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Why an honest mistake can be just as damaging, PR-wise

Most people assume that, when it comes to reputational damage, you’re only really at risk if you’re intentionally behaving badly. There’s an odd expectation of karma whereby if you’re misusing Twitter or getting into scrapes that can be digitally documented then you’re taking the kind of risks with your reputation that could easily lead to online damage. However, the reality is that – with any form of media – there’s plenty of opportunity to create damaging situations even if you haven’t taken the kinds of risks that you would expect to be the cause. Even honest mistakes can become PR disasters… The problem with images…if you’re using images in your marketing then there are just so many opportunities for honest mistakes that it’s almost untrue. One great example is a Heineken campaign that used an image of reverend Hugh Price Hughes (yes, really) because the company couldn’t find any images of their actual benefactor to accompany a ‘historic’ themed campaign. What Heineken didn’t consider when they bought the image of Mr Hughes from a stock photo bank was that Hughes was actually a person. And he was a person famous for his work with alcoholics, being a prominent anti-alcoholism leader.Result: Heineken had to apologise profusely and donate significantly to ‘the church.’ When labels go crazy…well known national US retailer CostCo made a bit of an innocent booboo when it restocked its shelves with bibles but accidentally filed the books under the ‘fiction’ section. Not only that but the badly labeled bibles just happened to come to the attention of one of the few pastors in the entire country with a highly popular Twitter account.Result: CostCo claimed that it was a labeling error by the distributor and only affected a small percentage of bibles but it’s since found it hard to escape the ‘in league with Satan’ label… The rather rude puzzle book…a Woolworths puzzle book that was full of innocent and fun word search puzzle books clearly didn’t pass through any quality control before being released to the public as some keen eyed puzzle fan discovered something rather rude hidden in its squares. Among words like ‘butterfly’ and ‘rainforest ‘the puzzle included the wonderfully teenage ‘FUCKU’ and promptly became a huge hit on social media.Result: the manufacturer blamed its automatically generated programs for making a mistake and including the random swearing but perhaps it had simply had enough of its customers An airline that hates gay people?…do you ever look at the random clusters of numbers and letters on your boarding card other than to see if you’ve got an upgrade? Well Delta Airlines’ 11am Atlanta to Pensacola flight accidentally generated a pretty offensive ID code in the form of ‘H8GAYS.’ Yes that’s right H8GAYS and nobody spotted it.Result: despite it being a ‘computer error’ Delta felt the need to apologise for its machine’s hate speech and promised it would never happen again. There are so many ways that reputational damage can occur through the most innocent of campaigns. That’s why it’s essential to have a carefully thought through strategy in place and to carry out regular monitoring.

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