Steering into the skid — turning a PR disaster into an opportunity

By Bekki Bushnell, Account Manager

Ever heard the phrase ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’? Maybe at one point in time that held some truth, but as communication and information sharing evolves, some companies, organisations, and individuals have unwittingly put it to the test, proving the phrase to be wrong through their own reputational mistakes. However, what brands with strong integrated marketing and PR teams are able to do in today’s landscape is turn a negative into a positive, and when this is done well the results can be truly impressive.

Take Innocent Drinks for example. Innocent Drinks has long been known for having a conversational, engaging and funny social media presence, and its wider marketing approach is no different. So when the company launched a new blue smoothie with an arguably green tint to it, an opportunity arose to pre-empt and harness the discussion that was about to ensue. From the get-go, the marketing surrounding the smoothie played on the colour blue, conjuring laugh out loud images of whales in double denim through social media graphics. As anticipated, Twitter users were quick to debate the true blueness of the drink in a scenario reminiscent of that dress saga (definitely blue and black by the way).

Image credit: Innocent

That was all the ammunition needed. From using its brand personality online to engage with its audience, to full bus stop adverts insisting the drink is blue, the Innocent Drinks team nailed a viral marketing campaign. Other brands also saw the opportunity to involve themselves, with Dulux’s social media team weighing in with ‘it looks like Crushed Pine 3’, one of the paint company’s green shades. Bravo.

Cast your mind back to the launch of Greggs’ vegan sausage roll for another great example of steering into the skid. Most brands would not take too kindly to having one of their products publicly slated by someone of influence, particularly when that someone presents one of the biggest morning shows on national television and has 6.7 million Twitter followers. When Piers Morgan denounced Greggs as being ‘PC-ravaged clowns’, the company had a quick response at the ready.

As anticipated, other Twitter users were more than happy to voice their own opinions about the new baked food, but the Greggs social media team were ready to go with witty comebacks, much to the delight of their loyal fans and followers.

What does it look like when an organisation tries this out and fails spectacularly? A very recent example of this would be the Conservative Party’s ‘JFC’ meme. Following Boris Johnson’s description of Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘gigantic chlorinated chicken’, a meme of Corbyn in a chicken suit stating ‘JFC. Totally Spineless Chicken’ started doing the rounds on Twitter, created and put into circulation by the Conservative Party. The party tagged in KFC to up the ante, which clapped back fast with a brilliant response: “This is KFC not LBC don’t @ me”.

KFC was applauded for a funny and cutting reply, while the Conservative party faced an overwhelmingly disapproving response across the board (including from other Tories). Political opinions aside, the creative was sloppy, didn’t make sense and certainly didn’t paint the Conservatives in a good light amidst the biggest political challenge faced by the nation in recent years. 1-0 to KFC.

Regardless of intentions, one thing is clear. Companies stand to benefit if they’re able to anticipate any potential pushbacks they might receive, whether that’s from a consumer or business audience. Being prepared, authentic, conversational, creative and willing to push certain boundaries are all key components to this, and that’s where having a trusted PR, content creation, digital and marketing agency will be the difference between failure and success. Your agency should be bringing ideas to the table on how to elevate your brand both proactively and reactively, across a range of situations and to a range of audiences so that you are always prepared to take lemons and make margaritas. We’re ready when you are.