NoFollow Links in Press Releases? How To Revise Your Press Release Strategy

Recently, Google took the position that press releases were simply link schemes, advertorials for a business. Therefore, all links in press releases should have the nofollow attribute added to the links, so that the press release does not pass any SEO (Search Engine Optimization) value to the website it’s linking to. Take a look at the video.

In the video, according to a recent Search Engine Land article, “Throughout the video, John Mueller equated press releases to advertisements. It was specifically asked if all links in press releases need to be nofollowed or just “links with optimized anchor text” in press releases need to be nofollowed.”

This is actually a surprising position that Google is taking. But I have a suspicion as to why they are wanting us to put nofollow links in press releases now. As you might recall, in January, 2013, Google said that “links in press releases don’t benefit your rankings”. But, as it turns out, some SEOs challenged that: and they proved that links in press releases really DO benefit rankings.

Couldn’t Google just search the page for the word “press release” and the standard city and date that’s put at the beginning of the typical press release format and literally discount the links in that press release? Well, uh, apparently not. Looks to me like Google couldn’t technically do that for some reason (perhaps it would take too much programming to change the algorithm to do that). So, at this point, we’re now seeing Google take a different approach when it comes to press releases: tell us, the website owners, to put nofollow links in press releases. That’s just “easier” for Google, so they’re asking us to do that instead of changing the algorithm (which they should do).

Personally, I believe that proper press releases are NOT advertorials, and, when done correctly, should be counted as part of any search engine algorithm. The proper press release should be newsworthy, and should not be written as a advertorial for a company or website just to get some sort of “SEO benefit” from it. I have to admit, though, that there are a lot of SEOs out there who have “gamed the system” so to speak and just ruined the whole press release industry. In fact, I also blame all of the spammy “press release sites” that have been put up over the years, just to take someone’s money to post a “press release” on the website. I’m not talking about legitimate press release distribution sites here, like, PR Newswire, and Marketwire. It’s the “free press release” sites and those who charge a minimal amount to post your press release. The sites that have absolutely no editorial system in place.

Couldn’t Google do their job, though? Figure out which press releases sites are legitimate, which ones have editors, and count those links: instead, Google has to put out a blanked statement saying that all press releases are advertorials? Doesn’t seem right to me. But I digress.

So What Do We Do Now?
That’s a good question. Now that press releases are supposed to now have the “nofollow” link attribute added to all links, is it still worth it to write a press release and submit it to sites like PRWeb, PR Newswire, MarketWire, and PR Leap? Sure. I would not change your press release strategy at all. Not one bit. But, I would use the following “tips” and “tricks” in order to make sure that you get a huge amount of value from any press release that you write and have distributed.

– Only issue a press release that contains newsworthy content. I know it may be hard to do, but go back to the basics: is there the potential that a real news site is going to pick up your news? Is it news? Or are you just doing it for SEO value?

– Submit and distribute the press release using only legitimate press release sites. Use the big ones, such as PRWeb, PR Newswire, MarketWire, and PR Leap. Those are the sites that the major news agencies troll for news. I wouldn’t even messs with the “free ones” now. You might want to still set up a PressDoc for your company, that still does have some value.

– Hire a good press release writer. The actual journalists and editors reading through thousands of press release headlines can tell the good ones from the poorly written ones. That’s what they do for a living. They can spot great headlines a mile away: and a good press release writer will know how to write a headline, not just stuff it with keywords.

– Take the time to get to know the news media. You have to do your homework. Don’t just expect to get a press release written and blindly send it out to news sites. It doesn’t work that way. Make a list of the top media sites in your industry, as well as bloggers. Contact them ahead of time to make sure they’re the proper person to send news to when you have news to report. Bloggers really like to receive press releases, just like news agencies. If you get a blogger to write about your news, the SEO value may be more than what you get from a mention on a news site (which will probably not include a link).

– Use traditional Public Relations (PR) tactics to get your news in front of the right news media pros who will write about your company news. If you don’t know those tactics, then do some additional research. Looking for a great book about how to get free publicity? Try Jeff Crilley’s book, Free Publicity: A TV Reporter Shares the Secrets for Getting Covered on the News. Jeff was a reporter in Dallas on Fox for many years, and shares his views on how to get free publicity.

Certainly these are only a few tips to get you started. But as we realize now that we are not going to write a press release and include a few links to our website and get tons of SEO value from it, we have to go back to the basics: why are you even writing a press release? Is it news? If so, great. If not, then don’t even bother: you won’t get the SEO value you once did, and most likely no news agency or blogger will pick up or mention you in their news story.

Top 10 Public Relations Blunders for 2012

I always look forward to the end of the year. Not only is it a great time to look back at all of the good things that happened during the past year, but it’s also a great time to look at your mistakes, and the mistakes that other companies in your industry have made: so I don’t make the same mistakes. Every year Fineman PR puts out their list of the top public relations blunders. I’ve posted this for the past few years. So, here is this year’s list, the top ten public relations blunders of 2012.


