No matter how large a company is, mistakes happen--and that's where a good public relations (or crisis communications) team comes in handy. From bad taste, to communications disasters and more, 2014 was full of very public missteps. Some were remedied more easily than others and some will have devastating effects.
Here's our roundup of the worst PR fails of the year:
Urban Outfitters' Bloody Sweats
Retro collegiate sweatshirts are great, but Urban Outfitters apparently missed a few history classes with this item. A hoodie that was briefly for sale on the company's website features the Kent State University logo amidst fake blood splatter. In 1970, National Guard troops sent to Kent State in response to student protests opened fire on students. The soldiers fired 67 bullets in 13 seconds, killing four students and injuring 9 others. Obviously not intending to bring back such a horrific scene, Urban Outfitters quickly apologized and removed the offending item from its site. But, the Internet definitely got in a few zingers before then.
Silicon Valley's Diversity Issues
A growing number of tech companies have come under fire for their cultures of insensitivity. Numbers released by a few tech giants (Facebook, Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn) only codified what many feared to be true: their workforces are severely lacking in diversity. Aggregated, 3 to 4 percent of their combined ranks are Hispanic and just 2 percent of workers are African American. Women are also vastly underrepresented in the tech sector. Men fill almost 85 percent of tech-specific leadership roles.
Tinder's Sexism Allegations
The issues arising from Silicon Valley's hiring practices don't end there. So many white dudes in one place has led to an outcry against the "bro culture" they have created. Tinder is facing a sexual discrimination lawsuit from its former VP of marketing. One of the company's three original co-founders, who is still at the company, was once listed on LinkedIn as a "Digital Pimp."
Tim Armstrong's 'Sick Babies' Comments
Cutting costs is never easy, something always has to go. But blaming a cutback in employee health care benefits on one employees' sickly newborn children won't get you very far--particularly when your company is as big as AOL. The company's CEO Tim Armstrong got smacked in the headlines earlier this year after he indecorously attempted to explain why the company was reducing benefits. Armstrong blamed the high costs from the previous year on "two AOLers that had distressed babies." That's just bad business.
Paramount Pictures' Insensitive Posters
Movie posters have a history of raising a ruckus, but the poster for Paramount Pictures' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 5 was particularly bad, especially considering its Australian release date of September 11. The promotional poster features the four characters, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello and Leonardo, leaping from what appears to be an exploding skyscraper. This imagery, right above the hallowed date, caused quite a commotion.
Uber's Reporter Problem
Despite being technically illegal in many places around the globe, including New York City, Uber has managed to reach an estimated valuation of over $41 billion. But this giant has hurtled the on-demand car service into a spotlight that has exposed as much bad as it has good. In November, BuzzFeed reported that an Uber executive, Emil Michael, had suggested using the company's customer data to dig up dirt on long-time tech reporter, Sarah Lacy, who is known for being critical of the startup. The app contains personal data from its subscribers, including credit card numbers and geographical ride data, which could include home addresses and daily routines. Following allegations of rape, Uber has been banned in India, Spain and various other European cities.
Malaysian Airlines' Consecutive Crashes
In an industry where a late flight can anger thousands of people, an entire airplane going missing is destined to foment anxiety. Obviously finding the plane right away--or better yet, not losing it in the first place--would have eased things for the troubled airline. But a sharp crisis PR strategy would have made things better too. Families were outraged by the lack of transparency and communications they received from the airline regarding their loved ones. Three months later, another Malaysian Airlines flight was allegedly shot down in Ukrainian airspace on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, further complicating the company's troubles. The airline, whose stock plummeted after the back-to-back tragedies, is working on rebranding and hiring a new CEO.
Esurance's Unfortunate Copy
A billboard blunder by Esurance promising to "cover your home in a click," caused a headache when the ad went up. From a distance, the spacing between letters caused the word 'click' to look a lot more provocative than intended. Twitter users were quick to point out the mishap to Esurance, who quickly took evasive action.
Apple's Biggest Gaffes
What's worse than being forced to listen to a band you hate? Having it downloaded without your knowledge to your iTunes library. Apple did just that in September with the launch of its newest iPhones, software and the iWatch. Half a billion iTunes users woke up to find a brand new U2 album in their library downloaded without their consent.
That wasn't Apple's only snafu this year: First there was "#bendgate"--the company's latest iPhones unintentionally bend. And just days later, an iCloud security breach led to nude photos of multiple celebrities including: Jennifer Lawrence, Aubree Plaza and others, leaked on the Internet.
Zara's Fashion Faux Pas
Zara--the Spanish retailer, owned by fashion conglomerate, Inditex--faced outrage and accusations of cultural illiteracy when it pitched a set of child's pajamas resembling a concentration camp uniform, complete with a yellow Star of David. The company, which claims the inspiration for the shirt lies in American Westerns, issued an apology and took the item out of circulation. Zara should have known better. In 2007, a handbag sold by Zara sported swastikas. This, along with Urban Outfitters' snafu, just goes to show that bad taste doesn't sell.