They say what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger. In some ways, the same can be said about public relations. If your negative PR doesn’t sink you, then you have an opportunity to come out smarter, better, and wiser… at least, you should. Of course, it’s better if you learn from someone else’s mistakes, so you have a better chance of avoiding your own. Here are two recent PR problems that teach us very clear lessons.
Roseanne Barr: Is It Worth It?
We all get angry. We’ve all said things we don’t really mean, things we wish we could take back. All of us. But, when what you communicate can be seen by everyone and shared countless times on a public forum, it may be better to keep it to yourself. Even if you think you might be scoring points with your immediate audience, understand that there’s really no such thing as ‘private’ conversation on a public forum. Someone will see it or hear it… and there may be consequences.
For Barr, whose career had taken off, again, with the smashing success of her rebooted sitcom, there were a great many reasons not to go on a Twitter tirade, especially one widely considered racist. But she did, and the consequences were harsh and immediate. Dropped from the show that bears her name, and no looking back for the network. So, here’s the lesson: Before you communicate, no matter how you feel, always ask, “Is this worth what might come of it?”
Southwest Airlines: From Bad to Much Worse:
In a time when United Airlines had become the public’s favorite example of an out of control airline, Southwest could have taken some time to do some things to increase its positive PR presence. Instead, the airline had an engine explode, killing a passenger. The story may have ended there, with a tragic accident and sincere apologies. But, then the media reported that Southwest’s business practices may have played a role in flawed maintenance leading to the explosion and the death.
While nothing’s been proven, and so far the comments are only allegations, the facts of the case didn’t have to be proven for consumers to react. Since the headlines alleging less-than-optimal maintenance practices surfaced, the company has seen bookings fall, leading to tens of millions of dollars in sales lost. Now, instead of offering regrets for a terrible accident, Southwest is faced with answering allegations that it put profitability ahead of passenger safety. The lesson? Bad news can always get worse, and people will hold you responsible. You have to be prepared. Sure, the best preparation is prevention, but even the best of intentions are not bulletproof.
What PR miscues resonated with you? What lessons have you learned from watching others “learn the hard way”?
Ronn Torossian is one of the most well respected Public Relations professionals in America.