PR Fails – how to ruin brand reputation

PR Fails – how to ruin brand reputation


They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but that definitely isn’t true. Sometimes a story can damage a brand so completely that there isn’t any coming back from it. We’ve certainly seen that from the following examples.

Martin Shkreli and Turing Pharmaceuticals

You might not know the brand Turing Pharmaceuticals but you’ve no doubt seen the grinning gurning face of its former CEO Martin Shkreli. The pharmaceutical company bought the rights to a prescription drug used to treat toxoplasmosis and proceeded to increase the price by 5000% – despite this illness potentially causing blindness and brain damage. The story went global quickly, catapulting the CEO into the glare of the limelight. They received coverage from the BBC, New York Times, NBC News and NPR. Shkreli was interviewed on TV multiple times, trying to spin the price hike as a way of generating funds to carry out further research. He insisted the rise in price was a good business decision but the world didn’t seem to agree and he later stepped down after the FBI arrested him of suspicion on fraud.

The good news for them? saw a huge rise in backlinks, with an increase of 383% after the story broke. The site saw much additional traffic too, with an increase of over 300%. The bad news? This didn’t reflect the company’s outlook. They posted a $14.6 million loss during the third quarter of 2015. Frankly, there’s no spinning failure on that level.

Peeple Loses Face after Much Negative Press

When a new site launched and promised you the ability to treat your friends and enemies much like reviewers treat businesses on Yelp, there was an outcry on social media and in the press. This app would allow you to judge people – a virtual burn book. Rightly so, this caused outrage and the story went viral after being broken by the Washington Post, soon getting picked up by Wired, the BBC, Mashable and The New York Times.

Unlike our other example, the news story broke before there was time to index the site and see how the press coverage impacted on their traffic. The site now has 3800 backlinks, and received an increase of 343% in press mentions, but today the traffic is at a trickle, only getting a tiny 1000 visitors every month. The negative press managed to burn the project out before it had even begun – and a good thing too! It sounds far too much like being in the schoolyard all over again for my liking…

In the words of Terry Pratchett, a lie can run around the world before the truth has time to get her boots on – well, this goes for negative and positive stores too. Negative stories get more shares and more coverage than positive ones.

There are ways to spin a negative story into positive coverage. However, this takes a fantastic PR team and not having a troll like Martin Shkreli as the face of your brand.