Invariably, each year brings its share of PR crises and scandals, and 2014 was no exception. This year had a robust number of meltdowns, PR debacles and downright embarrassing episodes among some of the globe’s most recognizable brands. Here’s a partial list of some of the year’s worst PR crises.
> Sony Pictures hacking scandal. The fallout continues from hacked emails between film producer Scott Rudin and Sony's co-chairwoman, Amy Pascal. The hacked emails revealed some less-than-flattering comments about President Obama as well as Angelina Jolie and Leonardo DiCaprio. Rudin and Pascal both issued apologies, but the damage is done. This crisis is a pretty good sign that if you want to say something sensitive, meet at the end of a beach that nobody has heard of, and leave the gadgets at home.
> Ray Rice scandal. This was the domino that challenged the NFL to its core. The scandal was sparked a video showing Rice dragging his then fiancée, Janay, out of Atlantic City elevator (a separate video sequence showed Rice knocking Janay out cold.) The NFL’s initial and flat-footed response—suspending Rice for just two games—showed a league that was out of touch with the issue of domestic violence and in dire need of changing its culture. The NFL recently rolled out new rules on domestic violence (which some critics have denounced as ineffectual) while Rice has won his appeal of an indefinite suspension (his punishment after the video of him punching Janay materialized) and has been reinstated to the NFL.
> Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella puts foot firmly in mouth. Do your CEO and other top executives know the microphone is always hot (and the camera is always on)? They should. Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella was speaking at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing when Nadella said that women who do not ask for more money from their employers would be rewarded in the long run when their good work was recognized. Nadella got slammed for his remarks and quickly backpedaled and later apologized to both women and Microsoft employees. The clunky comment may have sparked some soul-searching in Silicon Valley about the tech industry’s attitude toward women.
> General Motors recall debacle. GM has been wracked by scandal concerning why it took more than a decade to recall defective cars that have been linked to at least 13 deaths. This is a tragic case of why there’s no such thing as over-communicating, as stories about the crisis revealed that managers didn’t talk to one another about faulty parts and failed to be accountable.
> Donald Sterling fiasco. It’s never a good idea to have a boorish and racially insensitive person at the helm of your brand or organization. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer agreed to buy the Clippers for $2 billion following a major scandal in which Sterling was caught on tape making racist comments. Sterling was subsequently banned for life from the NBA. Now the onus is on the Clippers to show how the team is going to break from its past and rebuild relationships with stakeholders and fans.
What would you add to the list?
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1