We all make mistakes and hope to learn from them – but when you make a truly monumental mistake, most of us would just want to hide away and make sure that as few people as possible get to know about it.  Not so with the 3 companies I look at in this post. With some quick thinking, a social media splash and some nimble PR – they each turned their mistake into an avalanche of quality backlinks and media coverage that would be the envy of any savvy link builder!

In this post, I’ll look at 3 examples where creative responses to a mistake, brought a lot of media coverage and many top-notch backlinks. They are:

1. The monumental mistake that cost $5700 – but then made it all back. UK restaurant, Hawksmoor Manchester accidentally served a customer a rare bottle of wine worth a four-figure sum. However, the publicity they generated more than made up for the cost.

2. Ska Brewing gets caught on the hop! Denver Brewery made a huge mistake when they signed up for a 5-year hop contract. But the owner, Dave Thibodeau refused to accept the loss and unlike his competitors, made the best of the situation.

3. Chicken shortage hits KFC – and their response wins Cannes Advertising Award. Imagine Kentucky Fried Chicken running out of their main ingredient – chicken! That’s the embarrassing mistake KFC suffered in the UK when they changed suppliers. However, their response earned them a well-deserved award!

(N.B And we’ll also show you why you should create a Campaign in Majestic using breaking news stories)

1. The monumental mistake that cost $5700 – but then made it all back

I love exploring stories such as this because they clearly resonated with the public, food experts and journalists – and that means they always contain solid PR lessons.

So, let’s look at how that was done:

Their tweet about the mistake was a classic and a screenshot appeared on BBC News. Note how their tweet gives two points of view – the customer AND the staff member – in other words, they did one tweet that had the whole story, rather than two bits that gave only part of the story:

BBC News Screenshot

This tweet was really well-structured and drew lots of reaction and praise from well-known personalities and journalists. Another striking point about this case study is that top management rose to the challenge and became involved in the PR. Hawksmoor co-founder, Will Beckett was on hand to give a good quote to Jedidajah Otte in The Guardian:

Quote in The Guardian

This high-level approach tells journalists, bloggers and others that the company is taking the matter seriously. Having a quote from the co-founder adds strength to the news value of the piece

The story was quickly picked up by other media as this search on Google News shows – the search was made 46 minutes after the original story appeared on BBC News:

Google News Screenshot

Here’s the PR lessons we can take from Hawksmoor:

  • They looked at the mistake with a creative eye and instead of something to cover up, they saw it as an opportunity
  • They posted on social media with good humour – almost laughing at themselves – and that set an important tone – it gave permission for others to jump in and enjoy the fun (which they did!)
  • They congratulated the lucky couple on Twitter and hoped they’d enjoyed their evening
  • In the tweet, they treated the staff member with warmth and forgiveness – again, attracting comments and backlinks for their staff management
  • They quickly packaged the story for media take-up. All they needed was one top site such as the BBC to cover it, and they could be sure the story would spread
  • They involved top management and got them to give a timely quote.

This is a brilliant PR story that almost came from nowhere. But it’s not just a story to sit back and enjoy. Set up a Campaign based on the media coverage and you can find new media outlets, journalists where you can monitor – and jump in to comment – on how the story evolves.

Setting up a Campaign in Majestic to track top media articles

Breaking news stories like this, ferrets out journalists, bloggers and influencers interested in the wine business and anyone in the wine business could set up a Campaign in Majestic to do this. (You can do this in any industry – all you need to do is look out breaking stories and do the same.)

This works because journalists write about what other journalists have written, bloggers write about other bloggers – and in doing so they will link to the original article.

This means that if I create a campaign made up of early coverage of a breaking story and set up email alerts, then I’ll get regular updates – each of which can offer up new media outlets and writers you can approach in the future.

Here’s how it’s done.

