The Hallmark Channel and parent company Crown Media Family Networks recently faced backlash for how they handled a commercial from the popular wedding planning company Zola that featured two women tying the knot and sharing their first kiss as a married couple. Though the television ad itself was lighthearted and playful, it created a whirlwind of controversy for Hallmark.
On December 12, the commercial was pulled from the Hallmark Channel in response to outrage from conservative viewers and a petition signed by One Million Moms. Needless to say, Hallmark’s decision to pull the ad created even more of an uproar in the days that followed. On social media, the hashtag #BoycottHallmark went viral and the company was criticized by LGBTQ-rights groups and celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres.
On December 15, Hallmark reversed their decision to pull the ad and released an apology. “We are truly sorry for the hurt and disappointment this has caused,” Mike Perry, president and CEO of Hallmark Cards, said in a statement. The company also announced that it will be working with GLAAD to better represent the LGBTQ community across its brands and said the Hallmark Channel would reach out to Zola to reinstate the commercial.
Here are a few lessons that we can learn from Hallmark’s PR crisis:
Remember Your Core Values: According to Perry, Hallmark’s “mission is rooted in helping all people connect, celebrate traditions, and be inspired to capture meaningful moments in their lives.” Since actions speak louder than words, Hallmark should have held onto its core values and supported the ad that celebrated love and marriage. Instead, Hallmark missed a perfect opportunity to pledge its commitment to inclusion and diversity.
Honesty is the Best Policy: Although Hallmark’s indecisiveness took a hit on its reputation and credibility, its decision to reinstate the Zola commercial was commendable. Hallmark did the right thing by being honest, admitting fault, and apologizing for its error in judgment.
Be Prepared for Anything: Strategic planning and training the right spokesperson can lessen the severity of any PR crisis. Risk assessments should be performed to measure the potential impact of a marketing campaign, partnership, or endorsement before it is even launched. In this case, Hallmark should have consulted its public relations team prior to making the hasty decision to pull the ad.
Alas, the Hallmark Channel isn’t the first company to land itself in the hot seat and it certainly won’t be the last. Check out more PR blunders we’ve previously covered and learn how to establish a crisis communications plan within your organization.