Halloween horrors: How to tackle six nightmare PR scenarios

HalloweenAs it’s Halloween, Mumbrella has come up with six nightmarish PR scenarios (some of which you may recognise given recent events) and hospital-passed them to Tony Ahn to deal with.

Here goes…

News emerges that the supplier of a fast food brand has been using meat that is long passed its use-by date. What is the message you should give to worried customers on social media about your policies for choosing your supply partners?

Tony Ahn

Tony Ahn

Well that depends on what the policies actually were. If the policies were strict and one or more suppliers were defrauding the company, we’d tell the media that the welfare and health of our customers’ pets are our highest concern, that the offending suppliers warranted in their contracts that they were supplying meat cleared for healthful use, that their contracts are hereby terminated, and that we’re suing them for breach of contract. If our policies were not so strict, we’d tell the media that we assumed our suppliers had our best interests and those of our customers at heart, that we’re sickened to learn that our products were not of the high standards we thought they were, and that we are now instituting new quality control techniques and stricter policies regarding suppliers.

The CEO of a major brand has been caught having sex with a stray dog while on holiday with his wife in Bali. There is a graphic video circulating on the internet. Lots of offensive comments are appearing on the brand’s Facebook page. PETA is launching a campaign to have him arrested. Do you delete the Facebook comments, even the non-offensive ones, asking about the incident? How do you respond?

Good God. I’d probably suspend the Facebook page entirely until the issue blew over. The purpose of a brand page would be totally eclipsed by the public during this time. I’d make the page admin-viewable only, until such time as we thought it was mostly out of the public’s short-term memory and could begin to function for the purpose it was created. In terms of response, we’d hold a press conference expressing how disgusted we are over the issue, announcing the CEO’s termination and that we’ll be fully cooperating with any police investigation.

A press ad wins handsomely at the world’s biggest ad show. But a number of industry watchers go on record to say they’ve never seen it before – it’s a fake created to win awards, they suggest. What do you advise the agency CEO tells journalists asking about how effective the ad has proved to be?

I’d advise him coordinate his response with the client first. Then I’d advise him to state the dates and places the ad ran, and that they are not at liberty to disclose how effective the ad may have been; journalists will need to contact the client for that information. I’d also advise him to state the agency policy on award submissions. I’d advise the client to say that they were pleased with how effective it was and leave it at that.

A rogue factory worker at a paper firm has sabotaged the printing presses so that a premium brand of paper is delivered to corporate clients with images of a pornographic nature on every sheet. The images are now on the internet. How do you approach a corporate apology video that the company’s CEO has briefed you to script?

Very earnestly. The CEO needs to be down-to-earth, not stuffy, and to empathize with the customers’ wasted time, money, and potentially damaged reputations. Besides just issuing a full recall, the CEO needs to say something about the fact that while the disgruntled worker wanted to hurt our company, unfortunately, he didn’t think about the businesses, school districts, and government offices he would be harming in order to do it.

An A-list celebrity has been caught shoplifting in a shopping mall. What you advise her on how to behave with the press and what to say to people on the street shouting abuse at her?

When that happened to Winona Ryder she said she was doing it to prepare for a role. People forgot pretty much the following week. I’d advise the celebrity to make a statement through their publicist and speak no more about it. And I’d never advise a client to attempt to speak to anyone shouting abuse at them.

A government-backed anti-gambling group launched an ad campaign to tackle problem gambling. The ad tells the story of a sad child who moans to his friends about his father betting his life-savings on the outcome of an upcoming big sporting event. His father turns out to be spot-on. A torrent of parody videos ensue and the story appears on chat shows in America. The money spent on gambling per person in your country sky-rockets to record levels. What do you tell journalists asking about how effective you think the campaign has been?

This one is the easiest. You tell them the campaign has not been effective at all.

Tony Ahn is chief digital architect at Tony Ahn & Co.


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