Corporate PR crises - and there were many – took a back seat in 2013 to the going ons in Washington. Result: Good news for crisis specialists.
So here’s an abridged list of self-inflicted and bad taste crises:
President Obama drew a red line regarding Syria’s uses of chemical war fare and then erased it, ordering U.S. Navy ships to stand down from attacking the Assad government.
Result: Allies viewed Obama as a talk loudly, but carry small stick president whose statements can no longer be trusted.
In the closing days of 2013, Russia was hit by terrorist attacks, probably by Muslims who are against the Olympics, the most political of sporting events, because it is being held on land they consider was taken by military force in the 19th century.
Result: Once again the International Olympic Committee refused to acknowledge that since Munich in 1972 danger follows wherever their games are held. The IOC’s security is not our problem but is the responsibility of local authorities statement once again showed the callousness of the organization, whose only concern is to have their commercial bonanza games played.
Led by Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republicans shut down the government in an attempt to stop the funding of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Result: The GOP, which had Obama on the run until Cruz took center stage, resulted in the Republicans being blamed by all but the most right-wing believers. It also caused a split in the Republican Congressional reps and damaged their chance to retake the Senate in the 2014 election.
The Affordable Care Act’s web site was not ready for prime time when it was put into operation causing numerous problems for people trying to use it.
Result: The malfunctioning site received continuing negative media coverage. In addition, President Obama’s declarations that, "If you like your plan, you can keep it," proved untrue, providing Republicans with material for attack ads that will haunt Democrats until after the 2016 elections.
On New Year’s Day, 2013, the GOP House leader John Boehner refused to allow a vote on the hurricane Sandy relief package.
Result: Republican congressional and other ranking GOP elected officials from the Northeast condemned the action and pointed out that representatives of areas devastated by Sandy always supported fast action when other parts of the country were struck by disasters. GOP congressmen openly criticized Boehner and said that anyone from New York and New Jersey who contributes to the Republicans “is out of their mind.”
The continuous rewriting of the Benghazi talking points for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.
Result: The final draft provided Republicans with an opportunity to claim a cover-up by the State Department and the White House that will reverberate through the 2016 presidential election.
Wal-Mart said it could not attend a White House meeting with Vice President Biden on gun control legislation because of a scheduling conflict.
Result: Afterthe Wal-Mart statement about “a scheduling conflict” was criticized by the media, Wal-Mart, the U.S.’s largest seller of firearms and ammunition in the U.S., including guns like the one used in the Newtown massacre, said it would attend the meeting.
Despite needing a massive government bailout and running a “thank you, America” ad campaign, American International Group’s board considered joining a lawsuit against the government for violating the 5th amendment, faulting the government for not providing sufficient compensation for shareholders.
Result: AIG received continuous media criticism for even thinking of suing the government, which provided funds that kept the giant insurer and financial services company in business.
The National Rifle Association issued “NRA: Practice Range,” a target shooting app for ages 4 and up, and also failed to express sympathy after the Sandy Hook massacre.
Result: Critics faulted the NRA for many reasons: insensitivity for releasing the app just a month after the anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, encouraging children younger than those killed at Sandy Hook to become gun enthusiasts and issuing the app after blaming the violence shown on video games as a reason for mass shootings.
Despite originally being chosen to receive the prestigious top award by CNET at the Consumer Electronics Show for its ad-skipping product, Dish Network was denied the honor when the CBS Corporation, owner of CNET, nixed the award.
Result: CBS received negative media coverage and was accused of prohibiting editorial independence.
After complaints, McDonalds pulled an ad which parodied a woman with mental illness and listed a telephone number for people which connected them to McDonalds.
Result: The ad was criticized by the media, by P.R. people and the national Alliance on Mental Illness, which said that the ad could lead a person in a true emotional crisis to call that number seeking help.
Retailers, including Amazon.com, Kohl’s and Wal-Mart, were unable to keep their assurances that merchandise would be delivered by Christmas when United Parcel Service and Fed Ex failed to deliver on time.
Result: All of the above firms received continuing negative publicity, which tarnished their reputations and gave new meaning to caveat emptor.
The Carnival Triumph was anything but when an engine room fire left the 3000 passengers without functioning lavatories or power in the Gulf of Mexico.
Result: Carnival received days of negative media coverage and some stories reported that this was the fourth engine room fire on a Carnival ship.
Head lice and cockroaches are more popular than Congress, according to many people.
Result: Entomologists protested, saying that comparing insects to Congress was a slur on allarthropods.
* * *
Arthur Solomon was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller. He now is a frequent contributor to PR publications, consults on projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.