Following a weekend of racial controversy in Australia when a teenage Collingwood fan racially abused Swans AFL aboriginal star Adam Goodes (calling him an ape), the club’s President has inexplicably exacerbated the issue by jokingly suggesting on his morning radio show that the same player (Goodes) be used as part of a promotional PR push for the theatre show King Kong (which for those not in the know, stars a very large ape).
While the sometimes media savvy Mr Maguire has attempted to excuse his behaviour by suggesting that he was “zoned out”…”thinking somewhere else” and the hoary old “slip of the tongue”, the PR disaster backlash continues. Despite protesting that he is not a racist, McGuire’s incidental PR rehabilitation might be better served not just by protesting innocence, but by acknowledging that his comments may point to some unsavoury, sub-conscious attitudes that he’s prepared to work at addressing and eradicating. I’d venture that casual racism is not less hurtful to the recipient than the intended variety.
What does a business do when a PR blunderbuss like Charles Green is its media spokesperson?
As a keen football follower and PR analyst, I’m compelled to rubberneck the PR debacle that is The (newco/sevco) Rangers back in Scotland. The apparent leadership blunderings have caused me to research the role of the CEO in preventing/managing PR disasters. I found this paper from the Institute For PR:
Ken Makovsky, writing in Forbes Magazine notes…”if the CEO is getting mostly negative publicity, it is very hard to get positive coverage on the organization as a whole. “The opposite is also true,” notes Nicole Lee, a master’s student at San Diego State University, “If an organization is regularly bashed in the media, its CEO would likely struggle to maintain a positive reputation.”
In addition to the academic view, reputation practitioners would counsel that the CEO must always be the custodian of reputation, not the imperiller of it.
PR disaster news from The Age (hat tip Asher Moses):
“A Vodafone store employee who describes himself as the telco’s “social media expert” and “ambassador” has been deriding customers on Twitter and Facebook as “mentally retarded” and threatened them with a “pimp slap backhand”.
Yet another reason why social media engagement should probably best be conducted by staff with acute PR savvy. Social media is all about reputation far more than it is about mobile phone smarts. Smart phones don’t make for smart career moves
Polis on Facebook
.The job of the modern CEO entails being a leader, a visionary, a community conduit and the epitome of company standards
Carried out professionally, the job role encompasses board support, community relations, human resources and, essentially, reputation management. Anyone posting on social media, must understand their comments are like Press Releases by them to the entire world!!
Aussie utility monitor company Energy Watch has just sacked its CEO – and lost several leading sponsorship ties as well – after its indecently youthful CEO Ben Polis – dropped the company in a whopper PR disaster
re his social media editorials and utterances. They seem to betray a person of either troubled or questionable character.
Following Polis’ posting of bigoted, racist, sexist and sundry other offensive comments on social media – and the backlash from media commentators
– the company had to let the self-outed ADD/ADHD sufferer go. His PR comebacks have so far been lame – along the “I can’t be racist, my cleaner is Asian and I once dated a half-Aboriginal woman.”
Ugh. Gritty Polis helped form the Energy Watch company, which kinda explains why he got to be a media-attractive CEO. But doing the job of the CEO means more than typing the title on a businesscard and doing the speakers’ circuit. You need luck and grace on your recovery back from this one, Ben. (Ta to The Age for tip and Herald Sun for graphic).
It’s brand-checking 101; Google a name to see if there’s any unfortunate or unsavoury associations. But Googling names seems to have been beyond Nike’s Advertising or PR teams; now in PR trouble (as Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream had similarly done only 4 years back) for naming a sports shoe, the Black and Tan! For those who don’t know Britain’s stained history of interference in Ireland, an expert book on the Black and Tans says:
“They could arrest and imprison anyone at any time. They murdered civilians. They wore a strange mixture of dark green tunics, khaki rousers, black belts and odd headgear, including civilian felt hats…Although they were only a small proportion of British forces in Ireland, they were the toughest, the wildest and the most feared. They knew nothing and they cared nothing about Ireland. They were sent there in March 1920 by Lloyd George’s coalition cabinet to make Ireland ‘a hell for rebels to live in’.”