1. Pink Ribbon Pink Slip

When Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced its decision to end its longtime partnership with Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading breast cancer charity was widely criticized, particularly via social media, with many alleging that funding was cut due to pressure from anti-abortion groups and anti-abortion sentiment in the Komen executive ranks. Meghan Casserly of Forbes reported on social media backlash from iconic women, such as author Judy Blume and U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, the latter who tweeted that “Komen’s decision hurts women – it puts politics before women’s health.” Faced with massive public outcry, the foundation apologized and reversed its decision within 72 hours of the initial announcement, but the damage to its image was already done. The New York Times cited a Harris Interactive study showing that Komen’s “brand health” score fell 21 percent from the year before.

2. “Mice No Match for Mountain Dew,” – ABC News

Mountain Dew maker PepsiCo mis-stepped in its defense against Illinois consumer Ronald Ball’s 2009 lawsuit over an alleged dead mouse in a can of its popular beverage. Hoping to refute Ball’s allegations, the company insisted the soda would have reduced the mouse corpse to a “jelly-like substance” regardless, as reported in numerous national media, including the Huffington Post and Scientific American.


While experts cited studies indicating that Mountain Dew’s unique formulation, including high levels of citric acid and controversial brominated vegetable oil, probably could jellify a mouse, the company’s inexplicably off-putting statement was a far cry from enticing consumers to “do the Dew.” Eric Randall of The Atlantic Wire skewered PepsiCo, describing the company’s unusual defense as “a winning-the-battle-while-surrendering-the-war kind of strategy that hinges on the argument that Pepsi’s product is essentially a can of bright green/yellow battery acid.”


3. Unhelpful, Unfriendly, Discourteous and Unkind
With 2012 marking its 100th anniversary, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) should have enjoyed a banner year. Instead, the organization self-righteously battled against the inclusion of openly gay scouts and leaders with widely covered incidents of organizational bigotry as reported by numerous media, including ABC News, NBC News, NPR, CNN and the Associated Press. The other shoe dropped, though, when the Los Angeles Times reported on the court-mandated release of BSA files detailing decades of sexual abuse incidents that were documented internally but never reported to police or properly investigated. The confluence of these issues was too much to bear for many Americans: parents pulled their boys out of scouting, corporations such as United Parcel Service withheld donations and adult Eagle Scouts returned their badges. The editorial staff of The New York Times noted that “for an organization that extols trustworthiness, these files lay bare an appalling dissonance. The Boy Scouts battled to the Supreme Court to protect their right to purge gay and lesbian leaders and to exclude gay boys, insisting that openly gay people were bad role models. It bent to bigotry while hiding sexual predators.” [Read more…]

Top 10 Public Relations Blunders of 2011

I always look forward to the end of the year. Not only is it a great time to look back at all of the good things that happened during the past year, but it’s also a great time to look at your mistakes, and the mistakes that other companies in your industry have made: so I don’t make the same mistakes. Every year Fineman PR puts out their list of the top public relations blunders. I’ve posted this for the past few years. So, here is this year’s list, the top ten public relations blunders of 2011.

1. Penn State, “Your Scandal Isn’t Going Away”
The story of disgraced former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s arrest on charges of sexual abuse is a terrible one, but news of the university’s lack of action over more than 10 years infuriated the public and media alike. University President Graham Spanier fanned the flames with a poorly planned initial statement featuring more support for two University officials alleged to have been covering up a 2002 incident than for the eight abuse victims. But that was just one of many stumbles in the eyes of prominent media and PR professionals, who urged Penn State to get organized, take responsibility, prioritize the victims and get all the bad news out as quickly as possible. Poor crisis planning was an obvious issue, with Advertising Age reporting that “despite months of advance notice, Penn State’s board didn’t enact a communications plan, and waited until after the arrest … was all over the news” before retaining crisis counsel. Even Penn State senior lecturer of public relations Steve Manuel agreed, telling USA Today that “this was a crisis in the making of at least three years. Penn State knew this shoe was going to drop and it was not prepared.” Lynn Zinser of The New York Times urged University leaders to accept that “your scandal isn’t going away,” describing the “sorry spectacle” as “what appears to be an institution-wide moral collapse.”

2. Cain Undeniably Unprepared
Republican presidential hopeful and former National Restaurant Association (NRA) head Herman Cain made a major mistake by not dealing with questions from Politico regarding accusations of past sexual harassment promptly and completely, leaving himself open for wave after wave of damaging speculation. According to John Cassidy of The New Yorker, Cain had “ample time” to prepare for the crisis and should have “sat down his staff, explained that he was sitting on an unexploded landmine, and asked them to prepare a contingency plan” early on. But despite being aware of media interest for at least 10 days, Cain and his staff appeared completely unprepared for scrutiny on the subject. According to numerous media sources, the candidate breathed audibly and glared at Politico’s John Martin for several seconds when asked if he had ever been accused of harassment before evasively echoing the question. Cain’s bizarre, reactionary responses incented his past accusers to come forward, prompting him to stumble further by dismissing their claims as “baseless” (despite five-figure NRA settlements with two women involved), suggesting race was a factor in the coverage and claiming that either rival candidate Rick Perry’s camp or the “Democratic machine” was out to smear him. U.S. News and World Report opinion editor Robert Schlesinger wrote that “Cain left the presidential race as he entered it—more a sideshow than a contender,” after he suspended his campaign.

