NZ Telecom not a PR disaster; more a creative balls-up

I was asked for an interview by New Zealand Talk Radio in the wake of the furore re a – now hated – promotional campaign for NZ Telecom aimed at supporting the mighty All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup. Basically, the campaign encouraged Kiwis to abstain from sex during the competition duration. Here’s a quick overview of my interview preparation notes:

A storm in a rugby world (tea)cup. Has the whole of New Zealand lost its sense of humour? Perhaps they don’t get the concept of creative irony? As an ex-Scot mysel’, I sense a wee bit too much po-faced Presbyterian plasma in the kiwi bloodlines. Creatively, this was a (maybe too) cute, tongue-in-cheek way of making fans feel like they were upping their commitment to their national heroes. Was it the best creative idea around – no. Was it cause for commentary by the NZ Prime Minister et al – definitely not!!  In today’s reputation environment, any grumpy stakeholder can critique or carp – and that feeds direct into the media’s hunger for alleged controversy; we have a new wave/tsunami of emotionally reactive commentariat who vent their spleen, necessitating retractions and forced humility from big corporate concerns: It’s accountability gone mad! As for NZ Telecom’s PR response, it seems very well executed; they (pretty quickly) acknowledged unpopularity, made an apology followed by a retraction – that’s what good PR is! Good PR isn’t – contrary to pop opinion – perfect spin. Good PR is listening to feedback, then taking appropriate, responsible action to bring the org in line with stakeholder sentiment. Pulling the campaign – even at great cost – is actually responsible PR. Two areas of real creative concern for me; why was the Saatchi&Saatchi PR agency solution so out of touch with community feeling? With all the stakeholder research tools at our disposal – was the campaign pre-tested with a target audience sample?? And finally, because the campaign was so reviled, why didn’t the creative agency take a bullet for its client NZ Telecom? They should have fessed up and fronted the media (rather than go to ground and let their client carry the can for an unpopular creative exectution). As an option, maybe one fresh PR idea would be to turn the campaign around from an anti-sex to a pro-sex agenda – “We’re rooting for New Zealand!”

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