The PR Guru

November 11, 2011


In light of today’s gaffes from Cornetto UK and British Gas (updating during the Remembrance Day silences – surely you know better than that!), I thought I’d mention some of my favourite epic fails of the past couple of years.

Coming in at three, it’s the 2009 fail from Domino’s Pizza.

When employees Kristy Hammonds and Michael Setzer filmed themselves doing vile stuff while they prepared their orders – none of which can be mentioned on a family blog – Domino’s management were so slow to respond it did untold damage to their brand in the States.

The video was posted on YouTube, and you can guess the rest – within days, it had been viewed over a million times, and by the time bosses had caught up with the puerile pair – who were subsequently fired and arrested – and posted their own reply on YouTube, the damage had been done.

Their mistake was to ignore what was being said about them on social media. Or perhaps they just didn’t know about it.

Make sure you are paying attention to what the world is saying about you online – it will help you nip a crisis in the bud and show how effective you are at dealing with customer service issues.

My second favourite is the complete failure of Nestle to deal with a Greenpeace campaign to save orang-utans in Borneo last year.

Greenpeace had put together a mock KitKat ad, substituting the chocolate fingers for orang-utan ones, and posted it on YouTube. The idea was to force Nestle to change suppliers of a key KitKat ingredient (palm oil), which had been sourced from the rainforests of Borneo – thus contributing to mass deforestation in the area and threatening the orang-utan habitat.

Nestle responded with aggression, making YouTube remove the film, and when people complained on Nestle’s Facebook and Twitter pages, they were dealt with rudely – making the situation ten times worse.

Eventually Nestle came to an agreement with Greenpeace, and changed their palm oil supplier, so all that fuss was for nothing.

My tip here is to be professional and courteous should someone be saying negative things about you on social media. Imagine how you would deal with a customer face-to-face if they had a problem – and then times it by ten, because the world is watching how you respond.

And finally, my Number One social media gaffe is courtesy of United Airlines, which caused irreparable damage to some guitars belonging to Canadian band Sons of Maxwell in 2008.

Instead of offering compensation, some free flights, or even an apology, the airline ignored the issue. As a response, the band wrote a song called United Breaks Guitars and posted it on YouTube. You can watch it here:

It has since become one of the most popular viral videos, being watched more than 11m times, and supposedly wiped $180m from UA’s share price. Cue some very unhappy shareholders! And all for the sake of an apology.

It’s easy for simple accidents to turn into a crisis – PR people deal with this all the time. The best response is always to be honest and face things head on – offer sincere apologies, and promise to launch thorough investigations. Don’t run away from it, because it will come back and bite you!

With that in mind, I thought one company dealt with a crisis very well this week. They probably won’t thank me for mentioning it, but a welder died of severe burns after an incident at the John Pointon & Sons animal rendering plant in Cheddleton, Staffordshire.

With the HSE investigating the incident, the firm clearly had to be circumspect about their comments, but here was their response…

A company spokesman said: “All at John Pointon and Sons, including directors and employees, are devastated by the tragic death of Mark Bullock, who was a highly valued member of the workforce.

“Our thoughts go out to his family and we are determined to find out how this tragic accident occurred.

“The company is co-operating with the investigation and as such cannot make any further comment.”

It remains to be seen what the HSE will make of what happened. And they may have another crisis to deal with when the findings are announced.

But saying nothing is not an option – it implies whatever has been said or written was correct, and in this case would’ve been seen as a tacit admission of guilt on the company’s part.

Compare that to Ryan Giggs’ response to the media stories about his private life (and Tiger Woods’ response last year).

They will have learnt to their cost that keeping a low profile/your mouth shut does not make the story go away.


March 18, 2010

PR Gaffes of 2010: March

As we continue to stride our way into spring 2010 it is fair to say that the Ugg boot has made its way into the fashion halls of fame.

With genuine designer Uggs retailing in excess of £150 (where even employing the “cost per wear” tactic on this price tag pushes it) savvy fashionistas are turning to cheaper high street alternatives.

However, health experts have recently reported a significant increase in number of toe deformities, back and joint ache as well as the possibly of long term joint damage amongst younger women, linked to rise in popularity of “knock off” boots.

With Victoria Beckham’s trade mark sky scraper heels resulting in her undergoing surgery to remove massively swollen and painful bunions only a few months ago, you would have thought that the fashion conscious, no matter how blinded by glitter and sparkle, would have woken up to the fact that just because the celebs are doing it (and looking mighty fabulous in the process), we shouldn’t be doing it as well.

As it stands, Ugg have not really commented, apart from a brief statement to say beware of ‘knock-offs’, and they have to be careful they don’t get dragged into the debate.

However, if they handle this correctly, their brand could benefit from it – but only if they do more to keep public opinion on their side. As it stands they are looking a little complacent.

It was St Patrick’s Day this week, so this post wouldn’t really be complete without some news from the Emerald Isle.

The Marmite debates about Irish X-Factor twins Jedward, which plagued our media for weeks reached new heights this week as the pineapple haired pair were dropped from their label after  their debut single “Ice Ice Baby” failed to impress music fans, despite the help of aging rapper Vanilla Ice.

