PR can make or break a company. The nature of the way people share information in the modern age means news spreads around the globe like wildfire. With the advent of mass social media, sometimes even the most beautifully orchestrated PR campaign cannot keep a company’s reputation from going down the pan.
Numerous brands have undergone PR nightmares in the last year – and 2016 is unlikely to be any different. Volkswagen Group is one of the contenders for having experienced the worst PR ride over the course of the year. The emissions scandal seriously tarnished the brand’s image as a highly efficient manufacturer, and it now has a very long climb ahead of it in order to rebuild this. VW’s tale provides marketers with an excellent lesson in how one mistake can undo years of brand building.
Subway suffered from the sentencing of its former spokesperson Jared Fogle’s (AKA ‘Subway Guy’) to 15 years in prison for heinous sex crimes. Fogle served as the focus of Subway’s marketing for many years, and as a result has become synonymous with the brand. This illustrates the problems marketers can face when using spokespeople; while brands can ride on the tale of their good publicity, they can also be seriously damaged by their misdemeanours.
In order to maximise the benefits of PR, while minimising the potential downsides, marketing and communications professionals need to proceed with caution. While they should rightly look to celebrate and promote positive news, they also need to have a firm plan in place in case things go wrong.