The PR Guru

January 1, 2010

PR Gaffes of the Year 2009 (Part Four)

July wasn’t a good month for media tycoon Rupert Murdoch – his News Group Newspapers organisation had to fork out £1m to stop phone-hacking victims like Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes and Professional Football Association chief Gordon Taylor speaking out.

Apparently journalists working for the group at newspapers like The Times and News of the World – usually at the forefront when exposing other PR gaffes – had hired private detectives to tap phone lines and snoop on public figures for potential stories.

Can we really trust the stories on the pages of Murdoch’s papers anymore – if in fact we ever did? And are Murdoch’s rivals doing the same thing?

Meanwhile, Joanna Lumley heaped further humiliation on the Government - and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas in particular – after receiving a heroes’ welcome in Nepal.

In May, she had forced the Government into a U-turn on Gurkhas’ rights to live in the UK.

The biggest PR gaffe in July though was by United Airlines, who will surely now regret their treatment of Dave Carroll‘s guitar.

The Sons of Maxwell folksinger was travelling to Nebraska as part of their national tour, and watched in astonishment as baggage handlers threw his instrument onto the tarmac at the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Receiving no help from UA staff on the day, or their customer service department for the next nine months, he wrote several songs and posted them on YouTube.

The first, called United Song #1 (now known as United Breaks Guitars), was posted on July 6th and had 150,000 hits on the first day alone!

It eventually earned over 5m hits, thousands of column inches of bad publicity, and sent the airline’s share prices into a temporary nosedive.

I bet they wish they’d just bought him a new guitar now!

So that’s the award for July sorted out. What about August?

Well it wasn’t a good month for Rupert Murdoch either, amid reports he was planning to charge to read stories on his newspapers’ websites. Hardly endearing himself to the general public is he?

The Government faced another backlash after the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdul Baset Ali alMegrahi – apparently to curry favour with Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi.

Another example of them not covering themselves in glory when communicating with their stakeholders, the voters.

And the ruling body of athletics, the IAAF, didn’t exactly present a caring, competent image when dealing with the Caster Semenya gender row.

But the prize for August simply must go to Kerry Katona, who lost a lucrative advertising deal with Iceland after she hit the front pages again following allegations of cocaine abuse.

The mum-of-two was filmed allegedly snorting cocaine at home, while her daughters slept in the next room, and as a result lost her £250,000 deal with the supermarket chain.

Now while she may have been filmed in secret, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for anyone who does that while looking after their kids.

She has since made a statement apologising for her actions - good move – but no mention of going into rehab or receiving treatment for her addiction.

Maybe the August prize will help her out the next time she’s tempted to reach for the mirror and the rolled-up tenner.

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