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The best and worst of public relations in 2017 — minus Denver’s Ink! Coffee debacle

Author: Marianne Goodland - December 28, 2017 - Updated: December 28, 2017

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This photo shows an Ink! Coffee shop in the River North area Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, in Denver. The shop, which is part of a Colorado chain, outraged neighbors after putting up a sidewalk sign that said the owners were “Happily Gentrifying the Neighborhood Since 2014”. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Who made good in 2017 and who ended the year with a whole mess of egg on their faces? Jeremy Story of GroundFloor Media, who blogs under DenverPRblog, has now put out his list of the best public relations and biggest snafus of 2017.

Story’s “best of” list was mighty short for 2017, with just four kudos — perhaps a reflection of what was a bad year for a lot of folks.

Leading his list: hurricane relief efforts in Texas. Story recognized JJ Watt of the Houston Texans (really? Houston? Former Brock Osweiler team?) for his efforts to help those in the Houston area affected by Hurricane Harvey. Story said Watt’s usual community support rose to a whole new level in 2017, launching a campaign that raised $37 million in relief funds. Story also lauded the work of the “Cajun Navy,” an ad-hoc group of volunteers formed in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina that helps coordinate rescue efforts. The group went into action again, helping with rescue work in Houston.

The #MeToo movement took the other two places on Story’s “best of” list: one for pop diva Taylor Swift, who sued a Denver DJ for sexual harassment and won, and the 13 women who accused film mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

But the real fun starts with Story’s much longer list (17) of who screwed up in 2017, and he had plenty of material, although he left off what’s likely the biggest PR blunder in Denver in 2017: that of Ink! Coffee. Story told Colorado Politics that he came up with the list in early November, before the Ink! disaster.

The Five Points location set out a sandwich board outside the shop on Nov. 22 that proclaimed “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014.” The slogan was reportedly the brainchild of the company’s ad agency, Denver-based Cultivator Advertising. Protests followed almost immediately, and the sign quickly disappeared, reportedly stolen by a skateboarder.

Ink! put out a hastily worded apology that did nothing to quell the neighborhood outrage. The company followed it up a few hours later with a better one, as did the ad agency, but the damage was done. 

Story’s list of worst PR blunders in 2017 was more nationally focused. It included United Airlines, for dragging a passenger off a flight so that United employees could take seats. The car-sharing service Uber made the list, for a variety of problems, including allegations of sexual harassment, a flaky CEO and privacy concerns. Equifax was spanked for a data hack that exposed more than 145 million people to possible identity theft. Said Story, “There are only about 320 million Americans, so it takes a special kind of incompetence to let hackers steal the personal data (names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses and driver’s license numbers) of more than 145 million of them. But the good folks at Equifax rose to the challenge.”

The decision by the Denver Post to fire long-time sportswriter Terry Frei also got Story’s attention. Frei’s May tweet that he was “very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day weekend” prompted many to argue it was racist and Frei was out of a job shortly thereafter.

Several PR disasters with hints of neo-Nazi issues were included. That included “Papa John” Schnatter, who announced this week that he’s stepping down as CEO of the pizza franchise. Schnatter blamed NFL protests for declining pizza sales, which earned the franchise the support of the neo-Nazi newspaper The Daily Stormer. The company was forced to issue a statement asking neo-Nazis not to buy Papa John’s pizzas.

Facebook also took a hit after a ProPublica investigation found the social network’s ad-buying platform allowed individuals and organizations “to market Nazi memorabilia, or recruit marchers for a far-right rally.”

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.