While Halloween is a holiday that offers brands a wealth of marketing opportunities, every year it seems to produce communications scares that require reputation management teams to have a full bag of tricks.

Last year, I wrote about some of the scariest examples. While it seems that this year many major brands have heeded the lessons of Halloweens past, and even showcased a few social media best practices, there are still a few that got spooked.

So, I figured I would share a new list with holiday-related communications done right, and additional tips for avoiding Halloween frights.

The Good

TargetThis year, Target received an outpouring of praise for featuring a girl with arm crutches wearing an Elsa costume in its Halloween print advertisement. Last week after seeing the ad, Grand Rapids, Mich. mom Jen Spickenagel Kroll took to Facebook to express her gratitude.

The post, in which she thanked Target for its inclusive decision, has gone viral eliciting thousands of shares and comments filled with praise for the retailer. Media coverage of this positive trending story also continues to heat up.

The only thing Target could have done better in this situation is respond more rapidly to Spickenagel Kroll’s post. Similar to negative posts, swift and personable replies to positive posts can deliver a wealth of goodwill for your brand.

Frightening, but Fixable

Party CityParty City is another retailer betting on Halloween sales. But this year their story started out a little scary. Frequent Party City customer and mom Lin Kramer also took to Facebook, posting a letter directly to the company’s corporate page to express disappointment about how the company’s curated selection of costumes for girls limited their career-themed options to three (there where 16 choices for boys). Of the three costumes available, one was a policewoman with a short skirt that Kramer felt sexualized the outfit and was not representative of a true police uniform.

Party City responded swiftly yet briefly, commenting on their appreciation for Kramer’s feedback and promptly deleted the post. Unless a person has a track record of negative posts, this is a tactic typically warned against. With my clients I like to apply the three strikes and you’re out rule when deciding to delete a comment or block a user from a corporate site.

Party City’s removal of Kramer’s post only encouraged her supporters, and the story went viral in less than 24 hours. It even caught the attention of the Today Show which featured her story on the air with expanded online and satellite radio content.

Party City has since reached out via social media to Kramer and her supporters to provide a more thorough response. They noted that they are taking this feedback into consideration and “always evaluating how to make shopping in their stores and online a fun and welcoming experience for all.” Continuing an open dialogue with its customers, Party City just may hear the chorus of praises next year.

Scarily Savvy

Cecil's RevengeSometimes scary can be good. With the right strategy, what was once a frightening situation for the mission of your organization can bring positive returns.

Case in point, PETA’s recent offering of the “Cecil’s Revenge“costume, developed and marketed in response to a new and trending “Cecil the Lion’s Killer” costume by novelty online costume retailer costumeish.com. The arguably offensive costume pokes fun at American dentist Walter Palmer, now infamous for killing Cecil the Lion this summer during a hunting expedition in Africa.

The massacre of Cecil the Lion was horrific, and PETA couldn’t stand by as a costumeish.com profited from it, even if the retailer had been sensitive enough to donate 15% of the proceeds from the sales of the costume to the African Wildlife Foundation.

With the exception of a few naysayers, who weren’t PETA supporters anyway, the organization has been loudly applauded by media and the general public alike for the Cecil’s Revenge costume, all while raising funds to help further its mission of protecting wildlife. Now that’s turning a boo into a boon!

I said it last year, but I’ll say it again. While Halloween is definitely a time to be playful with marketing and merchandising, PR firestorms can still ignite fast. Brands that want to avoid controversy should carefully evaluate all Halloween-themed business efforts to ensure they aren’t too ghastly for target demographics and other important stakeholders.

Moreover, they should have social media listening tools and a strong PR team in place to execute a speedy and candid response if customers get spooked. On the flip side, an ongoing PR and social media program can help brands take more advantage of the unexpected opportunities this and other holidays may bring.

Happy Halloween! See you back next year when I will hopefully get to report on more PR treats than tricks!