It not only failed to reach number one (nose diving into the number 12 spot after just a week in the charts) , but also made a disappointing amount of money for the record company.

However, we can all breathe a sigh of relief – Universal have stepped in as Sony were sprinting in the opposite direction and signed up the freaks talented tykes.

Now I’m not sure who made the biggest gaffe here – was it Jedward for getting dropped after one single, or Universal for signing them when they could’ve done us all a favour and let them slide back into obscurity?

You decide 🙂

And finally, some honourable mentions to two PR Guru blog veterans – John Terry and Tiger Woods.

The Former England Captain – who still hasn’t apologised publicly for his behaviour (and whatever you think about the furore, some contrition wouldn’t have gone amiss) – kindly drove into a Chelsea steward as he was trying to get away from the ground on Tuesday night.

And talking of people with a chequered driving history, Tiger Woods announced he’s making his comeback to golf at the US Masters in Augusta next month.

The eyes of the world – and the media – will be on both to see whether they can salvage their reputations over the next few months.

January 5, 2010

PR Gaffes of the Year 2009 (Part Six)

In November, the banks – and the British legal system – did nothing to improve their public standings after the High Court’s ruling on ‘unfair’ bank charges.

Maybe it’s a naive view, but perhaps the banks could’ve done themselves a favour and agreed to the payout – particularly considering our money has saved them from disaster more than once over the past couple of years.

The ruling merely added fuel to the fire of those who claim the legal system is weighted towards those with money.

PM Gordon Brown was also taking the flak, from The Sun and the Daily Mail (surprise surprise) yet again, after fouling up a letter of condolence to Jacqui Janes, mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan.

I must admit to having some sympathy for him over this, because it should have been checked by someone in his office before it was sent out. And it also smacked of hypocrisy from The Sun, who of course have never spelt anyone’s name wrong 🙂

The highlight of the November headlines for me though was Katie Price’s stint on ITV reality show “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!”

She was looking for some much-needed good publicity – she’d taken a bit of a pounding from the press after splitting from husband Peter Andre – and decided a few weeks in the Australian jungle would help.

The reality couldn’t have been further from the truth, with thousands of I’m a Celeb viewers putting her forward for Bushtucker Trials day after day, until she walked out.

I think she seriously misjudged the feelings of the British people, which surprised me as I think she is usually quite astute. She assumed she could win people round by eating a few bugs and then come out with everyone back on her side.

What a disaster it was! In fact it’s probably been a year to forget for her, because the handling of her divorce from Peter Andre has been terrible.

My advice would’ve been to keep a low profile until everything blew over, which is pretty much what her ex did. Instead she was all over the papers, partying hard and showing off her new beau Alex Reid.

Her lack of humility and dignity has drastically affected her popularity, and her stint in Oz certainly won’t have helped. Shockingly she doesn’t seem to have learnt anything from the experience, judging from Reid’s appearance in the Celebrity Big Brother house this week.

Maybe the message will start sinking in if he’s evicted pretty sharpish?

And finally, onto December, which perhaps saw the biggest gaffe of the lot. But more on that later.

Eurotunnel will be regretting their response to the breakdown of their trains at the worst possible time – the weekend before Christmas.

It’s one thing to have a breakdown, I think that can be explained away as they’ve had a pretty good record since the tunnel opened in 1994. But five???

I was shocked by how unprepared they were though! Surely they could’ve expected a breakdown to happen at some point and have some kind of plan in place?

Unfortunately, they didn’t, and more than 2000 people were stuck in that horrible confined space, with no food, water or air conditioning – just what you want in the middle of a cold snap.

And their offer of a free journey when the problems had been sorted was hardly likely to appease. Hopefully they’ll have a better crisis management plan in place for the next breakdown.

Charlie Sheen isn’t exactly the most popular bloke at the moment either. He’s no stranger to controversy so you would think he’d know how to behave like a grown-up by now.

Allegations of domestic violence against wife Brooke Mueller will not have helped his standing. I’d be surprised if we see Charlie on our screens any time soon.

Despite those cock-ups, there is only one person worthy of the prize in December – and it’s a man who is pretty used to winning trophies.

Tiger Woods had a month to forget after his little car accident on Nov 27. Various women came forward claiming to have had sordid affairs with him over the past few years, putting his marriage to Elin Nordegren and career in serious trouble.

And the sponsors who made him sport’s first billionaire began to leave him in droves. Gatorade, AT&T, Accenture and others have all cancelled deals with him in recent weeks, and games developer EA is supposedly considering doing the same.

Yes, he has taken a big hit – one far worse than the one his Cadillac took – if only he had listened to us before coming out with all those wishy-washy media statements.

So that’s it for another year – hope you enjoyed our review! We’ll be keeping our eye on the gaffes of 2010 – of which there will be plenty – so make sure to bookmark this page and check out our updates.

Or just come back at the end of the year for our next review!