3. Oakland Mayor Quan Plays Both Sides – Against Each Other
The Occupy Movement tested city officials nationwide, but none more than Oakland Mayor and former community activist Jean Quan, whose handling of the Occupy Oakland encampment was widely and critically covered. In the first two weeks of the tense situation Quan flip-flopped frequently, first attending the encampment as a supporting speaker, then eventually authorizing a police raid to clear the site, a reversal that provoked nationwide criticism of the violent confrontation. At first, Quan tried distancing herself from the raid, saying she did not know when it was going to take place, but City Hall sources indicated she “was fully informed about the size and scope of the operation hours before it started” and had ample opportunity to prevent the raid, according to San Francisco Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross. Quan invited protesters back the very next day – after spending more than $1 million to clear them out – and later encouraged city employees to join an Occupy-sanctioned general strike against the “establishment,” causing the Oakland Police Officer’s Association to release a statement asking: “is it [Oakland’s] intention to have city employees on both sides of a skirmish line?” The San Jose Mercury News joined the Association, other media and residents in blasting Quan’s handling of the situation, noting that “real leaders think through challenges, make tough calls and take responsibility if things go wrong. Quan has been all over the map – an icon of what not to do.”

4. Bank of America Nickels and Dimes
Bank of America wasn’t the only bank planning on bolstering revenue through new debit card fees, but it suffered significant reputational damage for being the last to abandon its plans to do so after severe public outrage in what The Wall Street Journal termed “the latest publicity nightmare for an industry that is already under fire.” J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo & Co. and several regional banks dropped similar plans after widespread outcry, but being last out made Bank of America, the nation’s second-largest bank, the situational whipping boy in the media, the public eye and even in Congress, where Sen. Richard Durbin (D, Ill.) urged consumers to “vote with your feet.” Consumers nationwide did just that, pulling out of major banks en masse to join local credit unions. The Huffington Post reported that at least “650,000 customers joined credit unions [in about five weeks after] Bank of America announced it would charge customers $5 to use their debit cards for purchases.”

5. “Nutty View” Damages GOP Confidence in Perry
While some might declare Rick Perry’s inability to recall his own agenda his most memorable campaign gaffe of 2011, to many his most significant – and completely preventable – blunder was dredging up the birther meme in an interview with Parade Magazine. Perry was apparently “totally kidding,” according to Dan Amira of, noting that the beleaguered candidate’s main mistake was associating himself “with a conspiracy theory that was debunked once and for all six months ago and to which only the crankiest of cranks continue to subscribe.” While Perry may have been “just having some fun,” Philip Rucker of The Washington Post reported that he “undercut the reach of his economic message by repeatedly injecting an issue that most Americans thought had been put to rest.” GOP strategist Karl Rove summed the blunder up neatly, telling Fox News when “you associate yourself with a nutty view like that … you damage yourself.”

6. Qwikster Just a Flash in the Netflix Pan
How should management handle customer discontent over, say … a controversial 60% price increase that led to hundreds of thousands of lost customers and a drop of nearly half of a company’s stock value? Netflix CEO Reed Hastings remained silent for two months, then released a seemingly reluctant blog statement apologizing for the increase… and announcing plans to split off DVD-by-mail operations “in the same breath,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. But the Chronicle also reported that “customers ripped that plan” as seriously inconvenient because it entailed zero coordination between Netflix and proposed new unit Qwikster. Netflix backpedaled in the face of consumer backlash, abandoning plans for Qwikster three weeks later, but its stock value remained severely depressed.

7. Facebook Complains About Lack of Transparency, Anonymously
Not only did Facebook contract a prominent PR firm to question how Google’s Social Circle collects and uses personal data, the social network allegedly insisted on client anonymity. But things spun out of control when blogger Christopher Soghoian – targeted (and annoyed) by the campaign – posted the agency’s pitch emails online, while USA Today reported of false claims in pitches. Newsweek tech editor Dan Lyons described the “clumsy smear” in The Daily Beast and exposed Facebook as the mystery client, noting that “the mess, seemingly worthy of a Nixon re-election campaign, is embarrassing for Facebook, which has struggled at times to brand itself as trustworthy.” Miguel Helft of The New York Times noted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s transparency obsession, skewering the social network for hypocrisy, “Facebook, it seems, doesn’t always practice what it preaches.”

8. Dodger Owner’s Words “Very, Very Unfair” to Coma Victim, Family
Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt took a year-long pounding in the press for his handling of numerous issues, including the team’s bankruptcy proceeding and his very public divorce. But for many McCourt’s biggest blunder was his insensitive reaction to the horrific, coma-inducing beating received by San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium after the March 31st opening day game. The Los Angeles Times reported that McCourt described the assault as “tragic” but also that he was “very, very satisfied” with his organization’s effort to “make [Dodger Stadium] the safest venue in sports” and that it was “very, very unfair to take what was otherwise a fantastic day … and to have a few individuals mar that.” McCourt spent much of the year defending his organization instead of taking responsibility and prioritizing the victim, creating an appearance of callousness and widespread media outrage. McCourt’s problems peaked when his attorney sought to place blame on Stow for the incident. As the Times commented, “one of McCourt’s problems has been his consistent cluelessness about the public relations effects of his decisions. Neither he nor Dodgers fans need to see his lawyers making a similar blunder.”

