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PR successes and gaffes: 2015

It has been an overwhelmingly good year here on Bridge Street, make no mistake, with Smoking Gun PR achieving big things for its clients. And we’re not the only ones to have made waves amongst the public and press alike.

Nevertheless, things don’t always run smoothly, but the only real failure is the one you don’t learn from. In the spirit of not forgetting how easily a campaign can go wrong, we’ve chosen some choice messes that brands and their representatives have gotten into during the last 12 months, along with some of the finest work to come from our industry throughout the year. Notepads at the ready…


The need to proof read- Labour Party
At the end of a party political broadcast in January, faces on the left were left redder than usual when it transpired that someone had forgotten to proof the on-screen text, meaning viewers were prompted to log on to a URL that didn’t exist.
Learnings: Err, get someone to double check everything you write.
Transparency wins, lies lose – VW
This one should need no introduction. German car big gun VW was exposed for fitting ‘defeat software’ on its vehicles so they would automatically pass emissions tests. Reputation ruined, customer trust crushed, it’s a long road to recovery.
Learnings: Under no circumstances should you cheat to keep sales up.
Common decency – Burger King
Burger King committed a massive no-no when it decided to bring back Chicken Fries with an online video campaign showing real life chickens choosing between two food bowls, one with chicken fry meat, the other a supplement.
Learnings: Do we need to explain why this is hugely offensive and somewhat immoral? Outside the box thinking only works when it isn’t disgusting.
Please don’t mock us (or mention our wrongdoings) – Seaworld
Campaigns using Twitter hashtags are ten a penny, the idea being to turn a brand into a trend. They can also backfire, though- as happened when #askseaworld got hi-jacked by people angry at the park’s alleged mistreatment of animals.
Learnings The public will pick you up on hypocrisies when given the chance.
Lack of legitimacy – Samsung
At the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S6 in China, the electronics giant decided to pay people to attend, which is a bit dodgy. Worse still, most of those who were there took pictures of the new device on rival firm Apple’s iPhone.
Learnings: Never claim to be the favourite. Prove it.
The worst kind of attention seeking – Duri Cosmetics
With most of the planet reeling after terror attacks in Paris last month, Brooklyn-based Duri Cosmetics unveiled a new ‘tricolour’ nail polish line so everyone could show some solidarity. And buy the company’s products.
Learnings: Unless you’re a charity, or acting charitably, tying in with emotive anniversaries or horrific events is a very bad idea.
Distorted competition – Shell 
In an attempt to promote its comparatively clean natural gas business, Shell launched a contest asking people to make films about the future of fossil fuels in a greener world. It also asked them not to mention the Arctic oil drilling adventures currently underway elsewhere in the business.
Learnings: You can’t ask the press not to do something because they will do it.
Timing is everything – Amtrak
Just days after the derailment of a train heading from Washington D.C. to New York, which killed six people, U.S. rail firm Amtrak decided to release the results of its customer satisfaction survey.
Learnings: Even if you weren’t responsible, and the incident had nothing to do with your brand, recognise an incident has happened and change plans accordingly.
Fact check – BBC 
In June a BBC journalist sent out an erroneous tweet referencing how Queen Elizabeth II had fallen ill and could be staring death directly in the face. You might not be a news company, but the same rules apply for brands.
Learnings: Check any facts before you publish. And yes, social media is publishing.
How to lose fans and alienate you targets – Bic 
The pen manufacturer launched a campaign to coincide with South Africa’s National Women’s Day, using an image of a lady in business suit, and the quote ‘Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, dress like a boss.’
Learnings: It might be catchy, but stopping and thinking about ramifications is a good idea before employing any soundbite.

        THE GOOD 10 

A royal tram ride – Tudors On Tour 

Our efforts for the Tudors On Tour brand, promoting an event at Tatton Park, represented a great example of visual storytelling, with Henry VIII snapped in various Manchester locations, resulting in widespread national media coverage and boosted ticket sales.

What the world needs now – Air B&B
Brands offering customers kick backs in exchange for acts of kindness (and a little publicity) isn’t a new concept. Still, Air B&B hit the jackpot when it gave 100,000 people $10 each if they spread some love around.
Local Warming – British Gas 
Manchester can get a bit chilly. So, British Gas’ smart energy arm, Hive, built a bus shelter that heated up when people tweeted #TweetToheat, reminding them how easy it is to have a home that only uses energy when you actually need it.
Interactive messages – Women’s Aid / Cancer Research UK 
We’re combining two here, for good reason. First up, a billboard by charity Women’s Aid showed a battered female face that healed when people paid her attention. Meanwhile, Cancer Research constructed a lump in a British street that grew as people walked by, highlighting how important it is not to ignore warnings.
Everyone likes a freebie – Carlsberg 
For one day only, a billboard adorned the side of London’s Old Truman Brewery, which simply said ‘Probably the best poster in the world.’ Using Carslberg’s famous slogan it enticed people to look closer, and claim their free beer.
World’s biggest pie (chart) – Facebook 
On 1st May, Facebook took over the London eye, turning it into a giant pie chart with colours corresponding to Britain’s political parties, revealing how its users had engaged with election campaigns in a bid to increase voter turnout.
Heartfelt appeal – Cats Protection
Another SGPR campaign, we asked for the public’s help in a bid to rehome 19-year-old Pops on behalf of Cats Protection. The charity feared she would never find new owners, but the response was phenomenal, with hundreds of offers and significant exposure in the country’s press.
Loss of blood – NHS 
A huge campaign by the NHS involved removing As, Bs and Os from street signs in London in a bid to try and raise awareness for National Bloodbank Week.
Look closer – Ant Man 
Movie campaigns are usually massive, but not so in the case of Marvel flick Ant Man. 100 ‘ant-sized’ IMAX tickets were placed across London, Birmingham and Manchester, those who found them could see the feature for free.
The benefits of sleep – Silentnight 
With gold medal-winning athlete Jo Pavey leading the campaign as ambassador, Silentnight’s Achievements helped show Britain why getting s good night’s rest is imperative for success in everything from academia to sport.
What matters most – LEGO 
To mark the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence from British rule, LEGO asked adults to imagine, with LEGO, what the city would look like in 2065. It then asked children the same thing, resulting in a poignant YouTube video.

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