Of all the PR and marketing initiatives launched on International Women’s Day on Tuesday this week, one in particular stood out – for all the wrong reasons.
The London Dungeon decided to change the gender of Jack The Ripper to mark the day, unveiling a “Jack becomes Jackie” exhibit played by a female actor and questioning whether the “notorious killer [was] actually a woman”. The serial killer, who was never identified, murdered at least five women in Whitechapel in the late 1880s.
The special International Women’s Day exhibit told the story of convicted murderer Mary Pearcy, who was named as a possible Jack the Ripper suspect by author William Stewart in 1939.
In a now deleted press release, The London Dungeon said: “With men often stealing the spotlight when it comes to the ghastly and gory crimes, we wanted to give ladies their dues for International Women’s Day … Rather than the usual honouring, we’ve given the day a London Dungeon twist while telling a story that many may never have heard before.”
Not surprisingly, The London Dungeon’s actions were greeted with incredulity and outrage on Twitter.
In a strongly-worded rebuke, Refuge, the domestic violence charity, branded the initiative “a cheap marketing stunt” that “trivialises the systematic murder of women by a serial killer”.
Following the social media backlash and subsequent mainstream media interest, The London Dungeon deleted its communications on Jackie The Ripper and was forced to issue a statement apologising for any offence caused.
Controversially exploiting and sensationalising violence against women by recasting a serial killer of women as a woman in a cynical and blatant bid to boost ticket sales – on a day meant to celebrate women’s achievements, a year after the murder of Sarah Everard, and amid a high-profile campaign to make misogyny a hate crime – was never a good idea.
Tasteless, offensive, ill-judged (if, in fact, any judgement was shown at all), the sorry episode highlights just how out of touch The London Dungeon was with the public mood, putting commercial considerations above all else and underestimating the risk of reputational damage.
Burger King similarly made a whopper of a PR blunder on International Women’s Day last year, tweeting “Women belong in the kitchen”. A supposedly humorous teaser for a campaign promoting a cooking scholarship for female employees, most people did not read beyond this initial Tweet, with many taking to social media to express their disgust at the use of such a sexist trope, on International Women’s Day of all days.
A subsequent Tweet provided much-needed context: “If they want to, of course. Yet only 20% of chefs are women. We’re on a mission to change the gender ratio.” But by then, the damage had been done and Burger King’s PR team spent the day firefighting – responding to media queries, explaining the campaign, apologising for getting the initial message wrong and promising to do better next time, and eventually deleting the offending Tweet.
PR Lessons To Be Learned
So, what lessons can be learned? Do your research. Know your audience. Understand the wider context. Be aware of potential pitfalls and sensitivities. Test your ideas – and not just within your immediate team, to avoid groupthink. Be careful when using humour to promote an issue with the potential to cause offense or upset. And if you get it wrong and a PR debacle ensues, ‘fess up – take swift action to apologise, engage with the media and your followers, and learn from your mistakes.
Tracey is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Australian Public Affairs – one of Australia’s largest independently owned agencies.
In her 26 years at the helm, she has developed a specialty in reputation risk and reputation management particularly in the legal and litigation, education and training, not for profit, and social policy sectors.
Her background is in media and communications roles.
On the political front she worked as a journalist in both the State and Federal Press Galleries, as a Ministerial media advisor in Australia, and also in the White House on the President’s personal staff during the 1996 Presidential Elections.
She has worked as a Director of Communications for a leading global law firm offering advice to the firm and its clients. She later served as the founding CEO of a health and aged care foundation.
Tracey holds a Graduate Diploma in Commercial Broadcasting, a Bachelor of Laws degree, a Master of Public Affairs and was awarded a Winston Churchill Trust Fellowship in 1996.
She is a director of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW and Knox Grammar School, and previously served for ten years on the national board of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.
Holding the first European professorship in collective redress since 2007, Ianika is a pioneer in the field.
As a partner at the law firm Birkway, she combines academia with practice and is internationally recognised for her knowledge of strategies for resolving cross-border mass disputes, using innovative litigation and alternative dispute resolution approaches.
She was a partner with a large litigation boutique where she was member of the Financial and Commercial Litigation practice group and has also worked in-house for two publicly listed litigation funders. Having assisted corporate clients, claim vehicles, litigation funders, governmental and non-profit organisations, ‘bookbuild’ entities, case originators, Dutch and foreign legal counsel on all aspects of mass claim dispute resolution, Ianika is a ‘mass claims all-rounder’ who is sought after for legal opinions and the structuring and implementation of creative litigation strategies in multi-jurisdictional disputes, particularly in the areas of investor protection, competition, data privacy, product liability and consumer law. Additionally, Ianika assists high-net-worth individuals, family businesses, corporate clients and foreign law firms with litigation project management in complex high-profile commercial disputes, involving the use of PR and litigation financing. She has also a keen interest in multi-jurisdictional asset tracing and enforcement.
Ianika is alumna of Tilburg University and holds a PhD on Access to Justice in Mass Claims. She was admitted to the Bar in 1997.
Ianika was born and raised in (communist) Bulgaria and emigrated to the Netherlands in 1991, shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall. She was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Stanford University in 2012 and has had a soft spot for California eversince. High on Ianika’s Bucket list is to make an absolutely perfect Pavlova…so far all her attempts have failed miserably (no foto’s attached).
Derede McAlpin is a crisis management and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) expert and trusted advisor to CEOs, attorneys, C-suite executives, and Boards of Directors, and public figures.
