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Your PR disaster update: What were the biggest PR crises during the Summer of 2021?

In the first of a new series, Polpeo co-founder and author of ‘Communicate in a Crisis’, Kate Hartley, looks at brands which have come under fire in recent weeks.

Brands in crises

1. The Ivy restaurant chain realised how important it is to have a diverse team, when it came under fire for an astonishingly racist video to promote the launch of its new Ivy Asia restaurant in London. The Ivy Group apologised for its “culturally insensitive” campaign, and admitted “a complete ignorance of understanding”. It took down the video and said it would hold a cultural review to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.

The most extraordinary thing to me is that anyone a) came up with the idea for the video in the first place and b) signed it off. It will be interesting to see if the Group publishes the findings from its review.

2. Food and drinks brands in the UK – from Diet Coke to McDonalds – have experienced supply chain issues this month, the result of a shortage of HGV drivers. The pandemic made us all reassess which services we value as essential, with delivery drivers and supermarket workers among them. Lorry drivers are next on that list, with some of the biggest food and drink brands experiencing what it’s like to have to tell consumers they can’t have their favourite foods.

KFC has dealt with the issue as brilliantly as ever, proactively warning customers in advance that there may be some changes to food availability or packaging, and asking for people to ‘be patient with our incredible teams’. How could you argue with that?

3. It’s never a good idea to hold onto a secret in the hope that it won’t get out. Facebook has learned this the hard way, having been exposed by the Wall Street Journal as having known for two years about the negative impact of Instagram on young people’s mental health.

Facebook has been studying the impact of Instagram on users since 2019, and an internal presentation that was leaked to the newspaper shows just how bad the app can be for teenagers. One slide said: “We make body images worse for one in three teen girls,” and another showed that teenagers blame Instagram for an increase in anxiety and depression.

Bad news will always out – it would have been far better if Facebook had released the research itself back in 2019, and taken action quickly to combat the issue.

4. Music, film and interactive festival, SXSW, is facing the possibility of a boycott as industry leaders consider pulling out of the festival in response to restrictive new abortion laws in Texas. Companies with employees based in Texas are having to respond to the laws, too, and Match Group (which owns Tinder) has said it will create a fund to support Texas employees who need abortions.

The new laws mean taxi firms Uber and Lyft have been in the unlikely position of having to comment on abortion rights, saying they’ll support drivers who could be sued for helping someone obtain an abortion by driving them to a clinic (Lyft’s CEO went a step further, donating $1 million to Planned Parenthood).

This is a great example of how brands are expected to take a stand on the big societal issues of the day. A backlash is inevitable from some groups, but brands should stay firm and defend their position.

Article written by Polpeo co-founder and author of ‘Communicate in a Crisis’.

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