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TODD SMITH — Biggest brand, PR and reputation blunders in 2015

TODD SMITH

TODD SMITH

For all of us in the business of building brands, protecting reputations and turning crisis situations into positive press – 2015 was one for the books

For brands, companies and the executives that represent them who thought they had a chance to escape the ire of the public with their hides in tact, social media made sure no one forgot about some pretty epic PR blunders.

As we open the book on 2016, PR Newser rated the top 15 public relations fails of 2015. This week, The Spin Cycle explores Nos 10-5. Stay tuned for the Top 5 PR bloopers of 2015:

10. IHOP Flips For Misogyny.

When you’re looking for a place to have breakfast following church, IHOP fits the bill. Then the restaurant goes and compares its pancakes to A-cup boobies.

In October, IHOP tweeted a picture of pancakes because it’s IHOP. However, it was the copy that got them in hot water.  The tweet read: “Flat but has a GREAT personality.” You see, it’s funny when a flat-chested woman talks about her attributes and stresses the size of her personality. And, pancakes are flat so that’s high comedic value, right?

Yeah, America didn’t think so either. The tweet was deleted and replaced with a nice talking point apology.

9. FIFA Corners Corruption.

Sometimes sports transcends life. Other times, life can do the same to sports. And the love of money can do it to anyone at anytime. Just ask the leaders of professional soccer. FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter has spent most of 2015 denying that his sticky fingers got anywhere near FIFA’s coffers but it seems all Euro fans knew the guy was full of more crap than a Christmas turkey.

Last May,14 FIFA officials were indicted on charges of “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted” corruption following a major inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Six months later, 16 more officials were provided a one-way ticket to the pokey for more than $200 million in kickbacks.

Blatter, 79, held a news conference announcing his resignation but admitted he was just kidding a couple of weeks later. Everyone – outside of his board of directors – hates the guy in charge of FIFA. And they know as long as Blatter is in charge, the players will think about kicking something else other than a soccer ball.

8. Urban Outfitters Holocaust.

When you are in the competitive and hyper saturated world of fashion, a brand needs something to stand out. This year, Urban Outfitters stood out, but for all the wrong reasons.

Urban Outfitters’ buyers, fashionistas, and designers were all sitting around a table one day thinking about a stylish way to reach the metrosexual male and the fashionable female. And then they thought of it – a garment that is pink, but called “salmon” or “coral,” and something that is slimming, like with stripes.

And this was it – circa the Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s. An upside-down pink triangle just like the marked Jews used to be forced to wear and some charcoal and black stripes that can be linked to prisoners of yesteryear. Once the Anti-Defamation League got involved, this blemish in the world of haute couture was gone. Just like the brand appears to be now.

7. AirBnB is Not Welcome.

AirBnB is no stranger to walking down the halls of #PRFail fame. However, this snobby mockery of community outreach earned the app a place on the wall.

In San Francisco, just weeks before the city council were to vote on a measure to restrict AirBnB’s ability to operate in the city, its marketing gurus thought the timing would be perfect to launch a campaign that basically said San Francisco the city should be fawning because of all the tax contributions AirBnB provides.

Only that was the problem — the tax contributions it provides, or at least, tried to deny the year prior. Pity when the PR team doesn’t keep records.

6. Brian Williams and His Pants on Fire.

With many veteran broadcasters retiring (Brokaw, King, etc), America had but one major player to get its news from: Brian Williams. His deadpan appeal to the news was refreshing in the world of overhyped sensationalism.

The audience loved Williams, until he decided his media star wasn’t shining bright enough. He decided to pad his resume, saying that instead of covering the news about the War in Iraq, he was actually there in a helicopter that was shot down.

Williams was caught, by fellow reporters calling him out no less. He was suspended without pay for six months and was later let go all together. NBC had plans for him though to head up its junior cousin, MSNBC. While people considered this a good move for the network, no one was expecting a ratings spike. They were wrong.

Moral of the story? If you have skills, you can always pay the bills. Just, um, stay away from LinkedIn there, B – and always tell the truth, no matter the cost.

Longer Tweets Coming To Twitter?

Longer tweets are coming soon to Twitter.

Twitter is building a new feature that will allow users to tweet things longer than the traditional 140-character limit, and the company is targeting a launch date toward the end of Q1, according to multiple sources familiar with the company’s plans. Twitter is currently considering a 10,000-character limit, according to these sources. That’s the same character limit the company uses for its Direct Messages product, so it isn’t a complete surprise.

There is no official launch date set in stone, sources say. It’s also possible the character limit could fluctuate before it rolls out the final product, which people inside Twitter refer to as “Beyond 140.”

Re/code first reported that Twitter was building a product like this back in September.

Twitter is currently testing a version of the product in which tweets appear the same way they do now, displaying just 140 characters, with some kind of call to action that there is more content you can’t see. Clicking on the tweets would then expand them to reveal more content. The point of this is to keep the same look and feel for your timeline, although this design is not necessarily final, sources say.

Torpedoed Mic | Lost Missile, Lost Face For Wayward Hellfire

A new loss of sensitive military technology ranks among the worst-known incidents of its kind. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that an inert U.S. Hellfire missile sent to Europe for training purposes was wrongly shipped from there to Cuba in 2014. Federal investigators have been tracing the paper trail of the wayward Hellfire to determine if its arrival in Cuba was the work of criminals or spies, or the result of a series of blunders, said people familiar with the matter. Meanwhile, North Korea’s claim of a breakthrough hydrogen-bomb explosion has helped cement loyalty to leader Kim Jong Un. What most North Koreans don’t see: any of the universal skepticism outside the country.

This particular missile didn’t contain explosives, but U.S. officials worry that Cuba could share the sensors and targeting technology inside it with nations like China, North Korea or Russia. Officials don’t suspect Cuba is likely to try to take apart the missile on its own and try to develop similar weapons technology, these people said. It is unclear whether a U.S. adversary has ever obtained such knowledge of a Hellfire.

The missile was sent by its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Corp., after the company got permission from the State Department, which oversees the sharing of sensitive military technology with allies. For this major military blunder, both the State Department and Lockheed Martin get a tragic Torpedoed Mic!

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.

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