As the new year begins, media are awash in predictions for 2018 and recaps of the previous 12 months. One story by Lindsey Stein, who covers the agency beat for industry bible Ad Age, particularly caught my attention: “Year in Review: Biggest PR Blunders.”
The story lists unfortunate events that befell some of America’s leading brands in 2017, from alleged racial discrimination on American Airlines flights to concerns about sanitary conditions at Chipotle restaurants. But I wouldn’t call these PR blunders – to me, a PR blunder is a campaign or stunt that backfires. Instead, I like to think of these incidents as PR opportunities.
Imagine if Chipotle hired its own team of inspectors and shut down each and every franchise that didn’t live up to industry-leading standards for cleanliness? Or if State Street – which sponsored the acclaimed “Fearless Girl” statue on Wall Street, then drew sneers upon settling with the U.S. Labor Department over alleged racial and gender salary disparity – started a mentoring program for young African-American women to encourage more diversity in the financial services industry?
At its best, good PR not only minimizes the damage when trouble hits an organization, but helps turn the negative into a positive. Tylenol and Coca-Cola are a few of the myriad examples of organizations that have made their own lemons into lemonade, restoring trust and confidence while rebuilding brand equity.
I’ll be watching the Chipotles and American Airlines of 2017 to see if they can reframe their stories in the coming year. And I hope Ad Age will follow suit with a story titled, “Year in Review: Biggest PR Successes.”
Barry Finkelstein is senior vice president / director of public relations.