The Year in Review: 2011 Public Relations Disasters

Here is the list of the year’s biggest PR disasters that I shared during an interview with 850 KOA’s April Zesbaugh this morning:


Penn State University
Two years ago, Tiger Woods was the gold standard for PR debacles. Last year, it was the BP Gulf Coast oil spill. This year, that “honor” belongs to Penn State. In a matter of weeks, the university went from one of the nation’s most revered to one of the most reviled following its response – or more accurately its lack of a response – to a horrible child sex abuse scandal that saw two administrators indicted, a former assistant coach arrested and football coaching legend Joe Paterno fired. Making the situation even worse from a public relations perspective, the university had access to grand jury information for months and was still unprepared to deal with the fallout.

Netflix was riding high as one of the few positive business stories in 2011. Subscriber numbers were up and the stock continued to defy the bleak economy. And then Netflix got cocky. The company inexplicably surprised customers and Wall Street by announcing a huge price increase as part of a plan to separate its streaming and DVD-by-mail services. Consumers reacted by canceling their service in droves, forcing Netflix to quickly backtrack and abandon its plans. But the damage was already done. The company lost more than a million subscribers and its stock price has dropped 75 percent from its highs this past summer.

Bank of America
Banks have joined oil companies as the businesses that people love to hate, and Bank of America felt that wrath in 2011. Bank of America badly underestimated the populist outrage that existed due to the bank bailouts when it announced a plan to introduce a $5 monthly fee for its debit card users. Bank of America expected other banks to quickly join it in charging the fee, but consumer outrage spread almost virally, leaving the bank on its own as Continue reading “The Year in Review: 2011 Public Relations Disasters”

State of Colorado Sues Kirsten Hamling’s ‘Fired Up For Kids’

Following recent questions about whether Traction Communications’ Kirsten Hamling misled firefighters and stole money intended for The Children’s Hospital Burn Center, the Colorado Attorney General’s office has filed suit against “Fired Up For Kids.” And the allegations are not pretty for Hamling. Among them:

15. In its solicitation materials, including materials sent to event sponsors as well as on its website, Fired Up For Kids has represented that it is a “Denver-based nonprofit organization” that donates all proceeds from special events and sales of The Colorado Firefighter Calendar to The Children’s Hospital Burn Center.
16. Fired Up For Kids also has represented itself in public solicitation materials as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization.
17. In fact, Fired Up For Kids never received 501(c)(3) status from the United States Internal Revenue Service. Nevertheless, upon information and belief, Fired Up For Kids never paid taxes.
18. Kirsten Hamling was the sole director of Fired Up For Kids and its founder. Ms. Hamling is also the sole signatory on Fired Up for Kids operating account, maintained at Wells Fargo Bank.
19. Almost immediately after the incorporation of Fired Up For Kids as a nonprofit corporation, Ms. Hamling began making charges of a personal nature to the Fired Up For Kids operating account. These charges continued through at least July 2010. Charges included money spent at nail and hair salons, money spent on gym memberships, money spent at department stores, and money spent on airline tickets to California. These charges had nothing to do with Fired Up For Kids.

So, based on the allegations, it appears that Hamling may either have admit that Fired Up For Kids is a non-profit and she misused and/or stole money it, or that Fired Up For Kids is a for-profit enterprise and she never paid taxes.

Arellano Replaces McMillan as Post Business Editor

The fallout continues over at the Denver Post following last week’s news about 19 staffers accepting buyout offers. Today, Michael Roberts at Westword reports that the Post has announced internally a number of new assignments, and one surprising one is that Steve McMillan is out as business editor, replaced by deputy business editor Kristi Arellano. You can read the rest of the changes at Westword’s “Latest Word” blog.

Great Moments in Search Engines

One of the most interesting parts of publishing this blog is seeing the search-engine queries that bring people here. Here is a list of some of my (verbatim) favorites from this week:

  • who does libby weaver hair
  • steve silvers gambling ring
  • adele arakawa net worth
  • deborah sherman swinger
  • katy sabin and drew soicher screwed
  • what is the difference between a pr person and a lobbyist
  • libby weaver bra