PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: P&G makes mess out of cleanup offer

It would have been one heck of a PR stunt had they done it on purpose.

It would have been one heck of a PR stunt had they done it on purpose.

Last summer, a literal boatload of baby wipes began washing up on the beaches of Ireland after a ship dumped much of its cargo in a storm off the coast of France. Procter & Gamble, maker of the Pampers wipes but not owner of the boat, took full responsibility, saying it would pay the 12,000 euros required to clean the "mess."

Say what you want about the de facto PR downside of a beach spill. Compared to the usual culprits - crude oil, syringes, medical waste - baby wipes are a veritable bedtime story. It shouldn't take an Ari Fleischer to make this bad news good.

And picture the headlines had P&G capitalized on the moment: "Baby Wipe Manufacturers Wipe Beaches Clean." That's the kind of synergy companies spend millions to create.

But one year later, P&G still hasn't paid up. Why? The mega-company's insurers say one Irish county has failed to provide adequate documentation proving the cost of the cleanup.

In a statement released last week, P&G says it's still committed to paying for the cleanup bill, but "requires the further paperwork to be completed by Kerry County Council to make this happen."

So instead of a pretty good opportunity to display corporate responsibility and promote its product for the low, low price of 12,000 euros, P&G instead gets to appear irresponsible, petty, and bullying - for the same price.

Come to think of it, that is a pretty good PR stunt.

  • Douglas Quenqua writes PR Play of the Week. He is PRWeek's Washington, DC, bureau chief.

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