9. “Tweeting Teen” Teaches Kansas Gov. Brownback about Social Media
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and his staff should have considered the source before trying “to police a teenager’s Internet musings,” according to the Associated Press, when 18-year-old Emma Sullivan sent a tweet to her 61 followers claiming to have “told him he sucked.” Brownback’s communications team contacted Sullivan’s principal with news of her online claim, who, in turn, demanded that Sullivan write an apology. But according to the Kansas City Star, Sullivan never wrote the apology. The incident gained rapid national recognition, with Sullivan’s Twitter following exploding to more than 12,000 followers. Brownback eventually apologized for the incident, and according to Gawker, noted that his “staff over-reacted.” PRNewser called the actions of his communication staff “an example of how little some people know about how this whole social media thing works.”

10. Ben & Jerry’s Churns Ice Cream into Schweddy Balls
Popular ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s has a longstanding tradition of edgy flavor names, but the company’s latest effort, “Schweddy Balls,” an homage to Saturday Night Live character Pete Schweddy, has some families and consumer groups, including American Family Association affiliate One Million Moms, up in arms. The Miss.-based organization issued a statement calling the irreverent name “anything but appealing” and claiming that “the vulgar new flavor has turned something as innocent as ice cream into something repulsive.” While Ben & Jerry’s dismissed these claims, noting that the company has always embraced irreverent names, the company may have suffered in the process as NPR, Time, the New York Daily News and other media reported that some supermarket chains, including Mass.-based Stop & Shop, were not carrying the flavor.

Fineman PR has also compiled a list of five classic PR Blunders documented in the agency’s previous Annual Blunders lists. The list is available on the agency’s new website:

AMA Handbook of Public Relations Published

Before the invasion of YouTube, Facebook, and bloggers, the Internet was embraced by visionary PR professionals working feverishly to develop online content to advance a client’s agenda. But since the birth of social media, citizen journalism and an ever-evolving world of online communications, we are facing new challenges more complicated than ever before.


If you are a Public Relations Specialist, how can you exploit what’s new and exciting on the technology front without overlooking traditional media that still matter? Public relations icon Robert L. Dilenschneider gives veterans and neophytes in the industry the information they need to succeed in THE AMA HANDBOOK OF PUBLIC RELATIONS (AMACOM; February 28, 2010; $35.00 Hardcover).

“This book helps anyone who wants influence to develop the mind-set, intuitive grasp, confidence, strategies, and tactics to bring together all available and emerging tools,” Dilenschneider says. “Those who get the hang of it will not only survive, but contribute to the common good, as well as their own good. Those who do not will find themselves voiceless and ignored…The practice of public relations is filled with those who aren’t being heard or won’t be.”

Written for corporate managers and consultants, students and professionals, Millennials and Baby Boomers, THE AMA HANDBOOK OF PUBLIC RELATIONS offers guidance on combining both the right digital and traditional communication approaches with the means necessary for protecting a company or client from harmful attention online and off.

In addition to his own wealth of experience, Dilenschneider draws on hundreds of interviews with media and Internet experts, business leaders, and consumers to address what he views as the “most critical and useful issues” facing PR professionals today. Spanning topics of interest from the nuts and bolts of digital technology to practical advice on speechwriting, making presentations, penning op-ed pieces, and conducting market research to achieve PR objectives, chapters cover:

— Creating a Web presence that communicates the right message—in a human voice;

— Using blogs, Twitter, and social networking sites to attract, connect with, and win the right target audience;

— Monitoring the Internet, efficiently, affordably, and continually, to keep on top of what is being said about your company, products, services, industry, leadership, and competition;

— Viewing the PR universe in terms of hyperlinks—and profiting from cooperating and collaborating with competitors; and

— Strategically using online and offline communications to reinforce one another, with a commitment to staying current, exploring a variety of options, and conducting pilot projects.

Dilenschneider also devotes a section to the broader PR spectrum, which includes investor relations, tourism, and other specialized areas that require specific skills. Filled with instructive examples, step-by-step action plans, and takeaway information, THE AMA HANDBOOK OF PUBLIC RELATIONS is a valuable resource guide for everyone whose job or company depends on winning influence through communication, on the Web and beyond.

Robert L. Dilenschneider has been a public relations professional for over 40 years. Experienced in a number of communications disciplines, he is frequently called upon by the media to provide commentary and strategic public relations insights on major news stories. He has counseled major corporations, professional groups, trade associations and educational institutions, and has assisted clients in dealings with regulatory agencies, labor unions, consumer groups, minorities, and others.

In October 1991, he founded The Dilenschneider Group, which provides communications services in fields ranging from mergers and acquisitions, and crisis communications to marketing, government affairs and international media. Prior to forming his own firm, Mr. Dilenschneider worked with Hill and Knowlton, Inc. for nearly 25 years, including serving as president and chief executive officer from 1986 to 1991. As CEO, he succeeded in tripling the firm’s revenues to nearly $200 million and delivering more than $30 million in profit.

Mr. Dilenschneider is widely published and author of several books including A Briefing for Leaders, On Power, The Critical 14 Years of Your Professional Life, Moses: C.E.O, The Critical 2nd Phase of your Professional Life, 50 Plus!—Critical Career Decisions for the Rest of Your Life, A Times for Heroes, Power and Influence: The Rules Have Changed, and his latest, THE AMA HANDBOOK OF PUBLIC RELATIONS (AMACOM; February 25, 2010).