Have a brilliant year everyone, from all at Richard Swancott Associates 🙂

December 12, 2009

Update: so Tiger Woods followed our advice, then

Filed under: Uncategorized — richardswancott @ 9:52 am
Tags: , ,

So, Tiger Woods is to take a break from the game which made him a billionaire. This of course is nothing to do with our last blog.

I know we’ve been on the attack over the past week – a bit like his missus with that golf club – but we were only trying to illustrate the problems of not being truthful in media statements.

Our best wishes go to Tiger and his family and we hope he manages to sort everything out and get back to winning Majors and entertaining millions.

December 11, 2009

Tiger Woods: hate to say I told you so, but…

Filed under: Uncategorized — richardswancott @ 9:11 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Dear Tiger,

Remember last week when I told you the statement on your website would only fuel further media speculation? Well, guess what . . .

Your ambiguous confession sent the hacks digging like bone-hungry terriers in a graveyard. Now names are being added to the list of your supposed mistresses at a rate that would be shocking if it wasn’t so hilarious. What is it up to, 10 now?

There’s even an “I had an affair with Tiger Woods” Facebook group with more than 23,000 members.

No one’s suggesting you actually did cheat on your wife with 23,000 people; that would have left you very little time to play golf and appear in adverts.

And here’s where it gets serious; advertising. Gillette and Gatorade have pulled your TV adverts and Tag Heuer have removed the life-size cut-outs of you from their shops.

You think it hurt when you hit that tree, just wait till this hits your bank balance.

This being the season of good will and me being a soft-hearted soul who’d hate to think of you sleeping rough on the streets of Palm Beach over Christmas, I’m going to give you some advice.

Call a press conference in front of your house. Go in front of the cameras and tell us exactly who you slept with over how long a period. Say that you were weak and ask for forgiveness.

You may want to get your wife to stand beside you the way disgraced politicians do; it will garner you some much-needed sympathy if the cameras don’t catch the look of betrayal in her eyes.

If you can claim to have a sex addiction or an emotional problem stemming from childhood trauma then this would also help.

Next, say that you’re going into rehab or a church retreat or that you’re going to marriage counselling; that you’ll need time to make things right and get back on the rails. Then drop off the radar for six months to a year.

When the time is right to relaunch your career, sign up for the biggest golf tournament you can find and win it. This you will remind people why you were famous in the first place; playing golf not playing away from home.


Rob Deavall

December 3, 2009

Thoughts on Tiger Woods’ ‘personal sins’

Filed under: Uncategorized — richardswancott @ 1:28 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Tiger Woods gave a very public statement yesterday which was supposed to put the story of his little scrape at the weekend to bed. Sadly, it’s done exactly the opposite! And it’s also provided the perfect example of how not to do a media statement!

Here’s what he said, and what we think of his comments… (Tiger fans, look away now)

I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves.

In one fell swoop the opening line cranks up the level of mystery and interest, somehow leaving a loose end flapping about, as uncontrolled and dangerous as a downed power line.

I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect.

Hope you’re talking about not tipping in restaraunts or giving away the ending to books.

I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors…


with my family.


Those feelings should be shared by us alone.  

Bit naive here Tiger. You have a high public profile which you have fostered and maintained through adverts, guest appearances and tv interviews; you’ve seen enough people in your position go through situations like this to know how it works.

I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week, my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives.

Events that happen outside your house, down the street from your house or which involve the police turning up are NOT intimate Tiger. “Intimate” is the last word you want to be using; it translates into “sordid” in most people’s minds and even the slightest hint of sex is enough to set tabloid hacks burrowing away like woodworms in a finely-carved, irreplaceable piece of antique walnut furniture.

The stories in particular that physical violence played any role in the car accident were utterly false and malicious.

That might cut some ice if we hadn’t already seen the pictures of the car. At the very least, your wife shouldn’t have claimed she broke the car’s windows with a golf club to free you. People’s minds will start trying to work out the mechanics of that straight away and will notice the discrepancy between the phrases “backed into a tree” and “had to be dragged from the wreckage”.

But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy.                                                                                                               

Of course you have a right to privacy, but you’ve stirred up the angry bee-swarm of public interest. There’s no lake of anonymity to dive beneath the surface of and if you just try to ignore it, this story is going become more protracted and damaging with the papers and the internet making increasingly bizarre claims about your personal life which you will find it harder and harder to rebutt. Release a statement giving us the details, put the story to bed on your terms, then drop off the radar for six months to a year; you’ll get some privacy and the media will find something else to get excited about.

Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions.                                

The story’s in the paper now Tiger, the toothpaste is out of the tube and won’t go back in. It’s not going to go away any time soon and no journalist is going to be shamed out of covering it by you questioning their ethics or complaining about what this is doing to your family. You’re the one whose actions have done the most damage to your family and I doubt they’ll appreciate you holding them up as some sort of media-shield now.

I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves. For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology.                                                                                                

That’s a pretty lofty ideal to aim for; how about you just try to be a better driver. Nothing like this need come out again so long as you master the act of reversing a car.

Well, there you go. Never thought I’d be offering Tiger Woods advice on how to improve his driving. 🙂

He really needs to sack his PR team pronto, and put out another statement, if he’s going to put this to bed any time soon.

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