It has been quite a year, one that I doubt any of us will forget. We had a global pandemic, an unprecedented economic crisis and record unemployment. We witnessed widespread protests against racism and racial injustice, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1960s. We saw the impeachment of a U.S. president, and the shocking deaths of the Black Mamba (Kobe Bryant) and the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).
All of that certainly overshadowed the PR disasters we experienced this year. In fact, if you were going to have a PR disaster, this was the year to do it. Below are some of the most high-profile mistakes that were made this year. I hope you enjoy them. And, as usual, I excluded most political ones because there are just too many and we are so polarized that everyone views them through a partisan lens.
Lawyer, author and cable-news legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin reminded everyone that there are worse things than mindlessly scrolling Twitter when you are on an interminable Zoom call (you’ll have to read the details for yourself). Unfortunately for Toobin, the New Yorker fired him immediately. Fortunately for Toobin, CNN took a much, ahem, softer approach, allowing the analyst to take a leave of absence to address a “personal issue.”
Wells Fargo has made a lot of bad headlines the last few years, such as the $3 billion fine it paid after illegally targeting senior citizens and retirees for services they did not request and providing substandard investment advice. With that speed bump in the rear-view mirror, the company was free to look forward to new opportunities to make headlines. And it did just that in September when its CEO blamed the bank’s lack of diversity on the “very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from.”
Managers at a Tyson Foods plant in Iowa allegedly ordered employees to report for work while they secretly wagered money on the number of workers who would contract COVID-19. The details were shared as part of a lawsuit against Tyson, and specifically alleged that the plant manager “organized a cash-buy-in, winner-take-all, betting pool for supervisors and managers.”
The founder and CEO of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, resigned after making inflammatory comments online about the death of George Floyd. The comments caused high-profile CrossFit sponsor Reebok to drop its affiliation with the organization, and dozens of local CrossFit franchises quickly rebranded without the CrossFit name.
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) regulates, not surprisingly, the oil-and-gas industry in Colorado, and part of that job requires carefully balancing the needs of the industry with the needs of the state’s communities. Building trust and credibility with all its stakeholders is critical. Alas, in November, the COGCC was forced to apologize after sending an inappropriate email ridiculing the very companies it regulates. Staff members testing a new e-filing system inadvertently sent an email to hundreds of oil and gas workers statewide that referred to fictitious companies such as “‘Snake Oil Inc.,” its law firm “Blah Blah Blah,” and its cause or case number “666.”