Top PR blunders of 2020

Although the presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the 2020 news cycle, a few companies still managed to make headlines…for all the wrong reasons. PR professional or not, we can all learn lessons from the blunders outlined below.


Even before the start of 2020, Boeing faced a couple of devastating crises after two of its 737 Max aircrafts crashed, killing a combined 535 crew members and passengers. The cause? A faulty software system. In the aftermath of the two crashes, alva reported Boeing’s reputation score to be -71 on a 0 (neutral) to 100 scale in January. Yikes. Moreover, embarrassing and incomprehensible emails revealed executives joking about safety measures and mocking the regulators who forced them to ground the airplanes until the faulty software system was fixed. 

The New York Times reported the company’s head honchos failed to heed warning signs officials raised about its software system. Why in the world would they do that? Boeing unfortunately positioned profit ahead safety, a surefire approach that puts companies in hot water every single time. 

Palmetto Cheese

If you’re a cheese-loving Costco shopper, you are very aware of this story. In late August, Brain Henry, the CEO of Palmetto Cheese and mayor of Pawley Island, South Carolina, asked the public in a Facebook post why there was no outrage or rioting after two white citizens were killed by a Black man. He also referred to Black Lives Matter as a “terror” organization in the post. 

Just when PR professionals like me thought the situation could not get any worse, the racially charged rhetoric called attention to the Black female featured on Palmetto Cheese packaging. Henry took to the podium with his wife by his side to explain that Vertrella Brown, the woman on the containers, began making the family’s pimento cheese recipe for guests of a hotel for which she worked. The Henrys said they put Ventrella on the packaging to reiterate the soulful flavor the product offers, but admitted doing so does not show cultural sensitivity. As a result, they are in the process of rebranding.

In response, thousands called for Henry to resign as mayor and to step down as CEO of Palmetto Cheese, while simultaneously encouraging customers to boycott the product. No surprises there. The backlash led Costco to remove the pimento cheese from its shelves. 

Sure, mistakes happen. But, major PR blunders like the ones committed by Boeing and Palmetto Cheese are not simply “mistakes.” They are crises that could and should have been avoided. The response after the fact was poor to say the least, as well. Transparency, honesty and swift action are crucial aspects to any PR crises, none of which were present in these two situations. If you anticipate a crisis or have one on your hands already, the Obsidian team is here to assist. Email insight@obsidianpr.com to learn how we can help you right the ship.