San Francisco PR guru Michael Fineman says he's "not trying to rub anyone's nose in their mistakes." Still, he just can't help but release an annual list of the worst PR blunders of the year. Topping this year's install ment is Abercrombie & Fitch, which in April marketed T-shirts that were widely seen as racially offensive and a month later rolled out thong underwear for young girls (the line was ditched after The Wall Street Journal and others called for a boycott). Martha Stewart made the list, of course—not because of the insider-trading allegations but because "she didn't have a good recipe for respond ing to the crisis." Two airlines are represented, too: America West, which had the allegedly drunken pilots, then kicked a woman off a flight for joking about it; and Southwest, which said it would charge obese passengers for two seats, enraging people who aren't easily pushed around. Other nincom poops: the rich New York Yankees, who looked like pickpockets when they kept a $5 "facility fee" for each ticket ordered for playoff games not played, and e*ECAD, a company that licenses software on an hourly, fixed-term or perpetual basis and promoted that fact with a billboard showing a prostitute, a girlfriend and a bride.
e*ECAD said it was "surprised by the negative feedback." That, Fineman says, is a big part of the problem. "Sometimes these executives are really blindsided by these things," he says.