It's time to round up the unwitting finalists for Force for Good's annual PR Disaster of the Year. While it will be hard to top 2006's top PR losers, led by the Hewlett-Packard with its spying-on-itself scandal, we have some pretty impressive candidates to choose from in 2007 as well.
This eclectic bunch of individuals and organizations share characteristics anathema to "aspirational public relations" -- they are clueless in their understanding of reputation-shaping forces, they are harmful to others and often to their own self-interests and they are shameful in their lack of integrity, honesty and transparency.
The year started off with a marketing stunt for the Cartoon Network that went horribly wrong, shutting down Boston as perhaps overly paranoid city officials worried that the ugly giant circuit boards that suddenly popped up on bridges and over passes were the work of terrorists. Nothing like a good terror scare to promote a cartoon, eh?
The confusion over how to deal with Iran, its irritating President and its fascination with uranium led to a series of gaffes. In January,after French President Chirac's bizarre statements and immediate reversals, he blamed the media for not understanding that he was "off the record" at his own news conference. The year ended with the release of a befuddling National Intelligence Estimate report that blatantly undermined U.S. President Bush's scrapping-for-a-bombing policy toward Iran. The NIE report was either the latest misstep from the U.S. "intelligence" community or everything you needed to know about Bush's deep-seated tendency to act before asking all the right questions. Or both. While stating that nothing less than nuclear apocalypse was at stake, Bush apparently made no effort to meet with the intelligence agencies for months as it prepared its Iran report. That prompted Senator Joe Biden to declare: "If that's true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he's one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history." Hard to argue with that, especially when White House Press Secretary Dana Perino (right) compounded her stunning ignorance of the Cuban Missile Crisis into a case study on how not to put a mistake behind you.
Perino's explanation: ("I was panicked a bit because I really don't know about . . . the Cuban Missile Crisis.... It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I'm pretty sure.") was amazingly similar to that of Miss Teen South Carolina Lauren Caitlin Upton. As a guest on the Today Show. Upton was given powder puff treatment and a second chance to answer a pageant question that had prompted . Her ramblingly incoherent answer about "U.S. Americans ... and, ... uhmmm, some people out there in our nation " has become a YouTube classic. But wait; there's still more to this mess. The Today Show and the Miss Teen USA pageant are owned by the same parent company. Do you think Matt Lauer will give other flummoxed speakers a second chance to knock a soft ball out of the park?
Speaking of Joe Biden ... remember Biden? It was only two paragraphs ago. He's pretty forgettable, isn't he? ... His clumsy "praise" of Barrack Obama as a uniquely "clean" African-American presidential candidate pretty much ended Biden's brief run for the White House, as predicted early in the year in this Force for Good post. I apologize that this post's link to Biden's gaffe is no longer active - pretty much everything about Biden is short-lived.
It was a year when baseball's most hallowed record was broken by a steroid abuser who would soon be facing perjury charges in Federal court. Michael Vick, not long ago the NFL's highest-paid star, disintegrated before our eyes as dog-fighting allegations led to lies, the failure of a drug test and a prison sentence. And O.J Simpson followed up his grotesque "If I Did It" book with an armed confrontation with memorabilia dealers that might end up putting him behind bars where most of the country believes he already belonged.
But who can forget Paris Hilton's get-out-jail escapade? Or Britney Spear's head-shaving? Don Imus' "nappy-headed ho's" comments and his handling of the ensuing firestorm of criticism? Do they top Whole Foods' CEO John Mackey's anonymous blogging attacks? Or Utah mine CEO Bob Murray's bizarre tirades to the media while rescue attempts were failing to save the lives of miners trapped below?
- Jon Harmon