The Wilbert Group Blog

The Top Public Relations Mistakes of 2014, Part 3


by Mark Braykovich

No year would be complete without revisiting the biggest PR debacles, and 2014 was kind enough to supply several examples of companies doing and/or saying the wrong thing. No industry was immune to PR miscues, as our list is a Who’s Who of famous companies that includes an automaker, a big box retailer, a disease-fighter, a disease reporter, two technology giants and one city you probably never heard of until 2014 rolled around.

And in a show of digital awareness and inclusiveness, we’ve also included a few hashtags from hell.

The Wilbert Group’s Crisis PR and Issues Management team takes no joy in chronicling these mishaps throughout the year, of course. We simply track them and try to learn from them so that we and our clients don’t repeat them.

We’ve been counting down these mistakes all this week and will continue over the next few days. Enjoy and Happy New Year!

That City You Never Heard of Until 2014

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson. Photo: New York Times.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson. Photo: New York Times.

Ferguson’s Belated Apology. More than six weeks after the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked violent protests and a national debate about race relations, the city’s police chief publicly apologized. “I’m truly sorry for the loss of your son,” Chief Thomas Jackson said in a prepared statement. Attorneys for the victim, Michael Brown, described the apology as too little too late. “We feel that the apology comes at a time when the trust and the confidence in the chief has already reached an all-time and irreversible low,” said one attorney. “Dynamite, much less an apology, will do little to move anyone off their opinions at this point.” The videotaped apology also had an unprofessional look, with the chief holding the prepared statement in his hands, frequently referring to it, robbing the moment of much-needed sincerity.

Ferguson’s PR Firm Becomes the Story. After the tragic death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, after the public protests and horrible daily images from Ferguson as its police force reacted poorly and violently, and after the media invasion and non-stop footage and articles about reporters being arrested, pushed around by the cops, and stripped of their cameras and notebooks, Ferguson wised up and hired a PR firm. Only it made matters worse. The PR firm became the story when journalists began reporting that Common Ground PR employed no African-Americans. So the PR firm responded, which made matters even worse. The PR firm’s nine-paragraph statement began poorly by equating a PR firm’s response to an EMT responding to a 911 call. CEO Denise Bentele then claimed to be “dismayed at the negative reaction” to the fact that her firm was hired despite its lack of diversity.