PR Fail: Dismembered bodies, gunned-down landlords

by PR Coach on June 1, 2012

Bad news release headline straight out of Stephen King thriller

Here’s a press release and PR fail that provide a double take and a serious lesson for every junior public relations pro. Unfortunately, it comes from a big agency that should know better.

The headline tells the story:

Dismembered bodies and gunned-down landlords: Reminders to screen tenants

Is this headline straight out of a Stephen King thriller or what?

The news release was later removed from the newswire and archive but you can view it here.

The PR agency tries to “back draft” in behind a serious, breaking news story about a grisly Montreal killing and the international manhunt for killer Luka Magnotta. It’s making world news headlines.

You know the old saying about news? If it bleeds, it leads. TV and tabloids are having a field day with the story:

A Canadian Cannibal in LONDON: Fugitive killer visited UK just six months ago – and posed outside Buckingham Palace [Daily Mail]
Cannibal: I Can’t Stop Killing [The Sun]
Cannibalistic Crimes Erupt Around The Globe [CBS Miami]
Ex-friend says Magnotta not ‘natural-born killer’ [CBC]
French hunt for ‘killer’ porn actor Luka Rocco Magnotta [BBC]
In Canada: Chinese student chopped up and eaten by porn star, body parts sent to political parties [Shanghai List]
Luka Rocco Magnotta, Canadian porn star and suspect in dismember slay, may be in France, officials say [CBS]
Luka Rocco Magnotta: Dead kittens and porn on bizarre digital trail [Montreal Gazette]
Murder, With a Side of Porn [Toronto Standard]
Suspect in body parts probe described as ‘creepy’ and a kitten-killer [CNN]

What would possess you to put your client’s feet in these footsteps?

Oh yeah. There are several interesting facts in the news release about criminal record checks and suggestions for landlords to thoroughly check tenants. I’ll get right on that. Forget the headline and lede.

Of course the distasteful, sensational headline gets in the way of any client story hook.

Thankfully, the news release didn’t include visuals or an infographic.

Unfortunately, the headline is also generating much negative comment on Twitter and the wrong kind of “news” for the client. When it comes to content marketing, who wants to be remembered online forever for the keywords “dismembered bodies”?

Best Tweet by Toronto Star music critic Ben Rayner:
Fleishman-Hillard Ben Rayner tweet re bad news releaseHopefully, for the client, issuing the press release on a national newswire on a Friday may be a blessing in disguise. Maybe, it will die a quiet death (pun intended) by Monday? Will be interesting to see how much the bad news coverage outweighs the good within a week.

Some news releases like this one are in very bad taste. This one also reflects poor judgment, placing the client in a negative light.

The agency is going to take flack for this one judging by early headlines:

PR agency takes advantage of Montreal killing [The Globe and Mail]
Fleishman-Hillard sorry for PR gaffe [The Globe and Mail]
‘Tackiest press release in human history’ draws ire on Twitter [Ottawa Citizen]
PR can be murder for some companies [James Bigg]

To its credit, Fleishman-Hillard issued this apology,quoted in The Globe and Mail late the same day, though not sent on a newswire:

“Using such tragic events in this context was a clear mistake in judgment on the part of our firm.  We regret that this occurred and apologize to anyone who was offended.”
John Blyth, President, Fleishman-Hillard Canada.

Even though the news release originated in Vancouver, the agency realized its serious mistake and the apology came from Canadian head office in Toronto.

Could this press release still have been effective with a title of Murder, mayhem and gunned down landlords: Reminders to screen tenants. Well, maybe not so much?

Let’s hope a follow-up news release isn’t issued when the killer is captured.

If you can’t get enough of PR fails, browse the Bad PR… Bad shelves of our virtual PR Library. Or check out our news release writing tips. Always there for you but no chewing gum or talking loudly please!

Here are a few more recent bad news release posts for your amusement and reading pleasure:

21 Brand New Worst Press Release Disasters
Bad Dogs: 18 Brand New, Worst Press Releases
Bad News Releases: 25 Press Release Turkeys
Bad Press Releases: 20 Worst Headlines Ever
News Release Was Not Ready for Prime Time

Author:
Jeff Domansky, APR is a PR and social PR strategist. He blogs at The PR Coach and you can also follow him on Twitter @theprcoach or Scoop.it (PR 2.0 Insight).

Photo Credit: Amazon