(i) Grab some URLs of a breaking story and enter them into a Campaign as I’ve done here:

Majestic Campaigns Step 1

(ii) Next, go to ‘Alerts on’ and select when you want to receive updates. In this case, I’ve set my alerts to be delivered weekly, every Monday:

Majestic Campaigns Step 2

(iii) Check your emails

Now, I get my alerts early every Monday. So I see that the BBC article has been linked to by Decanter.com, with a high Trust Flow of 64:

Majestic Campaigns Screenshot 3

This leads directly to the page on which the link sits and I can see that not only does Decanter link to the BBC article but they also give a valuable backlink to Hawksmoor. Such ‘secondary backlinks’ – i.e. they weren’t approached for a backlink – are a significant bonus to scoring a major media hit.

Majestic Screenshot 4

Going through the email alerts will broaden your lists of potential media targets, will let you find names journalists and bloggers and also give you a good ‘ice-breaker’ when you approach them.

2. Ska Brewing gets caught on the hop!

No-one sets out to make a deliberate mistake, but when they happen, they can be used to create publicity and backlink opportunities. Denver Brewery,  Ska Brewing showed a piece of creative marketing built around one big mistake – signing up for a 5-year contract for hops that weren’t suitable for the current brews they produced.

The story appeared in this article, Ska Brewing Uses Humor to Turn a Bad Hops Contract Into a Beer.

Westword Quote

Journalist, Jonathan Shikes of Westword tells the story:

The year was 2014 and Ska Brewing was getting ready to introduce a new beer, Rudie Session Ale …which they tagged with the line “Rudie can’t fail,” but it did.

Not only was the beer a failure, but the brewery also bought into a 5-year contract for the special hops required to make it.

They weren’t alone – other breweries had bought into the same type of contracts – and now many of them were giving away vast quantities of hops or selling them at discounted prices.

However, the guys at Spa Brewing are made of stronger stuff. Rather than getting rid of the unwanted hops, they embraced their mistake and turned it into a positive – they created a new beer called Bad Hop Contract (BHC) to use all of those unwanted hops.

Not only did the brewery salvage something from the unwanted hops they had bought, they turned it into a great media story.

3. Chicken shortage hits KFC – and their response wins Cannes Advertising Award

It’s hard to imagine a worse mistake than messing up on supplies of your most important ingredient. But that’s what happened To Kentucky Fried Chicken in the UK when a change is suppliers left them without chicken in over 500 hundred retail outlets.

The embarrassing story broke in February 2018 as reported here in The Guardian.

KFC The Guardian Article

However, within days the company’s advertising agency came up with a timely – and funny – apology that played with their initials, KFC.

This won over a lot of journalists including Erik Oster in AdWeek.

KFC Adweek

Their quick thinking and humour attracted a lot of attention culminating in winning an award at Cannes Lions:

KFC Cannes Lions Award

The KFC story shows that sometimes you’ve just got to own up to the mistake and take the sting away as they did with “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers”.

They then used some clever humour to explain what happened and their ‘apology’ campaign won a top industry award.

Final words

In this post, we’ve looked at 3 creative responses to pretty serious mistakes. And we’ve also shown you how setting up a Campaign in Majestic based on media coverage can show you how the stories spread and what backlinks they generate. That means you can:

  • Get alerts when other journalists and bloggers link to and write about the media stories. That will help you identify potential backlink prospects and writers that you may not have come across before
  • Gives you the opportunity to start a conversation with them and build a rapport
  • Write a round-up post showing how the story spread and linking to their opinions
  • And of course, showing examples like this may help you come up with some great content ideas for your clients.

These were all great PR stories and the opportunity was recognised by each of the companies involved – Hawksmoor, Ska Brewing and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

They all put a lot of thought and effort into how they could make amends for their mistake and turn it something positive and newsworthy.

They certainly earned the media coverage and multiple backlinks that they attracted.

The next time your client or your own company makes a public mistake, could you use these examples to inspire your own PR campaigns?

If you want to read further into PR, we have a selection of articles for you to read:

Earn PR links before you even launch – a digital PR case study

PR Stunt earns media coverage – but no editorial links?

Competitor scores a digital PR success? Don’t get mad, get even!


  • Friedrich Maerkle

    You could also use this for political campaigns to keep track about the news coverage of political competitors, where their articles get linked. Then you can find the bloggers and News Websites and may use the comment section to also spread the opinions of your group.

    Good way participate and influence discussions in the internet.

    June 26, 2019 at 8:46 am

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