Top 5 scary PR disasters and how to fix them!

Ghosts, spiders, clowns – there’s plenty of things to be spooked by this Halloween, but having a PR disaster doesn’t need to be one of them. Anyone who’s opened a newspaper or turned the news on the TV recently will no doubt have heard about Michael O’Leary’s PR headache as Ryanair passengers have been left without flights. So, what are some of the top PR disasters of recent years and how can you fix them if an issue does arise? We asked PRG’s resident PR expert and ex-journalist Martyn Leek for his thoughts…


Michael O’Leary is having his own equivalent of a Nightmare on Elm Street of late. The boss of Ryanair has had to apologise to thousands of customers after leaving them stranded because of a pilot shortage. The fault has been compounded by a lack of clear communication with its customers.

Make it less scary: Be honest and act quickly. In this instance, it should have been made explicitly clear what customers’ rights are to demonstrate the airline is putting passengers first. If you begin to receive bad publicity, be proactive. Get a plan in place and communicate this with journalists and news outlets, and most importantly, with your customers.


All that glitters is not gold and Gerald Ratner had his own Shining moment when he declared all his jewellery was “crap” in the early 1990s. The consequence? Well can you see any Ratners on the High Street?

Make it less scary: Rule number one, don’t slate your own products! If you don’t love them, how can you ask anyone else to? This statement is also insulting to any customers who may feel belittled for buying into the brand. If an ill-advised statement has gained you bad press – address it. PR disasters require an apology and for you to counteract an issue with good press and positive comments about your offering from customers and staff. Finally, if you’re unhappy with your offering, get customer feedback and find ways to improve it!


The whole PR world let out a Scream when the former BP boss Tony Hayward showed his insensitivity following its US Gulf Coast disaster. Saying: “I’d like my life back…” was not the way to handle the worst oil spill in the country’s history.

Make it less scary: In this instance a fast reaction is crucial – apologise and retract the offending statement. Crucially, don’t shy away and hope the furore will die down – address the issue head on and speak to complainants directly. It can be difficult, especially when there’s been reporting on a large scale, but both the press and the public will have more respect for you the more honest and proactive you are.


It may have looked like there was an Exorcist on a recent flight from United Airlines – but in reality it was just security kicking a man off a plane. The whole world was outraged by the footage from 2017 – and with good reason.

Make it less scary: The best way to address PR disasters is to outline your plan of action to prevent such an issue from happening again. Make it clear you take issues affecting customers seriously, and undertake a thorough investigation in to the event. A statement demonstrating your company values should help to diffuse the situation.


There were definitely Gremlins in the system earlier this year when Pepsi allowed an ill-fated advert with Kendall Jenner to reach the airwaves. The advert, where young Kendall is seen handing a can of drink to a policeman went down like a lead balloon in the US thanks to a wave of unrest in the nation.

Make it less scary: Don’t panic and stop any planned marketing featuring the advert. Acknowledge the advert was created in poor judgement and apologise. Finally, ensure any future adverts go through a rigorous checking process prior to production to avoid the same mistake happening again.

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