You Must Connect With Your Public To Build Trust in The Brand

PR firms know that if a brand is to evolve into a trusted name with consumers, the brand has to stand for something. Whether PR teams position their soft drink maker client as a brand “for the people” or the next compact car as the “globally conscious choice,” customers must connect to the company and envision how the brand can integrate with their lives. Some brands just cannot seem to succeed in establishing consistent and positive public relations and have received some seriously bad press.

While certain brands can point to one isolated incident that turned into a PR nightmare, others have delivered a legacy of isolating the public and turning consumers into critics. The following, in no particular order, are ten brands that are truly on PR life support due to decisions made by leaders at all levels in their organizations:

1. Chick-fil-A: Sure, a company CEO or Board of Directors can certainly have their opinions. Making concrete statements about social issues and invoking the wrath of nearly half the nation is a bold move. By openly making anti-gay statements the Chick-fil-A CEO alienated patrons and earned a firestorm of negative press. Yes, customers with similar views did come out to support the company, but this massive PR blunder served to draw attention away from Chick-fil-A’s core business and introduced harmful images of bigotry and hate.

2. Exxon: With minimal investment in pro-actively repairing and maintaining its aging network of pipelines (some of which run right through suburbs and populated areas), Exxon is always placed on the reactionary side of any crisis. Looking like the bad guys while trying to explain why they didn’t foresee a sixty year old pipe rupturing, Exxon has been accused of insufficient reaction to spills and other moments of crisis.

3. Whole Foods: Whole Foods leadership has strongly supported political stances that stray far from the natural inclinations of the majority of their customers. Ignoring requests from shareholders and the press regarding genetically modified organisms in their food offerings, and toxins in baby bottles, has done little to promote their open and healthy living message.

4. JP Morgan: In a post-recession America, banks are fighting an uphill public relations battle. Banking giant JP Morgan is losing this battle. Receiving a huge TARP bailout, insensitive and improper foreclosure procedures, and an out-of-touch CEO in Jamie Dimon are key characteristics of a financial conglomerate that has a hard time connecting with their public and has earned a tarnished reputation.

5. BP: The Deep Water Horizon debacle killed 11, spilled 206 million gallons of crude into sensitive oceans, and caused share prices to drop from $60 to $27. Regardless of what “truly” happened – publically it appeared that BP was “asked” to setup a $20 billion fund to cover costs. By not getting ahead of this crisis and offering help, before “asked” – BP lost a chance to earn back public opinion.

6. American Apparel/Gap: Public relations experts know the importance of capitalizing on current events. The problem is, you don’t offer sales and discounts to those who are currently affected by life-threatening weather events – all with a tongue-in-cheek marketing message that trivializes the experiences of those affected. American Apparel’s ad during the crisis of Hurricane Sandy negatively effected the reputation of this power brand.

7. Netflix: Once the “coolest idea” in the movie watching experience, the Netflix CEO decided to axe the business right down the middle and created two separate and unnecessary entities. This was a prime example of fixing something that wasn’t broken. Major branding issues emerged and the bleeding of customers ensued – 800,000 of them left after the announcement of this change.

8. McDonalds: While McDonalds already has an image as the “cheapest meal in town,” inviting customers to comment on their experience via Twitter was an exercise in risk. This backfired dramatically, with 68%+ of respondents leaving negative remarks on the hash tag promo. The company failed to anticipate the flood of comments, and reacted harshly to those that did leave negative remarks.

9. Citigroup: The loss of confidence in the banking industry should have banks doing everything they can to shed their image of cold, bloated institutions of exploitation. However, Citigroup fired 11,000 workers right before Christmas. The biggest American bank couldn’t wait until a less insensitive time? This bad press, on top of generalized “bad blood” for banks, was a major PR hit for this mega-bank.

10. Sears: Sometimes one has to admit that there just isn’t room anymore for slow-moving, behemoth retailers like Sears. With desperate attempts at improving public relations through product assortment refreshing, social media integration, and store revamps, Sears is failing. A 60% stock price drop and a seemingly disgruntled employee base doesn’t bode well for one of America’s oldest retailers.

The brands listed above do not encapsulate all of the companies that are failing at connecting to the public. They are, however, some of the highest profile organizations that have alienated part of their base. They have failed to recognize the power of positive press and have communicated via a shroud of mystery. Clear and consistent communication is vital in our world today, and these organization need to rethink their PR positions to ensure continued relevance and future performance.