A history of PR crises!

All News Posts


  • Business
  • Communications
  • PR
  • PR experience

In my previous blog, Not Hitting Rock Bottom, I gave several examples of the hiccups from my early career and handling of some PR crises. Reflecting further on these experiences, I decided to delve deeper into the subject of PR disasters over time and realised that I am far from alone in my struggles …

Take the story of the Walkie Talkie skyscraper, designed by American architect Rafael Viñoly. It was he who won the Carbuncle Cup, the British architectural anti-prize. The official name of the London high-rise is 20 Fenchurch Street, which corresponds to its address. This 37-storey building, 160 metres high, has a concave profile and extends upwards. Even before construction was completed, the tower was in the public eye. The fact is however that the concave windows of the skyscraper worked like a lens and focused the sun’s rays in one place, heating the streets and neighbouring buildings to such an extent that the paint on cars parked nearby melted, and some locals even managed to fry eggs on a frying pan placed on the ground! The temperature reached a record high of 117˚C. The problem was solved at the cost of £10 million and six months’ work via a system of canopies, installed on the building. While they solved the problem, the PR crisis damage had been done as the media dubbed the building the Walkie Scorchie and Fryscraper!

Looking much further back in time, it is also possible to refer to a Swedish PR crisis example. At one time, in the early 17th century, Sweden was considered one of the strongest countries in the world whose military might was based on its navy. To strengthen its role, in 1626, it was decided to begin building a new flagship. On August 10, 1628, the citizens of Stockholm assembled in the harbour to see the launch of the Vase, the largest, most beautiful, and fearsome royal ship of her time. Armed with 48 large 24-pounder cannons, eight 3-pounder cannons, two 1-pounder cannons and six mortars the luxurious Vase capsized and sank on its first salute. The beautiful ‘flagship’ was only able to sail 1,300m with some 50 people losing their lives in the disaster. The Swedish navy went from the envy of the world to the opposite overnight.

Or take the story of the Coca-Cola Company. They once ran an advertising campaign for Arabic countries consisting of three posters. The poster on the left showed an image of a man lying on the ground with no energy, in the middle he’s drinking a can of Coca-Cola, and finally, on the right poster, the man is awake and full of energy. What could be the problem? Well, in Arabic you read from right to left…

What do all these have in common? Well, as you can see, no one is immune to misfires. From large corporations to countries history is littered with PR crisis examples. Clearly, I am not alone, and it is a question of learning from your mistakes as well as handling communications at the time that is key to dealing with these.

Now if only all the above had had a good PR agency, imagine what could have been!

Find out more about Crisis PR and the importance of planning in Simon’s blog. Or give us a call and we’ll help you avoid – or at least handle – your crisis communications needs.

Related News Articles