PR Fails from 2022 and What We Can Learn from Them – Part 2

Last week, we dove into three of the biggest PR debacles in politics, tech, and finance: Liz Truss versus lettuce, Elon Musk versus Twitter, and SBF versus his own ability to shut up. This week, we’ll examine what we can learn from some of year’s worst communications screw-ups in fashion, music, and sports.

Know When to Say Goodbye

It has been a crisis-filled year for Kayne West. As recapped by Morning Brew, “Kanye West managed to sink his net worth from $2 billion to $400 million, according to Forbes, by sending corporate partners running due to his antisemitic tweets and erratic behavior that only seemed to escalate any time the rapper was given a platform to speak publicly.”

I’m not going to dissect Kanye’s behavior: he has made remarks this year that go far beyond definition of a “PR Fail.” What does bear examining, though, is how his corporate partners responded in the wake of his scandals. When you have a profitable business relationship with an influential public figure, it can be hard to make the call to sever ties, but delaying can cost you.

On company in particular was given the public side-eye for not ending their relationship with West sooner: Adidas. The move to discontinue the Yeezy sneaker line came after West was dropped by his talent agency, a completed documentary about him was shelved and his ex-wife Kim Kardashian responded. Their slow response was noted by media and consumers alike.

Executives inside the company say that Ye was unreliable even before 2022’s series of racist public statements, but that the company had grown too reliant on the sales of Yeezy sneakers to consider ending the partnership. By the time Adidas were forced to finally back away from West, the Yeezy line made up almost 7 percent of their total annual revenue. Now, Adidas is sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of unsold Yeezys, and their ability to move those products under their own label will be hobbled by the reputational damage caused by prolonged attachment to the troubled designer.

PR Lesson:  When you see someone running as fast and hard as they can toward a cliff edge, let go of their coattails.

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Also on the slow apology train: Ticketmaster. First, their “dynamic pricing” system for Bruce Springsteen’s 2023 tour sent prices soaring into quadruple digits across all cities. The Boss was on board for that plan, though, so no apology was forthcoming for the sticker shock. Then, Ticketmaster came for the Swifties. Even if you are not a Taylor Swift fan, chances are you heard of the snafus that ensued when the Eras Tour tickets went on sale. The Ticketmaster system crashed multiple times throughout the pre-sale. The company’s initial response? Cancelling the public sales day. Swift apologized to her fans and called out Ticketmaster. Then and only then did the company issue an apology.

The drama has not ended there for Ticketmaster. At a pair of sold-out Mexico City shows, hundreds of Bad Bunny ticket holders were turned away at the door despite having valid tickets. Ticketmaster was defensive, saying that it faced an unprecedented number of counterfeit tickets, but the Mexican government alleges that the duplicate tickets were the result of Ticketmaster overselling the venue. Now, Ticketmaster faces fines in Mexico and class-action lawsuits brought by both Taylor Swift and Bad Bunny fans.

This is all bad PR under any circumstances, but the timing could not be worse for Ticketmaster parent company Live Nation. Even before the Swift debacle, the Justice Department had launched an antitrust investigation. Their actions this year have demonstrated a total indifference to customer experience that could destroy their ability to defend themselves against charges of monopoly. In the words of yet another musical genius, “It’s too late to apologize.”

PR Lesson: Timing is important. waiting too long to respond to a comment, a criticism or even a complement can COST YOU.

The World Cup

Where to begin with the World Cup, really? I guess we can start by saying congratulations to Argentina!

In all seriousness, FIFA is no stranger to PR crises. The World Cup has been wreaked with controversy from the inhumane treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums in Qatar, to the anti-LGBTQ policies of the host venue — and that is just from this year’s event. There simply is a lot to unpack. That said, if we want to take a clear PR lesson away from the tangled mess of the 2022 World Cup, we need only look to Salt Bae.

If you’ve been wondering where the infamous chef has been – the answer is “Well, a lot of places.” The chef was criticized for picking up the world cup trophy, an honor reserved for the winning players. He also posed for pictures grabbing and biting a player’s medal. These are not the first lime-light grabbing antics of Salt Bae, and event organizers worry they won’t be the last. He’s been preemptively banned from other upcoming events like the US Cup and several music festivals.

PR Lesson: Know when it’s your moment to be part of the news. Not every major event signals a major opportunity, it’s a PR pro’s job to guide their clients on the appropriate times to join in on a conversation or moment. Salt Bae: this was not your moment.

The PR Fails of 2022 demonstrate the dangers of doing too little, too late – and also doing too much, all the time. Good PR is a matter of strategy, consistency, and discipline. It requires you to make hard decisions – sometimes even financially painful ones – for long-term gains. You must have empathy for your audience, and recognize when to news-hijack, and when to sit a story out. We’ll have these lessons in mind as we guide our clients this year – here’s wishing you a failure-free 2023.

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