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The Dark Side of Publicity: PR Campaigns that Have Backfired


The world of public relations can be a fickle environment. Even the most experienced of marketers can sometimes make huge mistakes that cause a massive backlash. While there are countless examples of successful strategies, Mark Knight director at London PR agency Broadgate Mainland, discusses the other side of the coin and examines a few campaigns that hindered rather than helped their host businesses.

A Whale of a Problem

While SeaWorld has been a popular family resort for decades, it appears as if there is a darker side to its success. In 2014, it was claimed that many of the whales were mistreated and had shorter lifespans than their wild counterparts. Although representatives from SeaWorld tried to argue otherwise, the data that they released was skewed and hardly objective. This only served to inflame the situation further. When Harry Styles of the band One Direction publicly urged his fans not to visit this theme park, ratings plummeted once again. So, even the most well-intentioned PR campaigns intended to dispute facts can have devastating consequences.

The Australian Coal Conundrum

In an effort to promote the beneficial uses of coal, Australian representatives of this massive industry released a 30-second video entitled “Coal. It’s an Amazing Thing”. Unfortunately, the claims made in the video that coal can provide “endless possibilities” were almost immediately bombarded with opposing Twitter comments. Responses included cities laden with smog, dirty miners and stories depicting the harsh existence of coal workers. Even the executives behind the video stated that they were not surprised by the comments; claiming that they were pleased with the so-called levels of engagement. Many believe otherwise and state that the failed advertisement was a clear indication of a desperate and flailing industry.

A Welsh Surfing Fiasco

When it first emerged that Red Bull was intending to host Surf Snowdonia is Wales, many aficionados and average individuals alike were quite pleased that this pseudo-nation was going to enjoy some much-needed attention. Would Wales finally enjoy a boost of international recognition? It seems that this was not to be the case due to a few embarrassing flaws within this recent PR campaign. First and foremost, the $6.5 million dollars devoted to promoting the region was allocated towards English broadcasting moguls (and therefore attracted more English surfers than Welsh athletes). As if this were not bad enough, the pronounced dearth of local surfers within the competition (as well as female competitors) left many scratching their heads. The final nail in the coffin seems to have been when proper waves were not present during a holiday weekend; further hampering the efforts put forth by both Red Bull and the Surf Snowdonia executives.

These three PR disasters are only a few examples of how seemingly sound strategies can quickly go awry (recall when Coca-Cola changed the formula to their drink a few decades ago). We can conclude from these shortfalls that there is indeed a very delicate line between success and failure within the ever-malleable world of the public relations industry.

Written By

Garima Mehta is a professional writer and blogger based in Worthing, UK.

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