Prince, Twitter, and Cheerios: A recipe for disaster

In 2016, a music icon was lost when Prince passed away in late April. With hits like, “1999,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” and “Purple Rain,” Prince’s impact on the music industry and on the world is one that will live on forever and will be cherished for years to come.

When the news of Prince’s passing came about, many fans, celebrities, and companies turned to social media to pay their respects by quoting lyrics, reflecting on memories, posting pictures, etc. Of all these posts though, one that mustered up a significant amount of controversy was–surprisingly–Cheerios.

Cheerios turned to Twitter in the mourning of Prince by posting a picture of the words, “Rest in peace.” Written in the classic Cheerios-font with a purple background, the controversy arose when the dot above the “i” was replaced with a Cheerio, just as the brand does with the “i” in their own name. This decision by the company may have seemed light at the time, but was taken as anything but when people came across the tweet just a few hours after Prince’s death had been confirmed (Roche).

Cheerios tweet Credit: Cheerios/Twitter

At the time of the posting, further knowledge of the deceased and of the brand would have gone a long way. For example, Cheerios was created in 1941 by food science innovator, Lester Borchardt, and was originally called, “Cheerioats” (Cheerios). Just seventeen years later in 1958, Prince Rogers Nelson was born (Biography). What do these two have in common? Their birth place. Both based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota (Biography) (Roche), one can already begin to understand where Cheerios was coming from in their attempts to mourn the loss of an icon; not just to our nation and the world, but to a home in which they share.

As a result of the negative feedback that Cheerios received, they were reluctant to rescind their post and issue an apology to their audience stating that they, “had only wanted to ‘acknowledge the loss of a musical legend in its hometown'” (Roche).

So with some more background information and knowledge of Cheerios’ intentions, it is fair to ask: where did Cheerios go wrong? For starters, Donovan Roche of Fast Company stated it perfectly when he said, “Attempting to capitalize on a high-profile celebrity’s death rarely puts a brand in a positive light–it’s usually deemed tasteless.” In this case, we are aware of the fact that Cheerios had only intended on acknowledging its connection to Prince, but had failed to realize that their audience may not be aware of either the brand’s origins or of Prince’s. This issue could have been resolved by adding more in their tweet other than simply, #prince; this was their second problem.

Although the picture attached to the tweet was meant to be the important part of the message, and using #prince as the actual tweet was used for people to find the content, a simple note of context like, “From our hometown and yours,” or “Minneapolis will miss you,” would have served as more context for the audience than what the original message had portrayed.

Roche goes on to mention in his article that, “a brand is better off either expressing sympathy without incorporating any kind of commercial message, or just avoiding it altogether.” Assuming this tactic is true, one can sympathize with Cheerios in the sense that this loss may have meant more to them than maybe Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms, giving reason for a post to be made. However, Cheerios could have made a strong message by leaving their post as is, only without the actual Cheerio. As it is stated earlier, the words, “Rest in peace,” are already typed in the Cheerios-font, a stamp in itself; the addition of the Cheerio above the “i” only served as a perceived marketing ploy that did not sit well with fans.

In an unfortunate misunderstanding, Cheerios painted themselves as an enemy to many by confusing marketing and mourning, and could have easily avoided any negative commotion by adjusting their message ever so slightly. In the future, this public relations crisis will serve as an excellent example of how not to incorporate the loss of an icon with any commonality with a brand.



Biography. (n.d.). Prince. Retrieved from,

Cheerios. (n.d.). What’s the story behind Cheerios? Retrieved from,

Roche, D. (2016, December 20). Lessons from three of 2016’s biggest PR fails. Fast Company. Retrieved from,

Matt Henkel | GVSU | 3 October 2017


Public Relations and How It Relates to Me

As a student studying advertising and public relations, it is important to not only enjoy the topics you are covering, but also to be aware of how these topics are defined and what they mean to the real world. In my new fundamentals of public relations course, I have been asked to define public relations in my own words. To go a step further, I will also explain what my preconceptions of public relations are before I have completed this course. My answer to these topics will cover what makes public relations special in my mind and why it is a useful construct.

