PR Techhouse of Horrors MMXVII

Russell By Russell

As it was Halloween this week, we’ve dug up a few PR horror stories from days of old and looked at what companies could have done differently. So make sure you’re sitting comfortably.

1. Osborne Computers – In 1983, Osborne Computer Corporation wheeled out Osborne Executive, which although it hadn’t been built, promised to outperform Osborne 1. In anticipation of this ground-breaking release, people simply stopped buying the Osborne 1 and its sales dropped so rapidly that Osborne Computer never recovered from prematurely discussing its future model.

In fact, the much anticipated Osborne Executive never arrived. The company had to drastically cut prices on Osborne 1 in an attempt to resurrect sales, but Osborne Computer couldn’t be saved and went bankrupt in 1985. The term ‘Osborne effect’ was then coined to describe the negative consequences of announcing a future product has on the of the current product.

Lesson: Always consider the impact announcements regarding the future may have on the present.

2. TalkTalk – In 2015, TalkTalk suffered a data breach which allowed more than a million customers’ sensitive data to be compromised. At the time the website went down, but the company attributed the lack of availability to technical problems and TalkTalk didn’t relate the outage to a cyberattack until the next day. It then took another week for TalkTalk to identify what data had been compromised and even longer for the company to inform customers that their data hadn’t been encrypted.

Instead of holding its hands up to the breach and apologising profusely, TalkTalk instead went on the offensive – claiming it was not legally required to encrypt its data. To make matters worse, the company then refused to let customers leave their existing contracts, even though their sensitive information had been leaked. The company later adjusted its stance due to public outcry, but unfortunately by this time the damage had already been done.

Lesson: Always be honest and upfront with crisis communications, as the truth will out eventually.

3. Blizzard – In 2010, Blizzard, the publisher of the popular World of Warcraft series, announced that gamers would need to use their real names on its forums to reduce trolling and cyberbullying. Although the intended rule change was for honourable reasons, it was met by widespread hostility from the gaming community – who claimed that it exposed them to identity theft, cyber-stalking and harassment in the real world.

To show that the changes weren’t a big deal, Blizzard employees began using their real names on the forums – big mistake. Opponents of the proposed change banded together to illustrate the privacy dangers of posting your real name online and, taking the name of one poor Blizzard employee, began to uncover every bit of information they could find – including his phone number, home address, photograph and even the names of his relatives. This stopped Blizzard’s plans in its tracks and the company quickly issued a statement to this affect.

Lesson: Consumers can take matters into their own hands if they don’t like a business decision. If you make a business decision that you know your consumers don’t like you need an aggressive PR campaign to run alongside the decision to prevent a PR crisis.

As demonstrated above, bad or ill-thought out PR can do a great deal of financial and reputational damage. Think, think and think again – or your company might end up being a resident in the PR Techhouse of Horrors!