PR Disaster Awards – nominations and data flowing in

Have we missed anything you thought was a public relations gaffe in Australia this year?

Here are some of the PR blunders jostling for 2015’s PR disaster accolade. The initial data is in but we’re still crunching numbers and processing sentiment before we decide the year’s biggest blunder. Whatcha think?

7-Eleven staff low wages fiasco

Australia Border Force; ‘clumsy’ press release

Belle Gibson – blogger who cured her own cancer

Bernard Tomic Miami arrest

Bill Shorten union Commission

Bronwyn Bishop choppergate scandal

Joe Hockey – get a good job that pays good money

Nick Kyrgios

Volkswagen emissions scandal

Woolworths ‘Lest We Forget’

PR disasters and powder-puff apologies

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It gets up my nose when PRs access the ‘lazy file’ when their clients do dumb stuff.

I mean, why do acclaimed professional communicators deliver hollow, default statements when required to craft and coach authentic and credible expressions of responsibility and regret in the event of celebrity PR disasters? What’s the purpose of these generic communications? Why do we get apology by cut ‘n’ paste?

We continually get a predictable grab-bag of cliches, half-truths and wholly unconvincing claims of accountability and remorse. Read this generic statement and you can pretty much substitute the name of the un-saintly football player with the name of any basketballer, cyclist, rugby or soccer player caught with his pants down, brain addled, veins full or fists balled.

In PR disasters, perhaps many PRs don’t craft connective, meaningful, believable and winning crisis management statements because they don’t have the emotional intelligence in themselves to be able to help the client process and express? It’s also true, though, that spin doctors are often hamstrung by the instructions given by lawyers advising the company, club or code.

Next time a sports star or celebrity makes “a mistake” (a patronising misnomer), PRs should try asking: A) what really went on for YOU that time? B) why did YOU the player make that choice ? C) what was ingesting the substance all about for YOU? D) didn’t YOU fear getting caught? and E) what feelings did YOU have at the time, and what do YOU feel right now ?

Then a PR might prefer to compose something like this:

“First off, this was not a mistake; this was about my decisions, actions and stupidity.  It was also about me thinking I was too cool and too big to ever be caught.          Honestly? I was partying hard and intoxicated. I thought my edgy “cool” lifestyle would make me look like a rockstar to my mates.

I don’t know why I feel the need to impress them when I should be impressing the code, the club and the fans who have genuinely trusted and respected me. I will think about that and get to the bottom of it most likely with a specialist counsellor.

Recording the incident was simply stupid. I’ve done courses and had advice to be careful with online media but I made a daft choice which lead to this trouble. Again, my mistake was in thinking I was too special, too cool to be caught. Right now, I am full of self-recrimination and shame for the hurt I’ve caused to everyone who cares about me. I will work on this and hopefully emerge a better, more mature and trustworthy person as a result.”

No-one expects footy players to be angels or Saints (geddit?). But with the myriad of PR disasters – and subsequent player education courses about using social media and drugs – you’d half-expect these young men to use at least half of the wits they have! (Note; not many female athletes do such dumb sh*t!).

Generic PR apology statements appear to say all the right things but they only tell us one thing for sure: THAT THE ATHLETE DID NOT ACTUALLY SAY THESE WORDS!

And that shows they’re reluctant to be truly responsible and remorseful as they look to recover from being rumbled.
Hat-tip ColorCube for image loan.



No PR disaster as Goodesy joins DJ line-up

David Jones nameplate
Retailer David Jones is adeptly Riding the waves of transmedia indignation (from both sides) with the applomb of a PR surf god.
As embarrassing as the social media barbs at – and as spirited the defences of – Adam Goodes are, the alleged ‘PR Disaster’ actually helps DJs surf a swell of “controversy communications”, adding visibility for their new positioning campaign.
The creative, Kanye, the role model sponsorships – and even the social spat – assert DJs new brand posture: ‘The right-on choice for cashed-up consumers with a conscientous rock ‘n roll spirit’, I’m guessing?
Whatever the schtick, Goodesy’s (and others’) recruitment is an adept PR manouevre. Round 1, and both store and sports legend are countering with all the right moves.

7-Eleven ambushed in slow-motion by aggrieved stakeholders


7-Eleven logo

With ABC Four Corners, Arbitrator Michael Fraser, a class action lawyer, FairWork Australia, Alan Fels (ex-ACCC), a cohort of highly sympathetic and apparently disadvantaged ex-staffers (plus a changeorg petition) lining up to ruin their reputation (a process of over 18months it seems) , my only query from a PR disaster and reputation “good call/bad call” viewpoint is; “Why did it take them so long to intercept and try to clean up the issue, far less issue any PR messaging on the topic?”

It’s like giving Man Utd 3 goals of a start and hoping to score 4 in the second half.

Yet while hubris is no asset to PR, will it really cause a significant change in the purchase habits of convenience shoppers in a country that’s somewhat insensitive to race disadvantage? Stay tuned…



Clumsy media release causes PR disaster for Border Force

“ABF officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with…”

This is the ABF media statement (below) which saw civil (kinda) rights protesters gridlock parts of Melbourne’s CBD today. As a stakeholder engagement piece it was stupendously successful – not only were parts of the statement provocative and “Orwellian” (h/t protester sound bite) but it also directed anti-AFB activists where to congregate to spoil the (media) party. It’s also the first time I’ve queried the wisdom/value of equipping media releases with ‘social share’ buttons (foot of page). This facility possibly enabled protesters to quickly share and amass their forces to disrupt the inter-agency “initiative”. As many PRs on the planet will be musing…there but for the grace of God go I…

Bordfer Force PR disaster