Lessons Learned From A Public Relations Disaster

February 11, 2013

A public relations disaster in professional service marketing offers good news and bad news.

The good news is that relative to a PR disaster for a high profile multi-national corporation like Apple, service professionals’ PR disasters are largely ignored outside of our small corners of the world.

In Apple’s case, it has a very large corner of the world and when it messes up…it does it big time. Hard to ignore the fiasco of Apple banning Google Maps from iPhones in September in favor of its own error-riddled maps.


According to businessinsider.com,

“CEO Tim Cook had to issue a public apology, conceding that the maps “fell short” before suggesting users download competitors’ products from the Apps store. Cook specifically called out Bing, MapQuest, or going to Nokia and Google’s website.

“The product manager who oversaw the maps team was fired months later.”


The bad news is that for those of us who run our own business of providing professional services, we don’t have a large organization in which we can hide until people in our market forget about our personal PR disasters. Nor do we have anyone we can blame…and fire.


Quick Escapes

In my case, my biggest PR disaster was the second worst speaking engagement of my career.

Having just completed a study of the best marketing practices of high ranking real estate sales people in the Toronto area, I was invited to share my findings in a presentation at a conference of the sales people at a very large and well-respected independent real estate company. Considering myself more of a facilitative speaker than a lecturer, my plan was to guide the group through the process of identifying the key findings. My contact person at the company liked the concept so we ran with it.

Within 10 minutes of starting, it was obvious my audience was not following my game plan.

When I gave the group a small exercise, a supportive member of the audience suggested that his colleagues had short attention spans and my best approach would have been to just tell them what my findings were so that they could get on with their days.

Switching from my prepared facilitative approach to an unplanned lecture format, the rest of the presentation was…needlessly to say…a total disaster. At the end, it was almost a race to determine who could make the fastest escape…me or the frustrated audience.

But life continues and I survived.

Lessons Learned

Looking back, there are two valuable lessons to be learned.

  1. Better Planning: Had I spent more time learning about what my audience wanted, the disaster could have been avoided. However, as often happens with those of us who provide professional services, when we are asked to share information and advice, our egos get in the way. I knew what they needed to learn and was confident in my plan to help them learn.
  2. Contingency & Risk Planning: Any business activity, such as marketing and public relations, that offers high potential benefits also carries with it the risk of major damage in the event of failure. As part of business and marketing planning, it’s a good idea to think the unthinkable. What are some of the most damaging public relations disasters that might arise?What are the most appropriate damage-controlling responses to these disasters?

The best approach to managing PR disasters to minimize the risk by proper planning.

The next best approach is having a contingency plan in place that sets out damage-controlling responses.

If you are lucky enough to escape disaster, good for you.

If however, you do experience a disaster, better for you. Your plan will minimize damaging fall-out.


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