With a specialty in getting clients into and out of the news – but mainly out – her proven record of developing balanced news coverage has been invaluable to clients facing intense media scrutiny, DEI initiative challenges, bet-the-farm litigation, executive scandals, and other sensitive issues.
Ms. McAlpin also works with leading institutions and corporations to advance their DEI goals, shape Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Sustainability plans, and establish trust with their employees, customers, and community.
Ms. McAlpin currently serves as Senior Vice President and Head of Litigation Communications and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for LEVICK, a global advisory firm. Prior to LEVICK, Ms. McAlpin served as vice president and chief communications officer for the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), the world’s largest organization representing the professional and business interests of corporate lawyers. Her experience also includes work as a strategic advisor to AM Law 100 firms and positions with Howard University, Superior Court for the District of Columbia, 6ABC News (Philadelphia), and a clinical at the City of Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
Frequently quoted as an authority on complex DEI, legal, and business issues, Ms. McAlpin is sought after by organizations to speak on the challenging issues confronting corporations and has contributed commentary on global business and crisis issues to such media outlets as NBC Nightly News, the Washington Post, and Thomson Reuters.
Ms. McAlpin received her Juris Doctor degree from the Temple Beasley School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Howard University. She has also received leadership training at the Yale School of Management Executive Education program.
Her additional career highlights:
Derede McAlpin provided executive level counsel and direction for the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and its global board of directors.
Successfully executed the launch of a first-in-class research division for ACC, as well as a broad range of benchmarking and survey products, and data analysis services.
Ms. McAlpin currently chairs LEVICK’s litigation and DEI practice groups. With more than 20 years of communications and legal experience, she represents clients facing high profile crisis and litigation issues, including government investigations, lawsuits, sensitive race issues, corporate scandals, and sexual misconduct allegations, among others.
She also advises clients on class actions, tribal sovereign immunity cases, and Multi-District-Litigation.
A former member of the press, Ms. McAlpin conducts professional development, DEI, and media training workshops for executives and lawyers.
Some of Ms. McAlpin’s most memorable projects include leading international communications on behalf of the nation’s first full face transplant recipient, working on the landmark US Supreme Court First Amendment case Snyder v. Phelps, and providing pro bono support for underrepresented groups and individuals.
During her tenure at Howard University, she launched an amicus curiae campaign in support of respondents in Grutter v. Bollinger, a landmark Supreme Court case on affirmative action in student admissions.
Kate Hartley is a crisis communications consultant and trainer, and the author of ‘Communicate in a Crisis’ (Kogan Page, 2019), a book that explores the changing way people behave in crisis situations.
She is the co-founder of Polpeo, a crisis simulation company that helps some of the biggest brands and agencies in the world prepare for a crisis, and she is a visiting lecturer for various universities. She is a member of the CIPR and a Fellow of the PRCA, and was named in PRovoke Media’s Innovator 25 EMEA list in 2021.
Caroline Sapriel is the founder and Managing Partner of CS&A, a specialist risk and crisis and business continuity management consulting firm with offices in Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Belgium, The Netherlands, Singapore, and the United States.
With over 30 years’ experience in risk and crisis management, Caroline is recognized as a leader in her profession and acknowledged for her ability to provide customised, results-driven counsel at the highest level.
Over the years, Caroline has advised senior corporate executives in high-risk industries internationally. Her multi-disciplinary background and experience has enabled her to provide clients with an in-depth analysis of their crisis management capability as well as help them develop effective risk and crisis response organizations and stakeholder and reputation management strategies. She has been directly involved in helping clients manage crises in the oil and gas, chemical, transport, shipping, aviation, pharmaceutical and consumer product sectors.
Caroline is an accomplished trainer, facilitator and coach in risk, issues and crisis management as well as in communication skills. As such, she has coached many senior executives at leading multinational corporations internationally. Caroline regularly speaks at international conferences and seminars on risk and crisis management. She is a guest lecturer on corporate crisis management at the University of Antwerp and at the graduate school of public administration of Leiden University.
Caroline is a member of the Business Continuity Institute, of the International Association of Business Communicators and serves on its global ethics committee, and of the European Association of Communications Directors. In 2011, she received a Gold Quill Award from IABC for her firm’s 10 Commandments of Crisis Management. She has authored many articles on the subject of crisis management and co-authored two books – Crisis Management – Tales From the Front Line and 25 years of Crises in Review: The Good , The Bad and The Ugly – with CS&A Senior Partner Dirk Lenaerts. Prior to establishing her own consulting firm, Caroline held various senior management positions with international communications consultancies where she helped clients respond to crises and enhance their crisis communication capabilities.
Caroline is fluent in French, English, Spanish, Hebrew and Mandarin, and holds a BA degree in Chinese Studies and a BSc degree in International Relations.
Sarah is a Senior Consultant at the leading London-based Litigation PR and legal sector reputation management agency, Bell Yard Communications.
Sarah has more than twenty years’ experience in professional services communications, spanning media relations, issues management, corporate and crisis communications.
Before joining Bell Yard Communications where she focuses on profile-raising for law firms as well as advising on litigation PR and reputational issues, Sarah was Global PR Manager at leading law firm, Linklaters LLP.
She was previously a Director at international communications consultancy, Citigate Dewe Rogerson, where she developed reputation management and thought leadership campaigns for a diverse mix of financial, legal and corporate clients.
Sarah began her public relations career at Spada, a specialist professional services communications agency, following a stint as a journalist.
She holds a degree in French and German from the University of Oxford and a Masters in Photography Arts from the University of Westminster.