It’s often not the fault of a PR professional when the proverbial hits the fan.

When companies mess up, the communications team is often standing just out of view of the cameras at the sidelines, silently pleading with the person with the microphone to stop talking.

2013 was a year of many big stories – several of which threw the credibility of organisations into question. Without doubt, many reputations were salvaged and damage minimised with the help of quick-thinking communications teams this year.

There are few instances however where the messaging and company policy, carefully crafted by the PR team, was tossed out the window. That’s when it all goes wrong – as our list shows.


1. “it’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay.”

#horsegate. When UK consumers were horrified by the news that horsemeat had replaced many beef, lamb and pork products in supermarkets, one tactless social media manager let this one slip through the cracks. It was likely a pre-scheduled Tweet gone wrong, or a hapless intern.

“It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay”

Nice one, Tesco.


2. “you didn’t ask the correct questions”

Rob Ford, Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor, amid allegations about his drug use following a string of strange behaviour, agreed to hold a press conference to answer questions about his reported illegal activities. When reporters began grilling him on his behaviour, he denied being a crack cocaine user. He later admitted to using crack cocaine, and a media circus ensued, his defence for which was that reporters didn’t phrase their questions correctly.


3. “we are not freaking out.”

After a volatile appearance on ITV’s Kitchen Nightmares, Amy’s Baking Company was subject to a tirade of abuse on social media. Rather than weathering the storm or politely addressing concerns, the bakery’s namesake gave it right back in the form of an outrageous Facebook meltdown. There’s a string of comments (some explicit, so consider yourself warned), but this one’s a classic:


4. #footwear

Oh, Kenneth Cole. What were you thinking? Syria’s civil war has raged for two years and the public often takes to Twitter to share developments and discuss their wider impacts. When the US administration discussed putting ‘boots on the ground’, menswear designer Kenneth Cole decided it was the right time to pedal his wears. Not appropriate, Kenneth.


5. “i’m not good at math”

After an admission from the IRS (The US equivalent of HRMC) that Conservative groups had been targeted with enquiries, one of the organisation’s lawyers, Lois Learner, learned a harsh lesson on how the press can sometimes take a statement and run with it.

When unable to quickly calculate whether 75 out of 300 groups was a quarter, she fumbled and told the reporters “I’m not good at math”. A red flag to a bull, even though she is a lawyer and not an accountant, she was then briskly shepherded away from the media by the IRS communications team who later issued an apology, but the statement stuck.


6. “nice pic. phooaar. mol”

In an attempt to make nice with the general public after being voted the company with the worst customer service in the UK, RyanAir organised a Q&A for the general public to quiz the airline’s CEO, Michael O’Leary.



7. #spreadthecheer

Imagine the scene: It’s December, London looks beautiful in her Christmas light finery, and The Natural History Museum’s annual skating rink looks as inviting as ever. Displayed on screens around the venue are TV screens displaying Tweets at Starbucks’ – the UK Twitter account. Unfortunately for Starbucks, the recent tax dodging allegations and a faulty content moderator in the system resulted in an angry virtual mob.

Some Tweets included:

“I like buying coffee that tastes nice from a shop that pays tax. So I avoid @starbucks#spreadthecheer

“Hey @Starbucks PAY YOUR F****ING TAX #spreadthecheer”

“@Starbucks Tax Dodging MoFos #spreadthecheer”

If there’s one lesson to take away from all of these PR quotes, it’s that poorly planned communications in the digital age is a little bit like opting to march down Oxford Street stark naked while asking people to tattoo their unadulterated opinions onto your bum cheeks. Not only does it cause a huge scene and sting like fury, it’s also permanent. Once it’s on the internet it doesn’t go away. rom a shop that pays tax.

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