Furthermore, Mr. Dilenschneider is a member of the Public Relations Society of America, the International Public Relations Association, the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S.-Japan Business Council, the Economic Clubs of New York and Chicago, and the Florida Council of 100. He is a Fellow to the International Association of Business Communicators, and in recognition of his contribution in promoting New York City, he received the city’s Big Apple award.

An active board member, Mr. Dilenschneider is a member of the advisory board of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a member of The Bretton Woods Committee, a member of the Board of Governors of the Leader to Leader Institute, and a member of the Soundwaters Honorary Board. He also sits on the Board of Governors of the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the North American Advisory Board of The Michael Smurfit School of Business at University College Dublin.

A supporter of higher education, he has lectured before scores of professional organizations and colleges, including the University of Notre Dame, Ohio State University, New York University and The Harvard Business School. He is a trustee of the Institute of International Education and serves as a judge for The Olin Award, a program of the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis. In 2001, he received an honorary Doctorate of Public Service from Muskingum College.

Top 10 Public Relations Blunders of 2009

I always look forward to the end of the year. Not only is it a great time to look back at all of the good things that happened during the past year, but it’s also a great time to look at your mistakes. I also love to look at the mistakes of others: so I don’t make the same mistakes. Every year Fineman PR puts out their list of the top public relations blunders. I’ve posted this for the past few years and last year I posted their top 10 public relations blunders and it was a big hit. So, here is this year’s list, the top ten public relations blunders of 2009.

1. Military’s Flop of a Photo Op
A “furious” President Obama was forced to order an internal review to determine why on April 27 a near-empty Air Force One VC-25 was allowed to fly at low altitude through Manhattan, seemingly pursued by an F-16 jet. The photo-op flyover to allow for iconic photography of Air Force One over the Statue of Liberty was arranged by the Defense Department and authorized by White House Military Office Director Louis Caldera. For people on the ground, though, it vividly recalled fears related to the 9/11 terror attacks and sent workers streaming out of office buildings and running through the streets in panic. ABC News reported that N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was also not informed, said that “poor judgment” would have been a nice way to describe the flyover. Caldera resigned and was replaced by deputy director George Mulligan.

2. “It’s a Fork, It’s a Spoon, It’s a… Weapon?” (The New York Times)
An enthusiastic six-year-old Zachary Christie, excited about having just joined the Cub Scouts, brought his Scout-style eating utensil, a combination fork-knife-spoon-can opener, to school specifically so he could eat lunch with it on September 29. Not only did officials at Delaware’s Christina School District confiscate the utensil, they suspended Zachary and sentenced the A-student to 45 days in reform school in compliance with the District’s “zero-tolerance” policy on “weapons” despite ample character evidence that the child acted naively and was not a danger. Mother Deborah Christie organized activist website, sparking national media attention and sympathy for the innocent casualties of “zero-tolerance” policies, with The New York Times and other prominent publications reporting on numerous such cases. The District did allow the boy to return to school after an emergency school board meeting… that was prompted by the situation being featured on NBC’s Today.

3. “Goldman Sucks,” blogs Financial Post editor
After taking a severe media drubbing, it makes sense for the big banks to conduct public outreach demonstrating some level of humility. But many have criticized Goldman Sachs CEO and spokesperson Lloyd Blankfein for statements published in the November 8 edition of the UK’s Sunday Times in which Blankfein claimed the company was “doing God’s work.” Diane Francis, editor-at-large for Canada’s Financial Post, blogged that “Goldman Sucks” and derided its new small business support plan, noting that “if [the promised US $500 million] was a tip it would be an insult, particularly in New York. Goldman has set aside US $16.7 billion for year-end bonuses, equivalent to the total economic output of Bolivia or Iceland.” Huffington Post blogger Charles Gasparino blasted Blankfein, writing that “what makes Goldman so contemptible is that its level of spin has almost no basis in reality.”

4. “My God, they’re throwing guitars out there.”
Musician Dave Carroll was frustrated by United Airlines’ nine-month refusal to compensate him for $1,200 in repairs after he witnessed United baggage handlers literally tossing guitars, including his own $3,500 Taylor, during a transfer at O’Hare International Airport. In what Nielsen Online’s Joshua Hammond termed “a true ‘David vs. Goliath’ moment,” Carroll vowed that he would write and record songs about the experience – complete with music videos – and publish them online. The first YouTube video amassed over three million views in a single week. Within two days, United was in touch with Carroll, offering the long-awaited compensation, which he asked to be contributed to a charity of the airline’s choice. Ben Mutzabaugh of USA Today described Carroll’s success as demonstrating “just how quickly the Internet can help a disgruntled customer turn the tables on a company and its effort to manage its public image.” Unbelievably, United let Carroll down again in late October, losing his bags while he was “en route to deliver a speech about customer service,” according to CBC News.


5. Domino’s Recipe for Disaster
When footage of Domino’s Pizza employees fouling food was posted to YouTube in April, the company did not move quickly enough to counter the damage in today’s online world. Videos showing two employees performing unsanitary acts quickly amassed over one million views within 48 hours. After two painful days, Domino’s finally reacted, launching its first corporate Twitter account and posting a public apology on YouTube. According to BusinessWeek, Domino’s had become “the latest company to learn how quickly a brand can be tainted in a Web 2.0 world – and how important it is to monitor social media.”

