What happens when PR goes wrong? In business it takes years to build a great reputation, but all that hard work can be destroyed in a few moments if you get things wrong.

If you’ve experienced a PR disaster the best thing you can do is acknowledge, make amends and move on. You can also take comfort from the fact that you’re not alone. Even the biggest brands aren’t immune to PR gaffes. Here are a few examples from recent months of when PR goes wrong.

  1. Net – A – Porter

Online fashion retailer Net – A – Porter caused a major uproar earlier this week, when a product image on their website was mistakenly posted with instructions to Photoshop the model to make her look slimmer.

With the fashion industry’s portrayal of body image being a contentious issue, accidentally revealing that your business actively tried to make the models look skinnier is a major PR fail.

  1. PewDiePie

YouTube’s biggest vlogger found out the hard way that bad PR can ruin your career in a heartbeat, after a series of anti-Semitic messages appeared on his channel.

Despite issuing an apology and claiming that they were intended as ‘jokes’, the online star subsequently lost support major support from Google and Disney, and has since claimed the videos were ‘taken out of context’.

  1. Uber

There are countless examples of PR fails from Uber over recent months, but none that irked people more than their breaking of the New York taxi driver strike.

The strike was called in retaliation to Donald Trump’s travel ban, and the breaking of it led to hundreds of people deleting the app and #deleteuber to start trending on Twitter.

  1. T-Mobile

T-Mobile Austria was recently forced to replace an elephant in an advert with an animated equivalent after complaints from charities about the suffering of wild animals in entertainment.

  1. Miller and Carter (Enderby branch)

A branch of Miller and Carter steakhouse recently received a grilling after a manager turned down a teenager for a waitress job with a laughing emoji.

A quick check of their rating on Google shows only one star reviews, all complaining about the manager’s behaviour. Now that’s a PR fail.

  1. CheeMc

CheeMc is a Korean restaurant in southeast London that has benefitted from a number of positive reviews in national newspapers.

They managed to revert all that good work however, after food safety officers closed the restaurant earlier this year, after rat droppings were found in the ingredients.

  1. Southern Rail

A marketing campaign that went sour from the first moment, as Southern Rail tried to fight back against striking unions by encouraging people on twitter to tweet the RMT Union and vent their anger about the strikes.

The backlash on Southern Rail was so severe that it left them scrambling to have posters and adverts for the campaign taken down.

  1. Sunderland F.C

Sunderland scored a PR own goal last month by announcing a number of cost-cutting redundancies at the club, a week after the first team were sent to New York for a week on a training camp.

Considering the multiple millions that is pumped into Premier League clubs every year, sacking 40 low cost members of staff after an expensive trip for the players is hardly the best way to get good publicity.

  1. Domino’s

Two major incidents involving supermarkets created a huge social media backlash against the takeaway pizza giants, after staff were caught in both Aldi and Asda buying emergency food supplies.

This forced Domino’s into making a public apology, and having to assure customers that this was a one-time thing.

  1. Natural Environment Research Council – ‘Boaty McBoatface’

We all know the story here – it started after the NERC decided that a novel way to name their new ship was to let the public suggest and vote themselves.

The winner was of course ‘Boaty McBoatface’, causing a media storm up and down the country, which left the NERC having to backtrack on the competition and instead name the ship themselves.

It may have got them some great publicity, but given how badly this stunt backfired it surely goes down as 2016’s biggest PR fail.


London PR: Other PR agencies want to be us when they grow up.