Top 5 Corporate Crises in 2021 to Learn From

January 17 2022

Remember the saying “There’s no such thing as bad publicity?” Well, that’s not entirely accurate.

More and more, brands are seeing the impact of PR scandals and crises and how they impact their market positions. Depending on the circumstances, a crisis can cast a brand in a bad light, destroy a hard-earned reputation, and put the future of the company in jeopardy.

Corporate Crises
Markus Winkler – Unsplash

Fortunately, you can learn from others’ mistakes and create a crisis communication plan to manage your own brand’s reputation and ensure success.

1. Facebook’s Whistleblower

Now branded “Meta,” the former Facebook has had a tough year in 2021. A former employee turned whistleblower drew light on the company’s poor leadership, both in news outlets and before congress. The testimony included claims that the company puts profits before people and demonstrates poor leadership.

Coming off the PR disaster that was the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2016, Facebook’s new crisis is hard to come back from. Instead of facing these issues head-on, Facebook instead denies or shifts blame, which comes right down from Mark Zuckerberg.

Clearly, the reputation of the CEO is a significant advantage – or liability – for a brand. When you create a crisis communication plan, it’s crucial to consider how the leadership may impact your goals.

2. Colonial Pipeline Hack

Cyber threats aren’t new, but North America and the rest of the world took notice when the Colonial Pipeline was hacked and fuel delivery was shut down on the East Coast of the U.S. The hack was ransomware, and Colonial Pipeline’s CEO Joseph Blount admitted to paying millions in ransom.

This scandal was yet another that demonstrated that many companies are unprepared in both cybersecurity and the response to hacks and breaches. Along with stringent cybersecurity practices, companies need response and communication plans in the event of a breach.

Attacks are inevitable, but crisis communication with planning exercises, cloud-based data and communications platforms, and agile response plans can tackle the inevitability of cyber-attacks.

3. Snickers Homophobic Ad

Large advertisers will always have marketing faux pas. In 2021, Snickers had a significant misstep with an ad that came across as homophobic to viewers.

One of Snickers’ major ad campaigns includes commercials with an out-of-place character who eats a Snickers bar and transforms into the original version. These include the caption, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”

These commercials are largely popular and often include a lot of humor or celebrity appearances. Unfortunately, this tactic failed in Spain. After eating a Snickers bar, Spanish influencer Aless Gibaja transforms into a bearded man with a deep voice, effectively making him a “real man.” Naturally, the LGBTQ+ community found this insulting and called for a boycott of the brand.

Snickers apologized for the miscommunication and pulled the ad, but this can be a lesson for marketers everywhere. Misinterpreted advertising and marketing efforts happen all the time, but the best way to avoid them is by getting feedback from diverse audiences to see how the people depicted may interpret it.

4. Coinbase/Basecamp Political Speech in the Workplace

Political speech in the workplace can be challenging for businesses to tackle. In 2021, both Coinbase and Basecamp attempted to set boundaries around politics at work, which backfired when employees saw it as a way to censor discussions around inequality.

Brands used to stay apolitical, but the landscape has changed. Now, the political issues spill into the workplace, so it’s necessary for brands to allow open discourse and take a stand on hot-button issues.

Instead of prohibiting political speech in the workplace, brands need to create strict policies that outline what is and isn’t acceptable. In addition, participants need to understand that their comments may be heard by unintended audiences. These policies should extend to clothing, company email and messaging, social media, and employee break areas.

5. Peloton Treadmill

Peloton has been in the news several times regarding young children and the Tread+, including one incident that involved death. Peloton eventually recalled the product, but only after numerous statements in which the CEO John Foley dismissed the incidents and their gravity.

While Foley acknowledged his errors in the response and said the company should have engaged more productively, it represents a missed opportunity to gain trust from customers following a crisis. A recall was inevitable, and the company could’ve taken that chance to recall immediately and not only avoid an investigation but show responsibility.

A crisis doesn’t have to be a death sentence for a brand. Properly handled crises are opportunities for a brand to rebuild trust and offer transparency by admitting mistakes and showing how you’ll do better in the future.

Key Takeaways

Nearly every brand will be faced with a crisis at some point. What we can learn from these crises of 2021 is that brands shouldn’t be silent and a crisis management plan can assist them in behaving appropriately and consistently to minimize reputational harm. 

Do you have a proactive crisis communication plan ready for this year? If not, call one of the professionals at PRGN today to find out how easy it can be.

Nick Leighton
Owner & CEO, NettResults Middle East
Nick owns and runs NettResults International PR, is the author of the best-selling book, Exactly Where You Want to Be: A business owners guide to passion, profit and happiness, and an Adjunct Professor at Chapman University in California where he lectures graduate and post-graduate classes in strategic communication.
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