To begin, I have defined public relations as: the coordinating or planning of events, or the aiding or creating of communication. To a degree, I partially relate my definition of public relations to how I would define a professional athlete’s manager or agent. For example, it is not entirely common that an athlete is the one to organize promotional events or talk to the media about a possible mistake that has been made (although they will have to answer some questions at some point). These tasks are typically completed by the agent or the manager, similar to how a public relations representative would handle a situation with one business and another.

Contrary to how I view public relations, my research has shown that there may not be one direct way to define what the job of public relations will indefinitely entail. According to an article by Cayce Myers, not only can it be difficult to define public relations, but it also requires context as to what legal ties the job has. In this piece, Myers discusses the Nike v. Kasky case from 2002-2003. For more on how Myers defines public relations and how it applies to the Nike v. Kasky case, you can read Myers’s story at S036381111530031X.

Another way to breakdown the work of public relations is to say that PR, “should function as a mediator, communicational unit providing mutual understanding and adaptation” (Kilic and Kalkan). With this definition, Kilic and Kalkan believe that public relations, “would be a strategic function and help organizations reach their ultimate goal.” I believe this to be similar to my definition of public relations in that communication is a primary factor in reaching a group’s goal, and that their job revolves around the coordination of events between two or more businesses or groups.

Finally, to tie in some of these definitions to a real world public relations crisis, I believe that the handling of concussions and their severity by the NFL has gone horribly wrong. Having played football for a decade and receiving three concussions in that span, as well as having a number of teammates that have received them too, I can confidently say that I have yet to notice any long-term ailments as a result of these concussions. Although I am still young and have not played at a level higher than high school, a concussion is still a concussion, and I personally believe that some of the findings and reactions to research have been slightly dramatic.

Bias aside, though, the NFL still has some work to do when handling the public relations end of the findings with player health. Gabe Zaldivar of Bleacher Report put it perfectly when he said that, “each report that comes out, including the startling revelation that former player Russell Allen once played after a stroke, forces people across the nation to wonder whether this sport is indeed too dangerous.” Again, having played the sport for a decade, I am a firm believer that football is not so dangerous that the sport should be discontinued, however, if the NFL continues to deny some of the findings by these research teams and fails to act accordingly to keep their players safe and in better health, fans will continue to turn away from watching the sport, and unfortunately, from playing it as well.

With the world of public relations–and the case with the NFL especially–I find PR to be special in that one right or wrong move can change the outlook of the public on something immensely. Having the power to make wonderful and terrible things happen in the world is an exciting and terrifying trait of an occupation, but someone has to do it.

Matt Henkel | GVSU | 6 September 2017



Kilic, Tolga and Kalkan, Faruk (2017, June). The extreme-capitalist face of corporate social responsibility and the stakeholder theory. ProQuest. Retrieved from, http://

MyersCayce (2016, Dec. 1)What’s the legal definition of PR?: An analysis of commercial speech and public relations. Science Direct. Public relations review (0363-8111), 42 (5), p. 821. Retrieved from, S036381111530031X

Zaldivar, Gabe (2014, April 23). 15 sports PR disasters. Bleacher Report. Retrieved from,

Semester recap: What I learned in CAP 105

After a long and hard fought battle with this past semester, everything seems to be falling into place nicely. Between all the tests, papers, and projects, I have come a long way from where I started out this semester and have learned a lot. Most importantly, I enjoyed everything that I have learned and done not just in my CAP 105 class, but in all of my classes. Despite all the enjoyment I have had and learning that I have done, though, I am writing to reflect only on the things that I have learned from CAP 105; fortunately, there is plenty to report on.

From creating my very first blog, to conducting a sprint with some of my classmates, to working with Adobe apps like Photoshop, InDesign, and PremierePro, I have enjoyed everything that I participated in over the course of this semester.

Starting with this blog, I have enjoyed taking the time to jot down some of my thoughts on many interesting topics. Although some posts have had more of a specific focus than others, I have still enjoyed looking further into the important aspects of my career path and reflecting on my findings. Doing this has not only been eye opening, but has also taught me how I am fully capable of educating myself at times, and how much power I have over my knowledge. Taking the time to do research that is not only interesting but also plays in integral role in my future is empowering. Although this semester is coming to an end, that doesn’t mean I will lose the ability to further my education.

