The past year has seen some pretty major mess-ups in the private sector. Here are some occasions when public relations teams probably drank the hardest.

1. Volkswagen Dieselgate


Volkswagen in September admitted it had intentionally installed software to cheat on emissions tests, after the EPA had determined cars on the road were emitting several times the amount of pollutants allowed by law. The discrepancy impacted almost 500,000 cars, and VW is still doing damage control in what has been dubbed one of the biggest auto industry scandals ever.

2. Airbnb's "You're welcome" ad campaign

Weeks before San Francisco voted on a ballot measure that would have greatly restricted Airbnb's ability to operate in the city, the startup launched a condescending ad campaign that asserted San Franciscans should be over-the-moon grateful for the company's tax contributions. These are the same taxes Airbnb was attempting to disclaim a year before the ad campaign. The home-sharing platform ultimately apologized for the ad series, admitting it might have been in bad taste.

3. Subway: Worst spokesman fail ever?

Jared Fogle was just the friendly guy who lost a lot of weight eating Subway sandwiches--until he was charged (and recently convicted) with possession of child pornography and traveling across state lines to have sex with a minor. If only Subway had seen this coming, perhaps the company could have dismissed Fogle from his role as spokesman and reported his activities to authorities. Oh, wait--a Subway franchisee claims she went to the company in 2008 after Fogle had told her stories about his involvement with child prostitutes in Thailand and the U.S. It really doesn't get much worse than finding out your spokesman is a pedophile. Recovery from this scandal may take a while for Subway.

4. Tinder. Tinder, Tinder, Tinder.

First there was that apparently premeditated tweetstorm the dating app launched against Vanity Fair after the magazine declared an imminent dating apocalypse brought on by the intersection of hookup culture and the internet. Allowing the company to look that wounded in the face of a story writer Nancy Jo Sales asserted was not even about Tinder was a pretty unwise response to a piece of journalism the app could have easily ignored. But nothing takes the cake for PR fails quite like Tinder CEO Sean Rad's baffling interview in which he at one point egregiously misused the word sodomy, before making what sounded like a veiled threat against Sales for her coverage. Not cool, bro. 

5. Kleiner Perkins and diversity, take two

Following the conclusion of its mud-on-everyone sexual-harassment trial against former employee Ellen Pao, Kleiner Perkins attempted to present itself as more enlightened at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco earlier this fall. Venture capitalist John Doerr could have picked a better way to do that. "We have two new partners who are so diverse that I have a challenge pronouncing their names," he said. Doerr apologized, and hopefully he put some effort into learning how to say his co-workers' names.

6. Gawker death spiral

Gawker Media had a tough summer. The site published a story about a Condé Nast executive soliciting a gay escort, which many in the media world viewed as a bullyish outing of a relatively private individual. Then Gawker pulled down the post, a move editorial staff did not support. Two top editors resigned, citing a breach of the division between business interests of Gawker and the independence of the editorial staff. CEO Nick Denton vowed to make the site 20 percent "nicer" and offered a severance package to anyone who disagreed with the new direction and wished to part ways. The promise was followed by a steady stream of exits, and a recent company memo announced layoffs as Gawker pivots to a political website. The leaked memo, infighting, and tell-all melee emerging from this slow dismantling aren't exactly out of character for the controversial blog that once paid writers $12 a post. Still, this highly public display of disorder came when Gawker seemed to be at the top of its game, and it's unclear if the site will ever really rebound.

7. Insider trading, daily fantasy sports style

Does daily fantasy sports gaming count as gambling? FanDuel and DraftKings would prefer you not frame it that way. But before that we wade into that barbed wire of a legal question, let's look at another controversy: Should employees of the sites, who have access to data normal users do not, be playing on one another's platforms? After it was found that a DraftKings employee won $350,000 playing on FanDuel, the sites have suspended such cross-pollination. The platforms have also been finding themselves restricted or banned in a growing number of states.

Published on: Dec 3, 2015