6. Kanye West…Wanted – Chief Reality Check Officer
Storming the stage in protest at a nationally televised awards show is practically an annual event for Kanye West, but his “performance” at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards was particularly ill-advised. When an allegedly inebriated West took the microphone from teenage country artist and Best Female Video winner Taylor Swift, claiming that Beyoncé – not Swift – deserved the award, he crossed a critical line. According to Linda Holmes of NPR’s “Monkey See” blog, “when you’re a big-mouth and you get in a tangle with another big-mouth, nobody necessarily thinks the less of either one of you. You get in trouble, however, when you’re picking on people who aren’t even old enough to drink – unlike you.” Later in an interview with Jay Leno, Kanye apologized and ashamedly acknowledged that his mother would have been disappointed.

7. “Kentucky Fried Fiasco” reports Advertising Age
Fast food bastion KFC launched its new Kentucky GRILLED Chicken offering on May 4 by working with the “Oprah Winfrey Show” to announce a two-day internet coupon for a free meal. It seems like a marketer’s dream, but Advertising Age reported it as “an unmitigated disaster” when millions downloaded the coupon, and the company could not fulfill consumer demand and “actually had to rescind the offer.” While KFC did indeed accumulate a “sea of buzz” for its efforts, it failed to fulfill its promise, leaving many consumers empty-handed… and angry. Linda Holmes of NPR referred to the incident as “a massive customer-service failure,” adding that “if you throw in with Oprah, you have to be prepared to serve America – all of it, at the same time.”


8. We “Expect More” from Target
Human rights and immigration activists took aim at national chain Target for its pre-Halloween online promotion of an “Illegal Alien” costume that came complete with orange jumpsuit, extraterrestrial mask and, most controversially, a “green card” accessory. Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, called the costume “distasteful, mean-spirited, and ignorant of social stigmas and current debate on immigration reform.” Target spokespeople said the costumes were included in Halloween offerings “by mistake,” and pulled them from its website.

9. Housing Crisis Solved… the Malibu Way
Retreats for bailed out execs may be last year’s AIG Blunder, but the major banks still party on at home… or at someone else’s foreclosed home. A Wells Fargo executive liked a foreclosed $12-milion Malibu property so much that she allegedly took up semi-permanent residence, using it to stage “eye-catching parties,” according to the L.A. Times. What’s more, real estate agent Irene Dazzan-Palmer told the Associated Press that Wells Fargo repeatedly refused to show the beachfront Malibu Colony home to potential buyers. “[Wells Fargo’s allowing] this to happen in today’s ethically charged climate is quite suicidal,” W. Michael Hoffman, executive director of Bentley University’s Center for Business Ethics, told the Times.


10. Squawking over Tweets
Watch what you tweet or you may be the next person sued for online defamation via social media. Chicago renter Amanda Bonnen was sued by her landlord, Horizon Group Management, when she posted, “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon Realty thinks it’s okay,” on May 12 after disputes with the company. The company insisted that Bonnen’s tweet somehow damaged Horizon because it was published “throughout the world.” Bonnen had a meager 22 followers on Twitter by the time she terminated her account. But Horizon’s suit was covered by major traditional and online media, including The New York Times, Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, TechDirt and the Inquisitor. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that according to a Horizon spokesperson, “the company has a good reputation it wants to preserve.” Disconnect.

Top 10 Public Relations PR Blunders of 2008

I have to admit that I love top 10 lists. After all, David Letterman has some of the best top 10 lists and I always enjoy them. As a marketer, I enjoy reading about what others have done: and I especially like to hear about marketing or public relations opportunities that have gone awry.

As you might recall, I covered the top 10 PR blunders of 2007, a big hit. (Lots of people search every day for PR blunders, by the way.) So, without further delay, I present to you the top ten public relations (PR) blunders of 2008, as compiled by Fineman PR. Special thanks goes to Aaron Carvell of Fineman PR for sending me this year’s list.

1. AIG (American International Group) All-Expense-Paid Retreats … Paid By the Taxpayers of the United States
A few days days after getting an uprecedented $85 billion federal bailout package from the United States Government, AIG, American International Group Inc. dropped nearly half a million dollars on an executive retreat to the posh St. Regis resort, complete with “spa treatments, banquets and golf outings,” according to the Associated Press. Read more about it here or here.

Automotive Bailout
2. AP to Detroit Three Automakers: “old way of doing business just won’t fly.”
General Motors CEO Richard Wagoner, Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli and Ford CEO Alan Mulally flew to Washington in separate corporate jets to ask Congress for $25 billion … without a turnaround plan. PR Week reported that “it made the Big Three appear out of touch, and evoked memories of the AIG retreat controversy.” The Los Angeles Times reported that “their first attempt was a lemon.” So when the execs made their second foray to Washington to further plead their case, they drove there in hybrid vehicles … and made sure everyone knew it. But Meredith Vieira on Today was unimpressed. “They should have carpooled,” she said. Later on, the big 3 automaker CEOs realized their mistakes, actually put together plans for getting a loan from the US Government, and drove themselves from Detroit to Washington.

