This is a thought provoking guest contribution on a handful of companies that created PR mayhem when they failed to uphold the image their branding and messaging invokes.
Those of you astute enough to do so, can use this piece as a benchmark for what NOT to do if you don’t want to be splashed across the news headlines in a derogatory way.
Regardless, enjoy the interesting read and feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments below.
An organizational scandal really generates headlines when it is steeped in irony.
There have been many examples of companies and organizations coming under fire after being plunged into a scandal by a member who:
Fails to practice what they preach.
You would think they would know better, but as the following cases prove, organizations often fail to live up to the high moral standards by which they judge others.
Animal Rights and Human Scandal
No one would deny combating animal cruelty is a worthy cause and many animal rights groups do magnificent work to improve the treatment of animals across the globe. However, sometimes their more extreme action works contrary to their strongly held ideals.
For example, when the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) cut through fencing at a mink fur farm in Ringwood, Hampshire in 1998 they stirred up intense debate regarding just how moral and eco-friendly their action was.
The fur trade is widely criticized these days, but many saw the release of over 6,000 mink into the local ecosystem as potentially disastrous.
Despite protests from the ALF that the large packs of freed mink would have no adverse effects on the environment; the police were quick to point a finger and suggest the mink could do very serious harm to local wildlife due to their aggressive nature and unruly appetites.
Needless to say, something of a scandal arose when the ALF were accused of freeing wild mink that would almost certainly cause the deaths of many other animals and cause an imbalance in the local ecosystem.
Anti-Piracy Group in Copyright Scandal
There were red faces all round when a copyright scandal erupted in the Netherlands involving the anti-piracy organization BREIN.
In 2006, musician Melchior Rietveldt was commissioned by BREIN, a Hollywood-supported anti-piracy group, to compose a piece of music for an anti-piracy video, which the contract stated was only to be shown at a local film festival.
All was well, until Rietveldt noticed his music had been used to score a campaign video appearing on the Harry Potter DVD he had just purchased. The composer eventually discovered that his music had been illegally used on millions of Dutch DVDs, for which he had received no compensation.
Ultimately, the blame was laid at the door of a distributor rather than BREIN. However, further scandal resulted from the revelation that during the case Jochem Gerrits, a board member of the Dutch royalty collecting agency Buma/Stemra, had tried to strike a deal with the composer whereby he would be paid 33% of the monies recouped.
Gerrits resigned from his position when his underhand dealings were exposed. The case is ongoing and no doubt the BREIN will hope for a speedy resolution that acquits them of any part in copyright infringement, an embarrassing charge to be faced by an anti-piracy group.
Homophobic Organization in Gay Scandal
The rather abhorrent homophobic National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) has for some time argued that homosexuality is an illness and has promoted the idea that gay men can be treated through therapy to overcome and abandon their gay lifestyle.
Naturally, some glee was expressed by pro-gay groups when one of the most prominent anti-gay activists and member of NARTH George Rekers was alleged to have taken a 10-day European trip in the company of a male escort he had met via website Rentboy.com. Rekers resigned his position from the board and vehemently denied the allegations made against him.
A US Baptist minister, Rekers had testified against gay adoption in Florida and Arkansas, yet the escort Jo-Vanni Roman was adamant Rekers had drawn up a contract whereby Roman was to eat two meals and spend 8 hours a day with him during the vacation.
The anti-gay group suffered a PR disaster from the incident, but it is hard to feel for purveyors of prejudice.
Drunk Officer Drives DARE into Trouble
The organization DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) received some devastating publicity when one of their School Resource Officers and Seymour Police Officer John Newcomb was arrested earlier this year driving a pickup truck while drunk with a DARE trailer attached to the vehicle.
Newcomb had lost control of the truck while under the influence of alcohol and had crashed into a tree. Requiring medical attention, Newcomb’s reputation did not recuperate and he lost his position as a mentor and school lecturer on the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
It was a ridiculous crime to commit and the incident succeeded in ruining Newcomb’s reputation as a police officer and tarnishing DARE’s public image as an organization committed to raising awareness of the harmful effects of alcohol and drugs.
Despite having lectured widely in schools, Newcomb failed to abide by his own teachings and irrevocably damaged his career by stepping behind a wheel while intoxicated.
News of the World Becomes News
Following years of muckraking exclusives the News of the World came unstuck in disgraceful fashion when it was revealed that the newspaper had hacked a large number of people’s phones.
Public outrage was swift in swelling up against media mogul Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation. The News of the World was now the subject of scandalous headlines.
Condemnation was widespread. Prime Minister David Cameron announced a public inquiry, while Murdoch announced the News of the World would cease publication on the 10th July 2011, before publishing an apology across all national newspapers.
It was too little too late and the ongoing investigation continues to unearth shocking information.
The phone hacking scandal has had a seismic effect upon journalism. Revelations that the phones of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, 7/7 London bombings victims and a large number of celebrities had been hacked led to multiple lawsuits and a resounding call for the media to be more strictly regulated.
The whole truth has yet to come out, but Murdoch’s power and influence has already been greatly diminished by what is the scandal of the decade.
Moral of the story? Practice what you preach or ultimately wind up suffering the consequences. People appreciate businesses and brands that are honest and credible and you can’t be seen as honest or credible if you say one thing and then do something else that’s in direct opposition to what you said. (Ask Obama!)