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The biggest PR disasters of 2019

It’s been a big year for people and companies putting their foot in it, but which PR mistakes have been a meme-seeker’s triumph, and which have been enough to sink a career?

How not to give an interview

If you’d told us a year ago that one of 2019’s biggest TV moments would come from Prince Andrew, we’d have had some serious questions. And, to be honest, we still do. In a PR disaster that will go down in history, it’s unclear whether Andrew followed bad advice, or ignored good – either way, there are lines from his Emily Maitlis interview this November that will haunt him forever. (See: not sweating; Pizza Express Woking).

While there were moments of ‘did he just say that?!’ incredulity, the fact that he failed to show any level of compassion or empathy for the survivors of sex trafficking and rape at the hands of his former friend Epstein was the final nail in the coffin for his career. Unsurprisingly, 2020 won’t see Andrew undertaking any royal duties.

How not to do your dirty laundry in public

It was the post that launched a thousand memes (our personal favourite: Wagatha Christie) and was no doubt supposed to garner public sympathy, but Coleen Rooney’s ‘unmasking’ of… Rebecca Vardy… hasn’t done her many favours. Just in case you’ve forgotten the story – Col announced on Twitter that, fearing a leak in her inner circle, she blocked everyone from her Instagram stories bar Becky. When fabricated stories from Instagram appeared in the press, she publicly accused Vardy of selling stories. But other than the general glee about such bitchy sleuthing, there hasn’t actually been much support for Coleen.

With her own marriage in constant jeopardy (at least according to the tabloids) after Wayne’s numerous indiscretions, and Rebecca and husband Jamie keen to document their happy marriage on all platforms, it’s been glaringly apparent that Wayne isn’t going to speak in defence of his wife. Rebecca – who was heavily pregnant at the time of the tweet – has also managed to retain some powerful allies during the following weeks, including Piers Morgan. While people haven’t exactly turned on Coleen, it’s clear that she was hoping for more public sympathy than she’s received. Maybe best to speak in person next time there’s a problem, yeah?

How to practise what you preach

Uh-oh, a second entry for the Royals. It’s fair to say that Harry and Meghan have had a tough time of things in the press for one reason or another – much of which seems unjustified. However, they didn’t do much for their image as climate change campaigners when, hot off the back of Harry speaking out against the impact that travellers can have on the environment, it emerged they were still taking private jets all over the world.

In fact, Harry took a jet to speak in Amsterdam, when a Eurostar train takes a mere three hours 41 minutes. He later said that ‘nobody is perfect’ but it was slightly hard to swallow from a wealthy man encouraging all of us to do our bit.

How to read the room (or at least the book)

The Handmaid’s Tale – a dystopian story, that sometimes feels too close to the truth, about a world where women’s rights are stripped away from them – has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity after the Elisabeth Moss TV series. It’s wonderful that a book about important themes – feminism, politics, philosophy – has become a conversation starter across the world, and helped many young women begin to question their place in society for the first time.

These newly woke young women probably don’t include Kylie Jenner and her friends, who – somewhat misinterpreting the book – threw a Handmaid’s Tale-themed party, complete with cocktails like ‘Praise Be vodka’ and ‘Under His Eyes tequila’. While the red capes and white hats from the stories are iconic, it feels like it’s missing the point of the text to photograph yourself wearing them and pouting into a mirror with your gal-pals.

The public reaction was savage, but if time has shown us anything about the Kardashian/Jenner clan, it’s that they are shameless when it comes to raking in the cash.

How not to speak to women

It’s probably going to be a less than happy Christmas for execs at Peloton – the US fitness equipment company – after their latest advert created an initial 15% drop in shares. Ouch. The ad in question features a ‘video diary’ from a woman gifted a Peloton exercise bike by her husband. The video, designed to be a ‘thank you’ to him, shows her initial reaction (one of horror) and her almost terrified first attempts at riding the bike.

Over the year, we see her enthusiasm for cycling rise, but the damage is done. It’s unusual to see an ad miss the mark in so many ways. Not only is the entire tone problematic (subservient wife given unwanted gift; slowly comes to see husband is correct) but many people have been left upset by the idea that the husband wants her to change physically, against her will.

Whatever you make of it, it’s been watched more than two million times, so it’s unlikely the public will forget this ad in a hurry.

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