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February 24, 2022

Toyota, meet some of the biggest PR disasters ever

Every morning I wake up telling myself, I will not write about Toyota today. Every angle has been covered … there’s no way you can possibly say something that hasn’t been said already.

But then, yikes, this story will not go away. First there was the auto maker’s boss Akio Toyoda and his reluctance to appear Stateside in the wake of the massive safety recall that’s been linked to at least 30 North American deaths. Then there was this harrowing video of a Lexus driver describing her brush with death in 2006 from her malfunctioning Toyota-made car. And, finally, today an apology that’s by all accounts far too late given reports Toyoda swept the same safety issue under the rug in 2007.

To me, all this wraps up into a nice little package of PR disaster, and what better way to commemorate the Toyota timeline than with a mini-list of the worst PR screw-ups of all-time?

In no particular order …

Exxon Valdez (1989): Following one of the worst man-made disasters ever, oil giant ExxonMobil was widely criticized for downplaying the spill, one that saw some 200 million litres of oil saturate the Alaskan coastline after the company’s tanker crashed into a reef. ExxonMobil was also slow to respond to cleanup efforts, forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to levy a $500 million fine on the corporation.

F.E.M.A. (2005): It’s tough to slam an organization for underestimating a disaster the size of Hurricane Katrina, so let’s focus on one unfortunate allegation after the storm – in June, 2008, CNN uncovered that the Federal Emergency Management Agency gave away about $85 million in goods meant for Katrina victims to people in 16 states other than Louisiana.

Enron (2001): Despite being on the fast track to massive corporate collapse, what made Enron’s PR screw-up so bad was its complete lack of remorse as its executives marched in and out of criminal courtrooms. The energy giant’s bosses finally got the picture when – after causing shareholders to lose nearly $11 billion in the company’s demise – an ex-vice chairman, J. Clifford Baxter, was found to have apparently killed himself inside his car in January of 2002.

Roger Clemens (ongoing): Okay, not business-related. But The Rocket’s totally misguided stance to deny his (alleged) steroid use remains, in hindsight, one of the worst decisions in sports history. Even including his history of being a curmudgeon toward media members and teammates, an “I’m sorry” from the would-be Hall of Famer is widely accepted to be all Clemens would’ve needed to rehab his image as other steroid users have done since.

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...