Pepsi ad, Fyre and Sausage Roll Jesus: how to fix a PR disaster

The creator of Flack, a drama based on a London media fixer, suggests ways to spin some classic media blunders

Anna Paquin is back and starring in Flack, a show in which PRs are as badly behaved as the celebrity clients they are trying to cover up for. So how would her character Robyn sort out some of the biggest PR blunders of all time? Series creator and writer Oliver Lansley finds out.

Greggs’ Sausage Roll Jesus

Greggs the bakers was forced to apologise after depicting a nativity scene with the three wise men gathered around a sausage roll in a promotional image for its advent calendar.
OL: “Market research suggests that most vegans are also atheists. So really this campaign was to appeal to non-meat-eaters who, on the whole, don’t believe in religion. Robyn would really milk this one. She’d have to get some very high-profile vegan atheists on board.”

Janet Jackson’s Nipplegate

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake.
Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. Photograph: Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Janet Jackson suffered a “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show when Justin Timberlake accidentally exposed her right breast.
Oliver Lansley: “This wasn’t a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at all. Janet was spearheading the forthcoming #FreeTheNipple movement. She was basically just way ahead of the time, pushing and breaking the boundaries when it came to feminine censorship. So Robyn would find as many other famous nipples that she could free in solidarity with Janet.”

Blinding Walkie Talkie Building

London’s £200m Walkie Talkie building reflected beams six times brighter than sunlight, before being fitted with a giant blackout blind in 2014.
“Obviously, the architect was matching the original brief for a dazzling building on the London skyline. Robyn would say this was totally intentional. You know that bit in Raiders of the Lost Ark where all the lights land on the Ark of the Covenant? Perhaps it was a detailed stunt – if you catch the sunbeams right, it lands on the meridian of London.”

Fyre Festival

The “luxury” Bahamian music festival was cancelled in 2017 after fans arrived to tents and pre-packaged sandwiches instead of villas and gourmet meals.
OL: “Robyn would say it was actually an intervention project for those obsessed with social media to reconnect with the simple things in life, such as processed cheese and non-comfortable tents. These sort of status cleanses are very popular with the upper echelons of celebrity. Getting treated like a nobody really cleanses your status.”

Ed Milliband’s Bacon Sarnie

Ed Miliband.
At his bacon call... Ed Miliband. Photograph: Ben Cawthra/Rex

During his 2014 local election campaign, a photo of Labour leader Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich, taken for the Evening Standard, prompted widespread ridicule.
OL: “This was clearly part of a strategy to combat climate change by putting people off eating meat. The press went: ‘Looks like he’s never eaten a sandwich before.’ This always happens when a politician tries to do something ‘normal’, like walk on to a stage to Abba, dance, or eat sandwiches. They look like psychopaths. Robyn would spin it about saving the world by vegetarianism.”

Ratner’s Crap Jewellery

British businessman Gerald Ratner claimed his jewellery was “total crap” in 1991, admitting his earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but wouldn’t last as long”.
OL: “Robyn would spin this by pointing out that all successful companies need to look internally to improve. She’d say Ratner’s comments were intended as a rallying drive for his own staff and supply chain to strive for higher customer standards. She’d show it as a lesson in humility, and take full credit for Ratner’s lack of arrogance and admission that his company could do better.”

Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi Advert

Pepsi pulled their 2017 ad in which Kendall Jenner used a can of Pepsi to pacify police and protesters at a pseudo-Black Lives Matter demonstration.
OL: “This was such a bizarre campaign, I’m not sure how anyone could have spun it to resolve social justice. But, if it was Flack, we’d find out that Robyn was being paid double by Coca-Cola. She’s done a mega deal with Coke to sabotage their rival. So the more bad press Kendall Jenner gets, the more it rubbishes Pepsi, the more people drink Coke.”


Rich Pelley

The GuardianTramp

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