Department of Veterans Affairs
3. Department of Veterans Affairs says “Shhh!” To Veterans’ Problems
In this day of digital justice, it is surprising that federal officials still believe their emails are kept private, as when messages between top officials in the Department of Veterans Affairs indicated secrets were being kept about appallingly high suicide attempt rates among veterans. According to the Associated Press, Dr. Ira Katz, top-ranking VA mental health official, emailed colleagues that “12,000 veterans a year attempt suicide while … under [Veterans Affairs] treatment.” Katz wasn’t pushing for reform but hiding data from CBS News, even beginning the email with a “Shh!” Everett A. Chasen, chief communications officer for the VA, wrote that “I don’t want to give CBS any more numbers on veterans [sic] suicides or attempts than they already have – it will only lead to more questions.” Emails get leaked in most organizations, but the true Blunder is the Department’s disregard for veterans’ wellbeing. Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told CBS News “this is disgraceful … a crime against our nation, our nation’s veterans. [V.A. officials] do not want to come to grips with the reality, with the truth.”

John McCain and Katie Couric
4. David Letterman asks John McCain, “do you need a ride to the airport?”
Presidential candidate Senator John McCain cancelled his thirteenth appearance on the David Letterman show (CBS’ Late Night with David Letterman. John McCain said that he was “suspending his campaign” and “racing to the airport” to tackle the financial crisis. However, halfway through the David Letterman show, David Letterman learned that John McCain was a blocks away … sitting down with another CVS television personality, Katie Couric. David Letterman got a live feed of the interview and, joined by stand-in guest Keith Olbermann of MSNBC, remarked at John McCain’s expense. John McCain’s response, when he did make it onto Late Night a couple weeks later, was apt but unapologetic: “I screwed up.” Well, at least he admitted that he screwed up, right?

5. Nike Just Blew It
When self-described “good, solid” marathoner and elementary school teacher Arien O’Connell unexpectedly clocked the fastest time in October’s San Francisco Women’s Marathon, besting her personal record by over 12 minutes, race sponsor Nike had a golden opportunity to support those who “just do it.” However, Nike only checked times of those in the allegedly “elite” front-running pack; by the time Arien O’Connell realized she had been fastest, all places had been awarded and Nike would not recognize her victory. Later that week, pressured Nike recanted its initial stance, declaring O’Connell “a winner” but not the winner. C.W. Nevius of the San Francisco Chronicle lamented the tepid ending to “what could have been a lovely Cinderella story.” Only after competitor Reebok stepped up to award O’Connell free shoes for a year and a $2,500 donation for her classroom did O’Connell receive her “first place overall” trophy. Nike blew it.

6. Merck & Company and Schering-Plough Corporation: Profits with Side Effects
Prescription for a Blunder: market cholesterol drugs Vytorin and Zetia with a memorable $100 million plus advertising campaign. Withhold study results showing that the combo doesn’t work as claimed … for 21 months. Watch the drugs pull $5.2 billion in revenue in 2007 alone. Side effects, though, may include widespread consumer backlash, around 140 civil class-action lawsuits, and the unwelcome attentions of Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice and a coalition of 35 state attorneys general, according to the Associated Press. Makers Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp. allegedly didn’t release the results due to internal scientific concerns. Matthew Herper of Forbes reported there were “reasons to doubt the result [of the study].” Under pressure, Merck and Schering-Plough pulled their quirky “Food and Family” ads, but dwindling investor confidence still pushed Merck stock down to Vioxx-era levels. Martha Rosenberg of opined, “Merck is repeating its mistakes … It’s getting tough to find any Merck drug that can hold up to scrutiny.”

Mark Penn
7. Mark Penn: Spinning Out of Control
Mark Penn found himself dropped from the chief strategist role in Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign when The Wall Street Journal exposed Penn’s work on behalf of the government of Colombia, a client for whom Penn was also involved in arranging passage of a controversial trade bill opposed by, among others, Clinton herself. Penn was removed from the helm, although his polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, continued to provide services to the campaign. He ultimately admitted to an “error in judgment,” but how many of those can one person convincingly admit to? Penn’s other unbelievable missteps throughout the year, including praising McCain attack ads and demeaning Clinton supporters, calling them “downscale voters,” earn him a seat among serial PR blunderers. Jason Linkins of The Huffington Post called Penn “dumber than previously realized” and a “despised, incompetent … microtrending ninnybot.”

Samantha Power
8. Senior Barack Obama Campaigner Makes “a Monster” of a Slip
Sometimes a simple goof can be a major gaffe if committed by an insider. For example, Samantha Power, senior foreign policy advisor to presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama, called Senator Hillary Clinton “a monster” in a March interview with UK newspaper The Scotsman, then realized her error and immediately tried to withdraw her comment, claiming “that is off the record.” However, in the dustup to follow, blogger Michael Goldstein of noted that “you can’t do it. There is no off the record.” Many journalists agree, including Gerri Peev, the Scotsman reporter who interviewed Power, who noted that journalists are “not in the business to self-censor … [they are] in the business to print the truth.”

Absolut World
9. “Absolut Mistake,” says PR Week
Swedish vodka-maker Absolut is famed for its clever, well-executed advertising campaigns, but the company hasn’t realized it’s a small world after all. According to PR Week, ads for the Mexican market from the company’s “Absolut World” campaign showing the western U.S. as Mexican territory “courted animosity” and “stirred up negative sentiment from … [those] who complain about the porous U.S. border” after appearing on U.S. blogs. Absolut pulled the offending ads and proffered a public apology on its corporate blogs, but competitor Skyy Vodka capitalized on the situation. According to Ken Wheaton’s Advertising Age blog, Skyy did “what a marketer should do in a situation like this, [taking] advantage of a competitor’s headache” by distributing a humorous press release in which it touts Skyy’s U.S. origins and production. Smart opportunistic marketing … with a twist.

