“Top 10 PR Disasters of 2010" Poll Provides Lessons for Brand Stewards

By Brian Pittman, Partner, CommPRO.biz

It came as little surprise to us here that BP, Toyota and Tiger Woods topped the list in the inaugural “Top 10 PR Disasters of 2010” poll, conducted late November by Cantor Integrated Marketing Staffing in partnership with CommPRO.

More unexpected were the volume of write-ins calling out a wide variety of sports icons, boorish celebrity behavior and political missteps. On the more upbeat side, multiple respondents took the time to say they believed the Chilean Mine Disaster was handled extremely well from a crisis communications perspective.

That said, following were the top PR disasters in 2010 as ranked in the poll by their negative brand impacts:
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1.     BP Oil Spill Response
2.     Toyota’s Great Recall
3.     Tiger Woods’ Marital Mess
4.     Action for Children – Autism Ad Campaign Backlash
5.     Apple’s Antennagate
6.     HP’s CEO Scandal
7.     EasyJet Volcanic Ash Cloud Saga
8.     Nestle’s Palm Oil Crisis
9.     Johnson & Johnson’s ’10 Recall
10.  Al Gore’s Trysts

LeBron James’ “The Announcement” Backlash narrowly missed making the cut, while Jet Blue’s Angry Steward story and Stanley McChrystal’s Loose Lips episode tied but fell far short of the top ten. The most frequent write-in responses included: Obama Administration Policies Backlash, CNN Firings, Goldman Sachs Banking Scandal, Meg Whitman’s Undocumented Maid Cover-up and Charlie Sheen’s “Bad Behavior.”

So what lessons might the poll results hold for brand stewards in PR, IR, marketing corporate communications and even advertising?

“In the age of social media, the need to communicate quickly and often is critical,” answers crisis communications expert Gerard Braud, who was commissioned to write the crisis communications plan for the IRS following the events of September 11. “The takeaway for PR people and others is how each organization must uniquely decide if their crisis communications strategy is based on the ‘tried and true’ or the ‘shiny and new,'” explains Braud, who will present a webinar on crisis communications best practices with CommPRO.biz on Dec. 16. Watch for details in CommPRO’s iTunes style store here: https://www.commpro.biz/store/prstore.htm.


About the survey: The “Top 10 PR Disasters of 2010” survey was distributed via email to 25,000 professionals in PR, communications and related disciplines and generated 167 responses. Exactly 43.4% of respondents work in corporate communications, 34.7% work with PR agencies and 11.4% with non-profits. In terms of discipline or practice areas, 30% of respondents work in media relations, 29% in marketing communications—with internal communicators (6.5%) and integrated marketing (6%) professionals constituting the majority of other respondents. The remainder was comprised of professionals in IR and issues management.



  1. […] are included in the inaugural “Top 10 PR Disasters of 2010” poll, conducted late November by Cantor Integrated Marketing Staffing in partnership with […]

  2. Tom Gable on December 6, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Interesting results. But I don’t believe these are PR disasters. Instead, they are organizational or individual disasters related to ethics, culture, standards, value, etc. These shortcomings need to be solved before PR can do its work properly. I just blogged about “It’s NOT a PR Problem. Think Real Values, Mission and Culture.” Look forward to feedback.


    • admin on December 7, 2010 at 6:42 pm

      I hear you and agree–that is exactly what Gerard Braud will be discussing during a Dec. 16 webinar on the topic. It’s listed in our store…but I’ll post the link here shortly…Brian P.

  3. […] Top 10 PR disasters of 2010, from CommPRO (via @laermer). […]