When working with classmates in a sprint, I have found that I can work very effectively with others, especially when I am placed in a role where I feel more comfortable. In my group, I was a co-leader with one of my classmates, as we worked together on leading our group to success. Although our group did not win the challenge, we still put up a good fight, and created a product worth being proud of.

As a co-leader, I found myself to be very comfortable leading my team in the right direction. Coming up with a blueprint or an outline of what we wanted our final product to look like was exciting and again, empowering. I enjoyed working with my team to create a product that we all believed in, and especially under my guidance. It helped too that my workplace-1245776_640teammates were so engaging in the process and worked well with my ideas; everything seemed to fall into place under my supervision.

Because this was a learning experience and I had never participated in such an activity, I am not ashamed of falling short of first place, although it would have been nice. As a learning experience, I found that I have a natural ability to talk with others rather than to others in an efficient and effective manner that bodes well in a team environment, especially under such time constraints. I am hoping to find myself in a similar role in the future.

Finally, working with some of the apps in the Adobe Suite, I found it to be refreshing, exciting, frustrating, and entertaining. Because I had used some of Adobe’s apps in the past, I had a somewhat smooth transition back into the creative world. I may have needed a slight refresher, but for the most part, I found myself using each app effectively.

In terms of my excitement and frustration, I came to enjoy using each application and was excited to get back into class and either try something new with it or build on what I had already been working on. I was proud of everything that I completed, but know that I could have done more with more time.

My frustrations came when something failed to go the way that I had hoped. Although I had a rather smooth transition back into the Adobe world, not everything came easily. I found myself struggling with a few minor things over the course of use app’s use, but always found a way to come around and make things come together the way I had hoped. That was what I found to be most entertaining: the struggles that I was able to persevere through.

Overall, I believe that CAP 105 helped me grow as a future advertising and public relations employee, and I am excited to expand on what I have learned here and eventually apply it to the real world and my career.

Matt Henkel | GVSU | 10 April 2017

Content with a purpose

Scott Kronick of PR Week made an important and wonderful point when he wrote that,

“…content with a purpose is about creating a portfolio of content across platforms and media that drives a business and reputational goal. If it doesn’t drive those hard goals, it’s just vanity publishing.”

Although he wrote this back in 2014, I believe that this remains true today. Nothing aggravates an audience more than hearing things that are just said to be said. A brand, a company, or an individual with a PR team should focus not so much on attention, but purpose.

I would be lying if I said it was always a bad thing to receive attention; in some cases, a business make receive attention that makes you more money than you could have ever imagined, but that doesn’t come with talent, but rather luck.

In my opinion, the best way to drive home an important point and make your message known is by having content with a purpose that is driven by a hard or set goal, similar to what Kronick said in his piece. I believe that creating a message, visual or text, must focus more on creating a positive outlook to bolster your reputation rather than hoping for random attention.

Leaving politics out of it, a modern example of poor public relations efforts would be with current US President Donald Trump. Again not picking sides, most people are aware of Trump’s constant use of Twitter, and what sort of backlash he receives for the things he posts. As the President of the United States, Trump is more than welcome to utilize Twitter and post as he pleases, however it would be a smart move by his PR team to review pending tweets of his, and decide from there whether or not it would be beneficial to him to say what he had planned.

Keeping these ideas in mind, it is important to also make note of when a PR team does a good job.

When Snickers ran their live advertisement during the Super Bowl this past February, they received a lot of negative feedback on it, but also a lot of attention. Although it is likely that the disgust with the advertisement did not turn away any consumers of Snickers, it did give reason for Snickers to make some sort of apology or acknowledgement of their failed ad.

Playing on the initial ad, Snickers had Adam Driver, the lead role of the first ad, stand in front of the camera and deliver an apology for the events that had occurred earlier. To further acknowledge their failures, they made light of the situation by having a worker in the back of the screen putting out the fires created before, which in turn constantly cut off Driver’s apology. These interruptions eventually irritated Driver to the point that he had to leave the screen and end the commercial.

Although it was clear that this second advertisement was more scripted than the original ad, it was still pleasing to see Snickers acknowledge what had gone wrong in their live ad.

A public relations team’s most important goal should be to create a more positive perception of whoever they are supporting, and focus on creating a purpose for reaching out to the public, just as Snickers did in their apology advertisement.

Matt Henkel | GVSU | 23 March 2017