As both a somber holiday and the joyful unofficial start to summer, Memorial Day is the day in which Americans remember those who died in service to the country, while also spending time barbequing with family and friends. It is especially important that PR professionals take this into consideration when planning campaigns or events to avoid what many turn into a PR disaster. PR professionals should thoroughly think through the potential downsides of any campaign, but when coordinating programs around this holiday it is important to be extra cautious.
Drawing from the PR mistakes of other companies over recent years, here are three pitfalls to avoid this (and every) Memorial Day:
- Being distasteful or disrespectful. Last Memorial Day, retailer PacSun learned this lesson the hard way. In their store windows, they displayed a black t-shirt featuring an upside-down American flag. Customers took to social media to express how angry they were at the store for being disrespectful on a holiday meant to honor those who died in service to the flag. If freedom of speech or creative expression is a value your company holds, perhaps there are better times to showcase that edginess.
- Missing the forest for the trees. The swanky Standard Hotel in New York hurt its reputation last Memorial Day when a bouncer refused entry to a sailor in uniform due to its strict dress code. The sailor’s friends appealed to the managers, and the incident drew the attention of bystanders and the New York tabloids. Denying servicemen and women an evening of leisure any time of year, especially Memorial Day weekend, is not the best PR move. The Standard issued an apology, a public statement, and extended an invitation to the rebuffed sailor to come back anytime.
- Losing sight of the occasion. When hosting an event attended by media, it can be tempting to cater to what media want, to make a good impression and attempt to maximize coverage. But journalists covering the event should be held to the same standards of respect as everyone else. CNN host Anderson Cooper got this right when, while covering a commemoration for shooting victims in Canada, he reprimanded another reporter who approached him and asked for a selfie.