This week’s PR blunders – and one outstanding success

18 September 2012 By Northern Lights

This week’s PR blunders – and one outstanding success image

There have been three shocking PR blunders this week that every student and practitioner of PR and communications should analyse.  But I also heard a media interview on Saturday which was a textbook case of how to own the interview, answer the question but firmly take the interview where you – and the audience – want it to go.


1.      German drug firm Gruenenthal issues apology to thalidomide survivors

According to the Telegraph, the German drug firm issued an apology to thalidomide sufferers:

“Harald Stock, chief executive of Gruenenthal, said he was “very sorry”, 50 years after the pharmaceutical company pulled the drug from the market.  In a speech that has caused outrage amongst thalidomide victims, Mr Stock explained: “We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us.”

“We ask for forgiveness that for nearly 50 years we didn’t find a way of reaching out to you from human being to human being,” Mr Stock said at the unveiling of a bronze statue of a child born without limbs Stolberg, western Germany. “Instead, we remained silent.”

Where to start on this blunder?  The three basic rules of managing a crisis are to admit the mistake; apologise and mean it; put right the damage at your own personal expense.

Clearly Gruenenthal has not followed any of this.  And to add an unveiling of a statue without admitting the mistake is – bizarre?  Is this a case of scientists lacking emotional intelligence?

2.       Louise Mensch and Nadine Dorries spat on Twitter

Two female politicians, Louise Mensch and Nadine Dorries, had a very public spat on Twitter this week.  It was personal and unattractive and achieved nothing for either, other than an unpleasant taste for the public.

The most dignified response is – nothing.  Very occasionally a factual statement to correct misinformation is needed but never should it get personal.

3.       Disability activists target Paralympic sponsor Atos

Inside the Games reported this story “Controversial Paralympic sponsor Atos was the target for protests in London by disability activists angry that the French multi-national IT firm carries out “fit for work” assessments on behalf of the British Government.  
“We are doing this to highlight that Atos, a sponsor for the Paralympic Games, is receiving £100 million from the Government in the hope they will assess people with disabilities and get them off benefits,” said Molly Solomons, a spokeswoman for UK Uncut.

Who thought this could ever be a good idea?

4.       And the outstanding PR success

John Humphreys interviewed Nik Dobrik, about the Gruenenthal apology (click on this link to hear the interview – it starts at 1.36 minutes).  Humphreys introduced Nik as a ‘thalidomide survivor’ and started the interview rather awkwardly by asking Nik ‘Do you think of yourself as a survivor?’

If Nik had answered this question he could have spent 30 seconds or more talking about how you describe those affected by thalidomide – which was not what he was there to do.

Very politely he said “Before answering that, I would like to make a comment on the apology”.  John Humphreys rather embarrassed said hastily ‘I was going to ask you that’.  But Nik continued with passion about the apology, the background to this and how he and others feel.  The perfect way to handle this start – he owned the interview.

Humphreys then asked ‘have you gone through your life with a sense of injustice?’.  Nik politely replied ‘I would prefer to talk in general terms’.  But he did quickly give a personal example that he was being asked for – that Woolworths did not want to give him job because the manager felt customers would not want to be served by someone with shortened arms.

And then went on to talk about victims as a whole – the fact that their health is deteriorating rapidly, people have chronic pains and are living in bodies that are 30 to 40 years older than their age.

Anyone studying media training and how to handle press interviews should use Nik Dobrik as an outstanding example of how to answer the question but make sure you get the points you want to make across.

For more examples of what not to do in PR, go to PR Newswires list of top PR blunders.

What PR blunders have you seen recently – or any really outstandingly good examples of handling interviews?


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Written by Northern Lights

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