This could be a PR disaster in the making; a prominent French financial institution has scoffed at the big banks’ longtime spin that they have to increase home loan interest rates because of rising funding costs. The French bank spokesman – Christian Carillo – said it was “almost mathematically impossible” that the Aussie banks claims of higher costs could be substantiated. If this is true, one’d hope the public response would see mortgage business migrate towards smaller lenders. More likely, public apathy about getting financially done over by the banking cartel will see the staus quo preserved. Bank business as usual in other words.
For the second consecutive year, Qantas has topped the list of the annual PR Disasters Awards conducted by PR watchdog and blogsite PRdisasters.com. And for the first time in the awards’ history, the airline had three embarrassing PR glitches feature in the year’s top ten most talked about PR nightmares. Here are Australia’s Top 10 PR Disasters for 2011 (biggest disaster first):
1. Qantas grounding – business decision that inconvenienced and angered a nation
2. Qantas luxury Tweet – poorly conceived Twitter promo which drew ire not idolising
3. Brendan Fevola – termination of troubled star’s contract with Brisbane Lions
4. Tony Abbott – mute, shaking-head TV interview freeze
5. Qantas ‘golliwogs’ – social media rugby promo, which catalysed a racial brouhaha
6. Ricky Nixon – PR fallout from unseemly association with the St Kilda teen
7. Larissa Behrendt – bitchy comments against Bess Price published on Twitter
8. Kyle Sandilands – personal vendetta against a journo forced a humiliating apology
9. Australian Defence Force – Cadet Skype-cam sex scandal
10. Gasp Retail – bad customer service flowed from in-store to email; a PR 101 fail! Continue reading
While the growing commentariat looks to “tut tut” on any and every move with a whiff of differing opinions, the reality of the Qantas strike situation is simply this: the airline is focused – Exocet-like – on a goal of staunching losses to and repositioning its international business. To do this, it needs to manage staff/operating costs – and that means outsourcing cost bases where possible. In forcing FairWork Australia to help bring strike action to an end, Qantas has doubtless weighed the cost of negative short-term PR it will accrue, and deemed it mere collateral damage in a skirmish that’s part of a much bigger battle. Bad PR, in this case, isn’t as important as long term revenue management. In today’s media environment, which should bring searing scrutiny to corporate and government decisions, we instead see a ‘forget if not forgive’ attitude from customers and stakeholders. This bad news story will blow over. It seems to me, that reputation damage isnt as influential or telling as it once might have been – the blighted and maligned recover more quickly than in the past; shame or remorse fade as quickly as the news agenda changes it appears to me.
If you’ve ever pondered what it’d be like to watch someone publicly hang themselves, then cut free just before the final, fatal asphixiation, only to give an encore petard-hoisting the following day, then Channel 7’s ‘Sunday’ night interview with AFL leper Ricky Nixon provided a comparably grisly spectacle. Instead of the ‘3 R’s’ stock-in-trade of crisis management – Regret, Responsibility and Remedial action, Nixon opted to Refute, Recriminate and Retaliate.
During the vilified footy entrepreneur’s latest, most clumsy – and to date implosive – attempt at PR redemption, there were lessons aplenty for the modern celebrity, politician, public figure and even corporation. Clearly visible lessons included:
- Don’t do media interviews when you’re tired or easily provoked to irritation or anger
- Don’t give interviews when you can’t master your ego and emotions or mask your simmering aggression, disdain or sense of hurt and injustice Continue reading
Most PR disasters occur due to lack of intelligence (read that whichever way you like). That’s why stakeholder research is so critical to the development of PR plans. Writing in Australia’s “Business Spectator”, Gerry McCusker says that the most alarming thing about ‘big Aussie retailers” failed tax campaign was that the dismal result could have been predicted using some basic tools – including social media – at every PR’s fingertips.