media all called you. “Unapologetic.” The Globe and Mail wrote:

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford acknowledges having a “minor setback” in drinking again and being caught on video in a rambling, expletive-laced rant about the city’s police chief – but insists the latest episode is a private matter. An unapologetic Mr. Ford read the remarks from a prepared statement… “I’m a human being – the same as every one of you,” Mr. Ford said. “I’m entitled to a personal life, and my personal life does not interfere with the work that I do day in, day out for the taxpayers of this great city.” The mayor just two months ago admitted he had smoked crack cocaine in a “drunken stupor,” but swore he had given up drugs and alcohol. On Wednesday, he said he is “still working hard” to improve his health, but did not provide details.”

Really, man, how many times can you screw up without admitting your error? Time to be apologetic now, don’t you think?

Rob Ford, where to begin?

I have neglected this blog lately, but have been gathering lots of stories to post here. One of my new year’s resolutions is to blog more regularly, so I intend to post here much more often now.

While I have a variety of media relations mistakes to get up here, so very many Rob Ford stories came out in the last few months that it’s hard to choose where to begin. So I’ve decided just to post this lovely editorial cartoon that sums it all up. And I’ll get more stories up within a week. I resolve!

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Don’t make light of big world events

Kenneth Cole, the fashion house famous for its shoes (at least in my closet!), really put foot in mouth during the Arab Spring. At the height of the demonstrations in Egypt in 2011, the twitter account credited to the designer posted this:


You might remember how important Twitter was during those demonstrations, when internet access was often blocked and organizers used the #Cairo hashtag to connect with supporters. Maybe not so much to shop for shoes.

Needless to say, the internet masses turned on Kenneth Cole. Those who had been using the #Cairo hashtag outside of Egypt to keep up to date on news were pretty vicious.

  • WTF is wrong with you, @KennethCole ? http://twitter.com/#!/KennethCole/status/33177584262971393
  • @KennethCole Totally poor taste. People are dying in the streets and you want to advertise your fashions? #boycottKennethCole
  • I have to say the #Kennethcole tweet made me giggle; they had to know there would be backlash.. They are now in a PR nightmare. Intended???

And within minutes, a parody @kennethcolepr account was created, and the #KennethColeTweets hashtag took off.

  • “People from New Orleans are flooding into Kenneth Cole stores!”#KennethColeTweets
  • Hey #Mubarak: Perhaps it’d be easier to step down with a pair of ultra-comfy loafers from our spring collection! #KennethColeTweets
  • Going to a cross burning? You’ll hate cutting eye holes in our 600 thread count cotton sheets. #KennethColeTweets
  • Horrified by the discarded shoes at Auschwitz? You’ll never part with anything from our new line—not over your dead body! #KennethColeTweets
  • Don’t be a slave to bad fashion – Celebrate Black History Month with our new Spring line! #KennethColeTweets

Kenneth Cole did post a kind-of apology:


But still, not the kind of PR you really want, is it? Despite the apology, the tweet generated negative coverage for weeks. Just goes to show that just because you’re fashionable doesn’t mean you exhibit good taste. 😉

Don’t get outed for a bad tweet, or another reason why letting the young staff handle social media is a bad idea

Poor Durex, the famous condom manufacturer. Here’s a cautious tale out of South Africa about them. One tweet and they had egg on their faces (I’m going to try and avoid bad condom-types puns in this blog post — wish me luck!!).


Someone told a young Durex employee in South Africa that it would be okay to make up their own tweets and blast them out via social media. Mistake #1, giving the 20-something control of social media.  Mistake #2, assuming one tweet wouldn’t really matter. Boy, did it matter to Durex. Here’s the tweet:


Of course the twitterverse rose up in outrage over this misogynistic comment. And then the same twitter account out of South Africa tried to defend itself, saying it was just a joke. And then more bad-taste (ooh, where did your mind just go?!) jokes were posted. Eventually Durex corporate stepped in and removed the offensive tweets and apologized. But the damage was already done.

A South African blogger seems to have summed up the problem nicely, saying it seems that the PR company responsible for managing Durex’s tweets may have

“placed a young tweeter at the helm of their twitter account and this is a problem many companies face. Placing someone you think will translate your brand at the level at which you are trying to target is a good idea. Having no-one monitor it is a mistake. Young, mid-life or old – we all need moderation.”

Well that was a cock up, wasn’t it?

A hurricane is a time for worry, not a marketing opportunity

A hurricane is a time for worry, not a marketing opportunity

When Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast in October 2012, a few companies tried to take advantage of the big news day by offering discounts related to Sandy. Next time, they should think through the PR consequences.

american-apparelAmerican Apparel storm sale provokes Twitter backlash

During the height of the storm, the US retailer emailed customers to tell them to enter “SANDYSALE” when shopping online, but only if you live in a state hit by the hurricane. The twitterverse jumped all over them.

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Then there was President’s Choice. Another shining example of why the 20-something shouldn’t control the social media channels with no senior PR oversight.