Did you hear the one about the fast food lobbyist who was married to the Health Minister’s Chief of Staff??
The Essendon footy club has grabbed the flag at the annual list of PR blunders and gaffes awarded here at PRdisasters.com. After analyzing media monitoring data on sustained and damaging mentions across press, radio, TV and internet sources, the Bombers “performance supplements” saga was easily the year’s most-talked about, and reviled, PR disaster. And in a year where the Cronulla Sharks rugby club plus the sport of swimming were also stained by the stench of scandal, the broader topic of ‘drugs in sport’ created much negative commentary and bad PR.
The Australian PR Disaster Awards – now in their 8th year – highlight the worst examples of business, celebrity, government, media and sports PR blunders. They assess PR problems in both traditional and online media, including social media spaces. To qualify as a PR disaster, the incident must result in sustained, negative media coverage for the brand, business or person at the centre of the story. Here are Australia’s Top 10 PR Disasters of 2013 (biggest disaster first):
1. Essendon supplements scandal – under the direction of controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank, the Bombers were found to have been operating an experimental – possibly illegal – performance supplements programme.
2. Drugs in sport – A year long Australian Crime Commission investigation found widespread drug use in Australian professional sport, with criminal networks being actively involved. At publication, one former ASADA expert dubbed it the “blackest day in Australian sport”.
3. Indonesian relations – Australia’s ‘SBY’ presidential phone-tapping scandal escalated with Tony Abbott’s reticence to apologise and Indonesia reactively downgrading the relationship between the two countries and withdrawing co-operation on people smuggling operations.
4. Waterhouse/Singleton spat – Businessman John Singleton sacked trainer Gai Waterhouse following a clash on live television. After “Singo” claimed skullduggery over the fitness of his beloved horse ‘More Joyous’, a Racing NSW inquiry fined Singleton and saw trainer Gai Waterhouse charged on two counts relating to reporting and record-keeping.
5. Media regulation reform – Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was assailed by many sections of the media over his proposed News Media reforms. Many outlets railed at the mooted, binding, self-regulation scheme that also sought to remove a news organisation’s exemption from some provisions of the Privacy Act.
6. Mining tax repeal – The Abbott government started to repeal Labor’s controversial Minerals Resource Rent Tax from July 2014; by pitching how it would impact on families and small business, major – and conflicting – media coverage for this new policy was secured.
7. Craig Thomson – The saga of allegedly using Health Service Union credit cards to pay for porn and prostitutes rumbled on, revealing avaricious appetites for raunchy films, sexual services, ciggies and cross-country flights and expenses.
8. Collingwood Football Club (re Adam Goodes) –When a young Collingwood fan sledged Adam Goodes with an ape slur, the media meltdown was compounded when Collingwood President Eddie Maguire jokingly alluded to Goodes’ ability to publicise the in-town musical King Kong.
9. Royal Commission into child sexual abuse – As the 2012-established commission researched, interviewed, questioned and challenged institutional representatives from education, religion, sports and state interests, claims of abuser protection and failure to stop the abuse provided media flak for churches and their office bearers.
10. Politician expenses – Not long into office, Tony Abbott encountered his first scandal over his and other politicians’ misuse of entitlements. With four cabinet members – plus the PM – having to repay money for faulty expense claims, the furore also targeted Labor pollies similarly loose with their expense accuracy.
Alerted by a vigilant PR disaster watcher (thanks JD) across the ditch, ongoing interest in a sleazy case by the media and citizens has resulted in greater PR problems for the Police and radio station, RadioLive.
The Roast Busters case centres around a group of young men who’ve shamelessly boasted online (via Twitter and Facebook) about taking advantage of drunk, underage girls who they intimate are ‘willing’ assaultees.
As interest in the case grew, the police came under fire for knowing of the incidents since 2011, yet being ineffective in taking interventive action. Whispers say one of the boys is the son of a police officer, too.
Now, as media explores the story further, advertisers are (temporarily, I’m certain) jumping ship from RadioLive after two of its presenters joked and quipped about the circumstances surrounding the alleged rapes. The story of the group has made international news, with media outlets in the US, UK and Australia covering it.
Emotional intelligence deficits again the source of another horrid PR disaster that, due to online coverage, will haunt all concerned for years to come.
Sitting here in the cheap seats, I’ve quietly surmised that Austereo’s handling of the abortive hoax call prank has tended more to stonewalling and message repetition that it has to genuine engagement and undertakings of remedies. Timely then that a Fairfax journalist – Michael Lallo – lists the hard questions that still remain unanswered by Austereo management.
With the sad, sad news that 2DayFM’s ‘Crank Yanker’ style publicity stunt may have lead to the death of the reception nurse who took the hoax phone call, station owner Austereo now has a global PR disaster on its hands. Social media is reported to be ablaze with anger and revulsion at the prank, and the way the station is handling the fallout of the stunt; the company Facebook page has been swamped with critical posts and Twitter in the UK has trended heavily against the DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian. Meanwhile, a braggadocio video from Mel and Michael puffed with pride just after their hoodwinking call has now been deleted from the station website. In any publicity-seeking situation, organisations have to ask “what’s the worse thing that could happen?”. While impossible to predict the death of someone involved in a hoax call, the sensitivity and protectiveness that exists for the UK’s royal cohort might have suggested this was one fear and self-loathing promoting scenario that required some taste and restraint. RIP Jacintha Saldanha.
As an aggressive social media campaign compels advertisers to withdraw their support of the Alan Jones’ radio show, I read a neat precis by Troy Dodds of WA who summarises the issues neatly.
And for me, it’s not a PR disaster for Jones; this kind of unreasonable rant (and now pained bleating for alleged wrongs done against him), is his stock-in-trade and the exact outburst that shock radio jocks like him the world over need to keep their profile high and their easily-enraged listeners tuning in. Sponsors? They’re’ll always be new ones chasing the audience that Jones so easily corrals.
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:
The news media’s endless obsession with Charlie Sheen’s celebrity Tweets and other self-obsessed publishing twits, plus the blurred speed and fuzzy footage of social media footage is killing good quality news reporting, claims Gerry McCusker author of “PR Disasters”.
Following the sacking of roughneck Scots football commentator Andy Gray for sexist comments while unknowingly still “on-mike”, the Guardian presents a rogues gallery of Yankee and Pommie sports pundits who have created PR disasters via their unguarded, often nasty, verbal snipes.