Friday, December 11, 2009

Public Relations Disasters

Public Relations Disasters

By: Natalie Vaughn

We have been studying and formulating pubic relations case studies all semester. We have seen some great examples of creative campaigns that have accomplished all of the goals they set. But, what about campaigns that were complete failures? I think it would be fun and fitting for the closing of the semester to highlight a few cases that we can be grateful that we were fortunate enough to not be a part of. For this blog, I am going to pick a few of my favorite recent public relations nightmares.

This fall, Nike launched its new line of football gear, Pro Combat, by debuting the product on prominent college football teams throughout the country. Our very own Oklahoma Sooners were even included. But some Virginia Tech Hokie fans were not prepared for what came along with the football gear. Nike commissioned a military combat vehicle with the motto “Prepare for Combat” written prominently across the side. The vehicle was driven throughout campus on game day. Many saw this as insensitive to the violent acts that occurred on the Virginia Tech Campus in 2007 and Twitter users and bloggers alike agreed that “war-like references” should have been avoided, especially because students who were freshmen during the tragedy were still on campus as seniors.

More recently, Tiger Woods’ has experienced some public relations woes. The news first broke when he left his home in Florida and proceeded to run into a fire hydrant at around 2:00 am. Then many news outlets began to report that his wife was on the scene brandishing a golf club. What made matters worse was the way Woods tried to side step the issue in the eyes of the law enforcement and the public. If Woods had taken the advice of any public relations professional in this situation he would have responded with a truthful and timely statement that addressed the questions of the public.

Whenever your organization encounters a situation like the two above, it is important to take a step back and remember the basic principles that ethical public relations is founded on. Tough situations can make or break an organization. By choosing to react to a challenge in an ethical way, one is much more likely to survive an event of this type. A choice selection of these principles can be in the Public Relations Society of America's code of ethics. Do yourself and your organization a favor by taking into account the effect that your public relations actions will have on everyone involved, not just the organization's interest.

For more information on the Nike Pro Combat case, please visit:

For more information on the Tiger Woods case, please visit:

For a complete guide to public relations ethics, please visit:

For more public relations disasters, please visit:

For more information on crisis situations and how to deal with them, please visit:

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