PR Disaster

Adidas was the sponsor of the 121st annual Boston Marathon in 2017. For many, it’s the holy grail of long-distance running. One day after the race, the company emailed participants a congratulatory email with the subject line, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” The backlash was swift on social media.

Every year, public relations disasters never cease to surprise, shock and supply several “teachable moments.” Last year did not disappoint.

Adidas — Foot in mouth

Adidas was the sponsor of the 121st annual Boston Marathon in 2017. For many, it’s the holy grail of long-distance running.

One day after the race, the company emailed participants a congratulatory email with the subject line, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” The backlash was swift on social media.

Clearly, Adidas’ marketing department didn’t think through how the wording could be perceived considering it’s been four years since the bombing at the 2013 race. It also didn’t help that the body of the email was an enticement to shop with the words, “You’ve conquered Boston. Share your race day experience and shop official gear.”

Fortunately, they issued a public apology shortly after the original email. “We are incredibly sorry. There was no thought given to the insensitive email subject line we sent Tuesday. We deeply apologize for our mistake.”

By immediately acknowledging responsibility and quickly issuing a sincere “no excuses” apology, Adidas was able to limit the bad press to a two- to three-day story.

Equifax — Breach of confidence

The list of Equifax’s PR misdeeds is long and continues to grow.

• A massive data breach that exposed personal credit records, including name, Social Security number and date of birth of more than 145 million people, was publicly reported by Equifax in September 2017. This was a full six weeks after Equifax learned they’d been hacked.

• The breach could have been prevented in March after researchers uncovered a server software vulnerability. It wasn’t patched and was later used as a point of entry by hackers.

• The day after the initial announcement, “Happy Friday!” was tweeted from the @AskEquifax account. “You’ve got Stevie ready and willing to help with your customer service needs today!” Clearly someone forgot to check the scheduled messages.

• Three Equifax executives sold nearly $2 million in stock after the data breach was discovered, but before the public announcement.

• Instead of taking the initiative to notify breach victims, Equifax decided to set up a website and call center. The large volume of inquiries resulted in little to no service from both the phone lines and website.

• Two weeks after the announcement, the company admitted to directing people to a bogus website with an address similar to one created to help breach victims, rather than a page on its regular website at equifax.com.

• Equifax initially charged breach victims a fee for freezing their credit. After public outcry they decided to waive the fees.

While most companies won’t face the tsunami of news spewing from Equifax, there are some key lessons to be learned.

Transparency is crucial. Disclose problems sooner rather than later. The public and the media can usually tell if you’re hiding something.

Take responsibility. Publicly disclose all of the facts — the good, the bad and the ugly.

Create a plan. Describe specific steps your company plans to fix the situation and to make certain it won’t happen in the future. Implement the plan.

Show sincere empathy. Apologize. Demonstrate a genuine concern for those who are affected.

Clients come first. Set up a clear path for communication. Keep clients informed on a timely basis.

Maureen Buscher-Dang is a Bakersfield public relations and marketing consultant. She can be contacted through her website www.buschermarketing.com.

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