PR blunders of 2018 – what happened next?

As far as PR crises go, 2018 was a shaky year – retailers were brought to a standstill, CEOs were toppled and one of Britain’s best-loved fast-food chain was forced to shut its doors. At the close of 2018, we take a look at the biggest PR crises of the year and ask, what happened next? 

Presidents Club
Unbeknown to the 360 men who attended a black tie dinner at The Dorchester on 17 January 2018, that evening would mark the last time they’d all meet as members of the so-called President’s Club. The Financial Times sent two reporters undercover at the Club’s annual fundraising dinner where they recorded scenes of groping, coarse comments, and sleazy requests by attendees inviting hostesses to join them in one of The Dorchester’s snazzy rooms. The subsequent exposé published on 23 January turned what was initially a display of decadence and wealth, into a game of sitting ducks, as many attendees were named and shamed. The event sparked one of the biggest cultural shifts in the City as women bravely shared their experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace uniting under the #MeToo banner. Almost a year on and City firms are making a concerted effort to show they are taking allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace seriously – Deloitte recently announced it had fired five UK partners for inappropriate behaviour over the past four years out of 20 overall. Magic circle law firms, however, have coyly chosen not to reveal how many partners were dismissed for inappropriate behaviour.

British Airways
A data breach in August saw 380,000 customers’ personal details stolen by Russian hackers who reportedly made up to £9.4 million selling the data on the dark web. BA’s response was swift but lacked clarity as the airline failed to confirm exactly whether customers’ bank details had been stolen, many of whom were subsequently targeted by fraudsters. The EU is yet to give any indication whether the breach will lead to a fine. Under the new GDPR rules, the maximum fine for a company data breach is 4 percent of their worldwide turnover (which could see a fine of up to £480 million smacked on the airline). What’s more, several class action law firms are rallying disgruntled customers – SPG Law is leading a £500 million group action which they say could see each affected customer walk away with £1,250 in compensation.

Dixons Carphone
It took Dixons nearly a year to discern and publicly admit the severity of the data hack which hit its system in 2017. A total of 10 million customers were affected – nearly 10 times as many as previously thought. The breach left another stain on Dixons tarnished track record having previously been fined £400,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office following a hack in 2015. Earlier in December, the retailer posted a loss of £440 million for the period from April to October. Whatever the cause of the slump, the Christmas period is unlikely to bring much respite; the retailer will have to up its game if it wants to compete against the e-commerce behemoth, Amazon. If dwindling profits weren’t enough to worry about, several law firms including Leigh Day and Hayes Connor Solicitors, are considering launching a group action against the retailer. 

Sir Martin Sorrell
Advertising mogul, Sir Martin Sorrell resigned as chairman of WPP following accusations that he had misused company funds and had created a “fear culture” at the company’s headquarters in London. As part of his resignation, Sorrell signed a non-disclosure agreement which precludes him from discussing any of the circumstances surrounding his departure. However, in a recent interview given to The Mail on Sunday, Sorrell candidly addressed his reputation following his sudden resignation: “I’ve had three lives,” he says. “Nine years at Saatchi, 33 years at WPP and, hopefully, five to ten years at S4 Capital. The records have, and will, speak for themselves.” Time will tell whether his last record plays a different tune. 

A switch to a new supplier resulted in a shortage of chicken forcing hundreds of restaurants to close. KFC’s whimsical and authentic response led many PR professionals hailing it a “masterclass in crises management”. A few tongue-in-cheek tweets and a full-page ad in the Metro with a picture of a KFC bargain bucket and the letters “FCK” brazenly printed across it, was enough to rescue the fast-food chain from permanent exile to the abyss of PR blunders. 

If the examples above illustrate one thing, it’s this: it’s not the crisis that defines you, but the speed, reliability and sincerity of your actions in mastering it instead. If in doubt, do give us a shout!

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