Julia Schatz, Senior Account Executive
I think one of the biggest PR blunders was made at the very end of 2013 by the now infamous Justine Sacco, a PR executive for the company that owns Match.com, the Daily Beast and more. Late December, before getting on an international flight, she tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
She then turned off her phone and boarded her plane to London. While Sacco was blissfully unaware of the attention her tweet was receiving, her employer quickly issued a statement denouncing the remark, and the story went viral. By the time she landed – 11 hours and 20 minutes later –a hashtag was trending in reaction to her tweet: #HasJustineLandedYet.
Although Sacco apologized for her tweet and deleted her Twitter account, the damage was done. Not only did she lose her job, but now anytime someone Google’s her name they will be flooded with national news stories about the incident.
This was one of the worst blunders because it was made by one of our own! I would like to think that not posting something so clearly offensive (whether you are kidding or not) would be common sense to anyone but especially to someone who works in public relations!
Ashleigh Johnston, Account Executive
While I give the biggest individual PR blunder to Justine Sacco hands down, I’m going to give the company award to my most frequented topic of the year, Carnival Cruise Lines. Still reeling from the Costa Concordia disaster, an engine room fire aboard the Triumph left 3,000 passengers and crew adrift in the Gulf of Mexico with no power. Reports flooded the airwaves that sewage was beginning to overflow creating a rather unpleasant odor. The Triumph earned all forms of the nickname “poop ship” which clearly isn’t good advertising for a luxury liner.
Accidents happen, ships break down, but the real problem is that the CEO Micky Arison was MIA during the incident. Instead, a lower-level executive was thrust into the spotlight having to account for the problems aboard the ship. Rather than face the crisis head on, the CEO appeared to slink away just when people needed to hear from him most.
As a result, Carnival spent months crafting ways to repair their image. Initiatives included spending $300 million in upgrades to fire and emergency systems, and a 110-percent refund to any passengers dissatisfied with their trip within a few days of departure. Luckily, these moves seemed to have worked as Carnival’s customer surveys have greatly improved but it was time and money that could have been spent elsewhere had the CEO been in front of the issue from the beginning.