Public Relations Nightmares

maxresdefaultSea World learned the lesson the hard way when it implemented a #AskSeaWorld Twitter campaign in an effort to rehabilitate its image following controversy from the 2013 release of Blackfish, the documentary that focuses on the captivity of Tilikum, an orca involved in the deaths of three individuals, and the consequences of keeping orcas in captivity, not to mention its alleged mistreatment of the animals.

Hundreds of posts from animal rights organizations such as PETA and Blue Planet Society, and the general public were asking questions like when would the park let its sea life go free, and when would it close its doors forever. This caused SeaWorld to pull many of the Twitter posts claiming that they were attacked by “trolls, bots and bullies.”

What were they thinking? How do you propose opening up your doors to a public that has already been critical of your practices? Those doors should have been closed and bolted secure not allowing for the opening of the floodgates. Did SeaWorld really think that the public would come out cheering for its side of the animal cruelty campaign? Yes, SeaWorld has a major rescue and rehabilitation program in place. But instead of rescue, rehabilitate and release, it chooses to keep much of the sea life in captivity under dire conditions.

Then, of course there is Bill Cosby.  There is little to be said that has not already been said. But I can ask the same question: What was he thinking when he posted a picture of himself on Twitter and asked users to “meme” him at #CosbyMeme? Although the original goal was to generate lighthearted wholesome fun, like SeaWorld, the floodgates were opened calling out the allegations that Cosby raped numerous women over the past few decades.

Again, I have to ask: What were you thinking? According to the New York Post, the meme generator even started deleting words like “rape” and “sex” when they were used. But dedicated users still found clever ways around the obstacle.  According to the New York Post, Cosby’s original tweet was deleted and the meme generator it linked to removed entirely.

Then, there was the Coca Cola Twitter debacle earlier this year when its automated social media campaign #MakeItHappy, transformed negative tweets into cartoon-like characters using ASCHII codes that were actually transformed quotes from Hitler’s hate manifesto, Mein Kampf. Tricked into quoting Hitler by Gawker staffers, Coke suspended its campaign. Again, what were they thinking? Going after negative tweets just opened up the door to bot attacks from the likes of Gawker and others.  Why would Coke want to associate itself with negative tweets in the first place? Just like you can’t fix stupid, you can’t sweeten negative, not with all the Coke syrup in the world.  As Taylor Swift says, “haters gonna hate.”

Like the adages “Do no harm” and “Be careful what you ask for,” marketers should remember this one: “Protect your brand.”  It’s one thing if your brand is being attacked, you need to have a plan for jumping to its rescue.  It’s quite another when marketers initiate a plan that backfires on the brand and creates a tsunami of its own.

7 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Public Relations Agency


A successful PR campaign can help to grow your business and gain awareness of your company. When considering a PR agency to hire, ask there are a few questions you want to ask to make sure they are a fit for you. Here is a list of 7 questions that you should ask before choosing a PR agency.

  1. Have you worked on campaigns in my industry?

You will get the most out of an agency if they have experience with your sector of business. You can ask for references from previous clients, treat and to see results from past campaigns. This can give you an idea of their industry capabilities.

  1. Who is my direct contact/team member?

You should know who you will be directly working with on your campaign. Ask who your contact person at the agency will be and who will be working with them. It is important to know your team and be comfortable with them so they know what you want and what you expect from them.

  1. Which media outlets are best for me?

It is important for PR agencies to know who their client’s target audience are, and for an agency to have experience in traditional and new media. The agency you select knows the outlets that will reach your audience the best. This can range from traditional media placements, such as television and newspapers to online promotions as well as social media outlets.

  1. How will your agency measure success?

Before hiring a PR agency, it is important to know how they measure success. The most common ways that agencies measure success with a client is through media placements, and social media analytics. Social media analytics can be social media page “likes”, content reach, and follower interactivity. Another thing to consider when choosing how a firm will measure success is an increase in traffic to your website or increase in sales after a PR campaign.

  1. Will you provide media coaching?

See what is being offered in terms of media coaching or training; this can be a valuable lesson to anyone who will be interviewed by the media. If the agency doesn’t handle media coaching directly, ask if they refer you to for an experienced media coach.

  1. Are you experienced on social media?

Social media is an important tool to reach many of your stakeholders. It is essential that you find an agency that is well versed in social media, and the social media trends. You can ask to see results from social media campaigns or promotions from previous clients, to gage if the agency has success promoting a company in your field.

  1. How will you communicate with me?

It is important that your PR agency communicate with you on a regular basis. Usually agencies will send a monthly status report detailing what they have done and where they have placed your business, however it is still important for them to touch base with you on a regular basis in order to maintain a pulse on your campaign. You can ask how often you will be updated on campaigns for your company, and how often the staff will be available to you. You should also make yourself available to your PR agency, in case they need a quote, or approval in a pinch.