Top 5 Cases of PR ‘Lemons to Lemonade’ in 2011

Many year-end listicles have focused on the top PR gaffes of the past year. However, the year has also shown the power to turn around a bad situation into good or, as the title of this top five list states, to turn PR lemons into sweet, refreshing public relations lemonade. Here are our choices for those instances where a fail was transformed into, as our contributor Nancy Lazarus calls it, a “tactful turnaround.”

5. Aflac Finds a New Spokesduck. After the voice of Aflac’s duck mascot, Gilbert Gottfried, was dismissed for making insensitive “jokes” about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March, the insurance company launched a nationwide search for a new mascot. Rather than settling for a public apology on behalf of its former spokesperson, the company turned the search into a PR campaign, with the New York Times covering the New York audition. We said then it would be a PR moment to remember, and we stand by that.

4. Kraft Mac & Cheese Also Gets a New Spokesvoice. This selection was a special case of happenstance mixed with quick thinking on the part of Kraft’s PR and marketing team. Ted Williams was a homeless man with a “golden voice” that seemed to be going to waste when he was captured on a YouTube video by a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch. Soon after the video went viral, Williams was a celebrity who got an offer from Kraft (among other offers) to voice its new Kraft Mac & Cheese commercials. Kraft got tons of media play for the decision. And Williams was reunited with his mom on GMA. Later it was reported that he’d checked in to rehab. We hope he continued on the positive path that one chance encounter set him on.

3. Errant Red Cross Tweet Turns Into a CSR Opportunity. Back around Valentine’s Day, a Red Cross staffer accidentally posted a tweet about the happy discovery of extra Dogfish Head beer on the organization’s Twitter feed. With a little humor and the simple acknowledgement that “yeah, we’re human and we make mistakes,” the situation was quickly resolved. On top of that, Dogfish Head beer used the mishap as a chance to promote the Red Cross’ blood donation drive. Love it.

2. Justin Bieber Will Not Be Defeated By a Little Alleged Baby Mama Drama. Tween girls around the world let out a collective shriek when Mariah Yeater made claims that the teenage dreamboat was the father of her three-month-old baby. Rather than curl up into a ball and hide behind his publicist Matthew Hiltzik (who has been busy), the Beebs and his peeps put up their dukes. He took a paternity test, made an appearance on the Today show, and even dropped some rhymes during a visit to a radio station. By the time his Macy’s commercial/Mariah Carey Santa monstrosity/celebration of plaid was unleashed for the holidays, Yeater was yesterday’s news.

1. BP Keeps Making Amends. The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the consequent oil spill (the largest in U.S. history) was a disaster of epic proportions for the environment, the Gulf coast, and BP. In 2011, one year after the incident, BP was still feeling the burn. But it kept with its reputation recovery efforts, with its new chief exec writing a WSJ op-ed, maintaining a steady stream of updates, and in September, appointing a high-profile new head of comms amid an ongoing government investigation. The latest news: the oil company has launched a new set of ads, the first since late 2010, featuring BP employees and talking up travel to the Gulf. BP is by no means restored in the eyes of many. But compared to where they were in the aftermath of the spill, at least there aren’t daily expressions of hate against the company.