In a year where the news cycle spanned an insurrection to a resurgent pandemic, you'd think that corporate scandals and disasters would remain back-page news. But you'd think wrong, because 2021 was a banner year for the kind of events that give nightmares to PR professionals. Here's my top 10 list:
When the much-hyped but critically panned sequel to Sex and the City killed off Carrie Bradshaw's heartthrob "Big" with a heart attack following a Peleton workout, the manufacturer's stock plummeted. In an attempt at damage control, Peleton launched a parody commercial starring the actor Chris Noth, which was quickly pulled off the air when allegations surfaced accusing Noth of sexually inappropriate behavior.
Facebook successfully if unintentionally has transformed itself from the company that links people together to the company that throws people down rabbit holes. Whatever goodwill the company had left vanished this year when a whistleblower released internal documents proving that Facebook was well aware its business practices were harming the public. The Facebook brand is now so tarnished that fewer than half of Facebook employees intend to stay with the company.
What popular game show completely bungled its attempt to find a new permanent host? Fans groaned when, after a celebrity-laden "search" for a new host, Jeopardy! producer Mike Richards weirdly appointed himself (what?) to replace the beloved Alex Trebec. When it came out that Richards had made highly inappropriate remarks about women and minorities on a podcast, Richards was fired both as host and as producer. In a bid to recover likeability for the Jeopardy! brand, Sony Pictures Television chose TV star Mayim Bialik to fill in without bothering to check out her long and ugly history as an anti-vaxxer.
The manufacturers of OxyContin thought they'd found a way to pay a measly $4.5 billion after the drug was deemed partly responsible for an estimated 500,000 opiate deaths. That deal fell apart when a judge tossed it because it shielded the long-time Purdue owners, the Sackler family, from future opiate-related litigation. Purdue's (and the Sackler's) sins apparently haven't quite come all the way to the roost.
5. Ozy Media
There's a famous New Yorker cartoon of a dog using a PC and saying to a second dog: "On the Internet nobody knows you're a dog." Well, that must have been some of the strategic thinking at Ozy Media when the company's co-founder and chief operating officer, Samir Rao, allegedly impersonated an enthusiastic YouTube executive during a quarterly earnings call. That, with other scandals, spawned investigations by the DoJ and the SEC, causing the company to voluntarily shut itself down.
6. Crissy Teigen
At the start of the year, Crissy Teigen had one of the internet's strongest personal brand. But then it emerged that in her 20s, Teigen had cyberbullied 16-year-old Courtney Stodden, famous at the time for marrying a 50-year-old. While Teigen apologized and promised to do better, it's unlikely that many of her fans will ever completely forget that Teigen once urged an obviously groomed and pathetic teenager to commit suicide.
Better.com CEO Vishal Garg already had a reputation as an obnoxious bully before he suddenly fired 900 employees on a group Zoom call. That was insensitive enough, but during the call Garg bemoaned the difficulty of firing people, promised not to cry, and then gave everyone a little corporate pep-talkin', as if anybody on that call cared any longer. The outcry became so loud that Garg voluntarily decided to "take some time off." If he returns, it's hard not to imagine that Worse.com would be a more appropriate moniker.