How effective is PR in preserving the reputation of a global brand?
IT HAS been recently reported that Tesla has decided to axe US public relations team. According to the online outlet Electrek the infamous car company hasn’t responded to a press inquiry for a number of months.
Elon Musk’s (the multi-billionaire owner of the car firm) decision to dissolve Tesla’s PR operations has raised a question as to whether famous companies are too big for PR. Do they need a team of people churning out positive press?
Or is their name, their brand alone, enough to quell bad publicity and quench the thirst of their army of followers, consumers and admirers.
After all, a single one worded tweet from Musk can be enough to send millions into ecstasy and supply hungry journalists with their juicy stories, creating an argument for Tesla as to whether PR is obsolete to an organisation of that magnitude.
Nevertheless, companies should tread carefully when it comes to abandoning their PR operations.
No matter how big a brand and their standing, it’s their reputation on the line and a coherent, functional PR team makes all the difference when dealing with difficult scenarios and press bombscares.
Recent examples of disastrous PR missteps include the fitness giant PureGym. As the UK’s largest gym chain with over a million members, Pure Gym is a household name in the fitness industry, and is renowned for offering high quality facilities and classes at an affordable price.
Yet, despite being the UK’s favourite health club. Pure faced tremendous backlash for a recent fitness workout.
A trainer at Pure Gym tried to design a workout to commemorate Black History Month called ’12 years a slave’. The workout depicted are variety of exercises under the slogan and was universally condemned for missing the point of the awareness month and for being, quite frankly, grossly inappropriate.
As you can imagine, the gym has since apologised for the blunder and are licking its wounds from its mistake – a mistake which could well have been avoided altogether if it had been vetted thoroughly by Pure Gym’s PR team.
What we have learned throughout the pandemic is how valuable our NHS and key workers are to our everyday lives. The work they do, day in day out without hesitation, has never been more appreciated by the nation.
A valuable group of people with the hearts of the country captured, an online shopping giant hit headlines after taking back a prize from a student nurse, after she couldn’t claim her gift because she was working.
Oh Polly came under flack after they took back a competition prize from a student nurse, Lara Harper, who was not able to join a Zoom party because she was on shift. The competition was specifically for key workers, and the prize was a care package including a free outfit.
According to the Lara, Oh Polly responded to her saying:
“Hey babe, unfortunately the prize was joining our party, and dress and package was a little something to participate in on the evening of the event. So sorry you are unable to join us babe and we do hope you are able to join us at future competitions.”
Much like Pure Gym, the online shopping site was forced to apologise. Adding insult to injury, a rival website pounced on a perfect PR opportunity to promote themselves by offering the student nurse their own ‘care package’.
Lockdown has lead to many difficult decisions being made by companies up and down the UK. The furlough scheme was introduced to help businesses support staff and prevent redundancies, stopping thousands of businesses from going under.
When a multi-million, world renowned sports team decided it was going to furlough some non-playing staff, the country erupted.
Liverpool FC, now Premier League Champions, took the decision in April to furlough some of their staff. Yet, the backlash was so severe the club backtracked and came out to apologise for their decision.
Former footballer and businessman Gary Neville described the situation as a ‘PR disaster’ ridiculing the Premier League and urging top flight clubs who furloughed staff to be banned from signing footballers over the Summer. Liverpool’s announcement was almost immediately overturned.
Each of these calamities have one thing in common: their reputations, at some level, were damaged by each of these decisions.
They serve as examples of how poor PR or no input from PR can lead to a customer backlash, brand boycott, or swaying supporters. If each of our examples had a solid PR team involved in its decision making processes, they could have managed, softened or even stopped policies or stories coming out which were going to anger their audiences, damaging the reputation of each company.
Musk may well be able to shrug off criticism by shutting up shop, but what these examples demonstrate is no matter how global your brand is, companies are always susceptible to reputational damage.
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