January 26, 2018

As we close out the first month of 2018, the Aria team thought it would be fun to look back at some of the most cringe-worthy PR debacles of 2017. Unfortunately, there were many to choose from, but we thought these five really stood out from the pack!


  • United Airlines passenger scuffle: Air travel can be a hassle, but UA took it to the next level when a random passenger was targeted in an overbooked flight and physically mistreated by authorities. UA made the mistake of responding without having all of the information, calling it an overbooked flight (which was later revealed to be false) and blaming the mistreated passenger for being “disruptive and belligerent.” Amid this crisis, videos of passengers being mistreated by several airlines resurfaced – but unfortunately for UA, this will forever be known as a horrendous flight faux pas.


  • Uber argument: The well-known global transportation company was also known for its controversial and outspoken CEO. So, it shouldn’t have been a huge surprise seeing CEO Travis Kalanick argue with his own Uber driver earlier in the year. Granted, Travis took responsibility in his response to the company’s’ employees, but it was a case of “too little, too late.”


  • Donald Trump: How can we forget The Donald, who will go down in history on every PR list of “What Not To Do.” Our team had numerous instances to choose from, but for this blog, we decided to highlight the inadequacy of his response to the Charlottesville attack. Donald went on to blame ‘both sides’ on multiple occasions. Moral of this story: no amount of PR can save an unethical entity (demonstrated by the high turnover in his administration).


  • Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad: This last blunder is more about marketing than PR, but it really made us question how a global corporation with marketing resources in abundance could create such a tasteless advertisement. Even though Pepsi pulled the ad off the market in one day, their initial statement defended the piece and called it an ‘important message to convey’. Pepsi, if you really wanted to advocate for peace, take notes from Heineken’s ‘Worlds Apart’ campaign that took a more authentic approach to global issues.


The main lesson we can learn from 2017’s “PR nightmares” is that a bad response to a crisis can easily escalate the situation and make it even worse. It’s a best practice to develop a crisis communications plan well before your company has any issue to deal with. And, if a crisis does occur, work to gather all the facts before responding, and don’t lose your empathy for those affected.


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Blog post written by:
Risha Tyagi
Author: Risha Tyagi
Account Executive