As we prepare for Thanksgiving in America, many of us like to sit down and reflect on the past year and what we are most thankful for – as well as the lessons we can take from them. This is also true for marketing and PR professionals; while we saw a variety of interesting news cycles in 2022, a few stuck out to me in terms of key lessons and media practices I’m thankful for. Let’s take a closer look:
Scenario 1: Will Smith and Chris Rock
It was the slap heard around the world: While presenting the trophy for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards in March, Chris Rock made a joke about Will Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett-Smith’s baldness (she has alopecia). In response, Will rushed the stage, struck Chris with a cracking slap across the face, then smoothed down his tuxedo jacket and strutted back to his seat, where he proceeded to yell obscenities at Chris.
Worse, when Will won for Best Actor, he apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees, but not Chris. He even seemed to allude to the slap by saying, “love will make you do crazy things,” and joked about the Academy inviting him back in his acceptance speech. When he did finally apologize, many felt it was too little, too late, and his reputation had already been tarnished.
Thankful for: Crisis communications. A crisis management plan is essential for public figures as well as companies and brands. Will’s publicists should have already had a crisis communications strategy in place should disaster strike. At worst, they may have been able to do some damage control and start redirecting the inevitable media frenzy that followed. At best, armed with a well-thought-out arsenal of tactics, they may have been able to make a little lemonade out of a very sour lemon.
Scenario 2: Ulta’s Kate Spade Email Ad
In May of this year, make-up retailer Ulta put out an email campaign advertising Kate Spade’s line of perfumes. The email subject line read, “Come hang with Kate Spade.” Spade, the founder of the brand, hung herself in 2018. To make matters even worse, May is Mental Health Awareness month.
Thankful for: Research (even a cursory Google search of “Kate Spade” brings up news of her death), and especially human decency.
It doesn’t take much to do a quick search online – five seconds? Ten? When searching “Kate Spade,” news of her passing is the on the first page of Google. I find it hard to believe no one at a beauty retailer would be unaware of the passing of a beauty brand icon. This type of mistake is egregious, deeply insensitive and should have never, ever happened.
Ulta’s brand suffered an embarrassing and avoidable PR blunder because someone was asleep at the wheel. They found themselves at the center of the discussion surrounding mental health, a topic far removed from their brand. Whether you’re communicating with customers or other stakeholders, always make sure to double (or triple) check the language you’re using. It can also be helpful to identify widely recognized holidays as part of your marketing calendar, that way you don’t find yourself in a similar position.
Scenario 3: Slack Outage
With more people working from home since the start of COVID, many rely on Slack for communicating with their colleagues or partners in real time. So, when Slack went down last February due to a complex systems failure, users were locked out of their accounts and unable to access the application. Instead of placing the blame somewhere else or ignoring the issue altogether, Slack posted regular alerts during the outage to keep users up to date on a solution, as well as to why the issue happened to begin with. Slack Tweeted these updates and used the platform to thank users for their understanding.
Thankful for: Companies who are transparent, honest, and accessible. When disaster strikes, people need clear communication and support. By being upfront about their issue, Slack connected with their customers by expressing compassion and working to offer a solution. By owning their issue, they also gained a level of respect and trust that can only be bought with the currency of integrity.
These are just a handful of the communications and PR pitfalls (and a win!) that inspired my Thanksgiving list this year. If some of these hit a little too close to home, let’s chat.