Harlem Shake screenshot

Bad PR: Harlem Shaken, Not Stirred


Over the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed thousands of companies roll out their own ‘Harlem Shake’ videos. The Miami Heat has one; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and even our own agency shot one. They’re spirited,
short and silly. And most importantly, they illustrate that the company or organization doesn’t take itself too seriously and has a sense of humor.

But what happens when an organization decides to create a video like the ‘Harlem Shake’ when it doesn’t align with a brand? PR News reported on two such videos last week that shook up some bad public relations. The first was a ‘Harlem Shake’ video created by Frontier Airlines employees while a flight was in mid air. Apparently, the FAA is investigating the safety of the taping and the term ‘Shakes on Planes’ went viral as well. In my opinion, Frontier Airlines were correct in thinking that its brand could have some fun with a ‘Harlem Shake’ video, but they should have done it on the ground and with corporate approval. The intention was good, however, the execution gets an F.

The second company that PR News included in its story is Barminco, an international mining company. Barminco miners at an Australian mine decided to take it upon themselves to tape a ‘Harlem Shake’ video while in a mine. Did I mention that five of the miners were shirtless too? This has got bad idea written all over it. The homepage of Barminco’s website describes the company as having ‘unsurpassed safety performance.’ Mining is serious business and there are many risks involved. Company employees – in addition to not getting company approval for their video – also paid no heed to the company’s core values and personality. The conflicting (and dangerous!) message that a :30 dance party in a mineshaft sent resulted in those workers’ termination, and rightfully so.

So, what can be learned from these shaky public relations lessons? Before you jump on the bandwagon of the next viral video trend, ask yourself these questions:

1. Does this make sense for our brand?

2. Could there be any negative repercussions to this video?

3. Do we have approval from headquarters to create something like this?

4. Is our HR department on board with this?

5. Is this something that falls in line with our current marketing efforts or is this just a flash in the pan? If it doesn’t, then is it worth the effort?

Once you have a good assessment of this, you’ll know whether it’s appropriate for you to charge up that flip cam.