Berkeley City Council
10. Hut, Two, Three, Four, Berkeley Rants Against Our Corps
Berkeley, California, has been known for an anti-establishment atmosphere, one in which free speech and independent thought are held dear. But when the Berkeley City Council denounced local Marine Corps recruiters as “uninvited and unwelcome intruders” and “sales people known to lie to and seduce minors,” it incited yet another nationally covered culture clash depicting Berkeley’s leadership as hopelessly out of touch. Although individual members of the Council did admit that they may have acted rashly, no apology was ever issued. According to Peter Schrag of the Sacramento Bee, the incident demonstrated “that you can be within shouting distance of one of the world’s great educational institutions and still be terminally stupid.”

Every year, San Francisco-based Fineman PR puts together their PR Blunders List as a reminder that public relations is critical to businesses and organizations. Selections are limited to Americans, American companies or offenses that occurred in America. Selections are limited to avoidable acts or omissions that caused adverse publicity; image damage was done to self, company, society or others; and acts that were widely reported in 2008.

Top 10 Public Relations Blunders of 2007

Fineman PR

Every year, Fineman PR puts together a list of the top ten public relations blunders of the year. Fineman PR puts this list together to show how critical public relations is to businesses and organizations.

Note:You might want to also read the top 10 list of PR Blunders for 2008.

So, without further adeu, here is the list of the top 10 Public Relations Blunders of 2007:

1. FEMA Fake News Conference
2. Cartoon Network and Turner Broadcasting
3. San Francisco’s AsianWeek
4. Ellen DeGeneres and Iggy
5. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and Paris Hilton
6. Dog Food Recall and Menu Foods
7. Southwest Airlines and Kyla Ebbert
8. Famed Restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow
9. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
10. Rosie O’Donnell and The View

The commentary below each photo is courtesy of Fineman PR.

FEMA Fake News Conference

1. “No Reporters? No Problem.” (ABC News)

Already troubled by continued claims of inadequate disaster response and wasteful use of funds, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) truly fumbled when it held what the Washington Post described as a “phony press conference” in response to Southern California wildfires. “Questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters,” “lob[bing] one softball after another so [Vice Administrator Harvey E. Johnson, Jr., could] praise FEMA’s work,” said the Post. Homeland Security Department head Michael Chertoff was reported by CNN, CBS and others to have said that “it was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things [he has] seen since [he has] been in government.” FEMA became defensive and insisted that reporters were expected — albeit with only 15 minutes notice of the conference — but did not show up, and that the questions posed by staffers were originated by reporters. FEMA deputy director of public affairs “Mike” Widomski, one of the reporter-impersonating staffers, responded to Post columnist Al Kamen’s inquiries by saying “if the worst thing that happens to me in this disaster is that we had staff in the chairs to ask questions that reporters had been asking all day, trust me, I’ll be happy.” Okay. [Read more…]

The New Rules of Marketing and Public Relations

According to David Meerman Scott, corporate blogs are the “ideal tool to bypass the media filter”. Corporate blogs are emerging as one of the most effective means by which businesses of all types can bypass the traditional “media gatekeepers” to tell their stories directly to their market. David Meerman Scott is the author of a book called “The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to use news releases, blogs, podcasts, viral marketing & online media to reach your buyers directly”.

Audiences consume advertising with skepticism and consider pronouncements by CEOs to be out of touch with reality. But a good blog written by someone within a large or small company, a nonprofit, a church, or a political campaign commands attention.

David Meerman Scott spent more than a year researching the book and reviewed hundreds of blogs. He interviewed lots of bloggers who found success through blogging. In the book, he talks about the fact that corporate blogs are often misunderstood by journalists and public relations and marketing professionals–apparently the typical business bloggers’ goal is to promote a single point of view. This single point of view is very different than the typical journalist’s goal of providing a “balanced perspective” in their articles.

David Meerman Scott’s book “The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to use news releases, blogs, podcasts, viral marketing & online media to reach your buyers directly” will be published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. in June 2007.

Robert Scoble, Vice President Media Development at, co-author of Naked Conversations, wrote the forward. Robert Scoble is one of the world’s most popular bloggers–his blog is located at The “new rules of marketing and PR” book is available for pre-order at, and wherever business books are sold. ISBN: 0-470-11345-6.

The Internet has profoundly changed the way people communicate and interact with each other. But it has also changed the way businesses communicate with their customers (and those who they want to be customers). In the old days, companies could only communicate through the filter of expensive advertising or media ink placed by a PR firm. Today the rules have changed entirely.

The New Rules of Marketing and PR shows you how to leverage the potential that Web-based communication offers your business. Finally, you can speak directly to customers and buyers, establishing a personal link with the those who make your business work. You can reach niche buyers with targeted messages that cost a fraction of your big-budget ad campaign. Rather than bombard them with advertising they’ll likely ignore, you can focus on getting the right message to the right people at the right time. [Read more…]