In many cases, a PR crisis happens as a result of something someone already said or did, but there are times when the consumer public can watch a PR catastrophe happen in real time, experiencing the chaos as one bad decision leads to a situation spinning out of control.
Cartoon Creates Bomb Scare
The Cartoon Network program, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, has always been a bit of an acquired taste. It’s an “offbeat” program, and the network has tried all sorts of different “wacky” ways to get viewers to tune in. Once gimmick, however, backfired in a spectacular fashion. In an effort to promote ATHF, Cartoon Network reps placed light-up signs around Boston in various public places, including next to buildings and under bridges. But there was no explanation of what the signs were, and that caused residents of Boston to freak out more than a little bit. Numerous calls were made to police, and bomb squads were dispatched across the city, causing the media to openly wonder what was happening, and many in Boston to fear they were under attack.
Eventually, police took the step of shutting down certain subway lines, stranding commuters, and spreading rising panic across the city. While the town was still in an uproar, Cartoon Network admitted they were responsible for the stunt, but the panic spread faster than the truth. The fallout from the incident cost many in Boston a long, sleepless, night, cost huge amounts of money in wasted first responder time and resources, and cost the head of Cartoon Network their job.
JetBlue Strands Passengers
It’s been more than a decade since JetBlue passengers ended up stranded on runways for upwards of 11 hours, and American consumers have not forgotten.
When bad storms kept planes out of the air, several airlines wisely allowed their passengers, disgruntled but safe, to disembark and wait out the weather, or make other transportation arrangements. JetBlue, on the other hand, chose to keep their passengers aboard their planes.
Food soon grew scarce and you can imagine what the bathrooms on the planes smelled like. Worst of all, for JetBlue’s PR, irate passengers continued to share their feelings about being stranded with anyone who would listen: friends, loved ones, and news agencies.
Eventually, the airport interceded, ferrying passengers off the stranded aircraft up to 11 hours after they boarded. They were greeted at the terminal by news cameras, and JetBlue took a major PR beating for days after the event.
-Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W PR.