PRCG Releases 2020 Ranking of Worst and Best Crisis PR
White House medical team takes ‘Worst’ crown, while the NBA’s COVID-19 handling is ranked as best; sports-related crises are well represented on both lists
NEW YORK, NY — Crisis communications firm PRCG | Haggerty LLC today unveiled its 2020 list of the worst- and best-handled crisis communications events of the year.
PRCG | Haggerty compiles its list with the help of its CrisisResponsePro database of more than 12,000 public statements issued by companies facing a crisis or litigation communications event. PRCG began creating its Worst and Best List in 2015 and, after a two-year hiatus, the list is back — in a crisis year unlike any other.
“With the year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests and the election, we saw a number of high-profile crises related to those areas,” said James F. Haggerty, CEO of PRCG | Haggerty.
Haggerty added: “It is interesting that while the White House medical team’s response to President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis was our worst-handled crisis, sports-related PR responses were more represented than in past years — not surprising given the shutdown of the industry for months and all of the PR issues that sprang from that.”
Haggerty is author of two well-known books on crisis and legal communications: Chief Crisis Officer: Structure and Leadership for Effective Communications Response, and In The Court of Public Opinion: Winning Strategies for Litigation Communications, both published in new editions in 2019 by ABA Books.
Sports-related PR responses were more represented than in past years — not surprising given the shutdown of the industry for months and all of the PR issues that sprang from that.
Here are the top five worst and best:
THE TOP FIVE WORST
1. The White House Medical Team
White House doctor Sean Conley led several disastrous press conferences in front of the hospital where Donald Trump was hospitalized with COVID-19. The physician and his team broke nearly every rule of communications during a crisis and were severely selective as to the information they would divulge about the president’s health. A bad situation quickly became worse.
2. Washington NFL Team
The professional football team formerly known as the Washington Redskins had two major crises this year: continued uproar over its name, which it finally, belatedly agreed to change, and a sexual-harassment problem, which, alas, is not unusual for sports teams. Charitably, its responses to both weren’t great.
3. U.S. Soccer Federation
The U.S. Soccer Federation’s legal response in March to a lawsuit from women players arguing they were paid less than the men was met with much derision. It was a perfect example of how a reasonable legal strategy (which prevailed) can be a terrible communications strategy.
Some of Nikola Corp.’s defenses against a short-seller’s report accusing the company of being a fraud were hard to swallow. The biggest was its argument that it never actually said a prototype truck in a promotional video was moving down a hill of its own volition. At least founder Trevor Milton resigned as chairman.
CrossFit unhappily found itself in the spotlight over then-CEO Gary Glassman’s insensitive comments about the killing of George Floyd. The company was remiss in not controlling its CEO’s tweets. Glassman tried to apologize but eventually resigned.
THE TOP FIVE BEST
1. National Basketball Association
The NBA deftly responded to the Black Lives Matter protests; under commissioner Adam Silver’s leadership, the league has gained a reputation as the savviest in dealing with the crossroads of sports and politics. Its handling of the COVID-19 challenge was also astute, and it expertly communicated with its teams, players and fans.
While the slugfest between high-end retailers LVMH and Tiffany might have appeared unseemly, the dueling litigation communications was actually quite impressive. Both companies were determined to make sure the public and investors knew exactly where they stood in the dispute, issuing multiple statements.
3. Epic Games
“Fortnite” creator Epic Games obviously planned out its litigation communications strategy when it sued Apple and Google over their app-store fees. The company released a video within “Fortnite” parodying Apple’s 1984 Macintosh commercial. Through its efforts, soon #FreeFortnite was the top-trending hashtag on Twitter.
4. Shake Shack
Shake Shack responded with honor to the mass confusion caused by the U.S. federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program created to address the COVID-19 pandemic. After a backlash, it decided to return the $10 million loan it had received, which it announced in a 2,000-word LinkedIn post. It was a smart crisis response.
With the pandemic bringing tourism to a halt in March, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky made “10 years’ worth of decisions in 10 weeks” (as he put it) that earned trust from hosts and customers alike. Six months later, more homes are offered on the platform now than before the pandemic. Airbnb touted its $219 million net profit in the third quarter as it went public this month.
For more detail on the rankings and reviews, please visit our full post on PRCG | Haggerty LLC’s blog, “The Knowledge Exchange.”
About PRCG | Haggerty LLC
PRCG | Haggerty LLC (prcg.com) is a full-service public relations firm with a global reputation in crisis and litigation communications, thought leadership, reputation management and other complex communications specialties. The firm works with a broad range of clients, from Fortune 100 corporations, to entrepreneurial start-ups and high net worth individuals and their family businesses. With headquarters in New York, PRCG also has a partner office in Los Angeles and is also a proud member of the Crisis Protection Network, a worldwide association of crisis communications firms that share a commitment to excellence in crisis management and brand protection.
The firm’s PRCG | Sports division (prcgsports.com) is a leading sports marketing and public relations practice, with particular experience in sensitive communications issues throughout the sports world.