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”