Reputation2.0 and Ricky Nixon's latest PR disaster

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

No Army policy/practices to manage PR disasters created by social media

The Australian Defence Force is buckling under the weight of several horrific PR disasters caused by its ’employee’ abuse of social media. It’s rumoured that one of the main problems dogging ADF’s reputation-protecting practices is that their 100-strong Comms teams lack staff with proven and cutting-edge PR issues expertise. I contacted ADF and asked about their social media policy and practices (they made me put my enquiry into writing and responded promptly yet obtusely). In short, the reply I received suggests that there is no dedicated social media policy in place for Australian defence forces, but that the organisation relies on existing media and conduct policies for protection. Clearly, old media policies just don’t work for new media environments (as anyone who has attended a social media conference in the last 4 years would attest!!).The new media landscape has changed rules/policies for managing PR. For those unfamiliar with the unsavoury PR pickles currently being experienced by ADF, they are:

Offensive racist Facebook and YouTube postings by army personnel serving in Afghanistan (calling Afghanis “ragheads”, “dune coons” and “sand niggaz”)

A female cadet officer who says that while having sex with a male cadet, the encounter was being relayed by Skype and watched live by a group of other cadets in another room without her consent.

Inability to take action on an anti-gay Facebook hate page (that was discovered up to 8-months ago) which derided ‘filthy lifestyles’ ‘bum bandits’ and ‘pillow biters’.

I contacted a trusted and respected colleague – who has served in the Aussie military – and he told me that ADF would not even be interested in hearing from “an outsider” with expertise in creating social media policy and/or managing PR issues or crises. It could be that their insularity and inward-thinking is contributing to the blinkered attitudes that only exacerbate their PR problems in the new media arena.

Using social media to avoid PR disasters

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.

Australia's biggest PR disasters – top 10 announced

The Qantas A380 engine blast has been named the worst Australian PR disaster of 2010, in the annual PR Disasters Awards by PR watchdog and blogsite The Awards highlights the worst examples of business, celebrity, government, media and sports gaffes. For the very first time, the results have been processed to include PR disasters in both traditional and online media, including social media spaces. This year, our Public Relations Disasters blog partnered with online and social media monitoring agency Cyber Chatter to run, analyse and calculate Australia’s biggest PR blunders, using world-leading Alterian SM2 technology. Here are Australia’s Top 10 PR Disasters for 2010 (biggest disaster first):
1. Qantas – A380 fleet consecutive engine issues and passenger delays
2. Commonwealth Bank – premium interest rate hikes
3. Labor Party – corporate backlash against the proposed ‘super tax’
4. Melbourne Storm – salary cap scandal
5. Stephanie Rice – homophobic comments posted via Twitter
6. Canberra Raiders – Joel Monaghan ‘dog sex’ photo
7. Virgin Blue – reservations and check-in system crash
8. Matthew Newton – after alleged assault of then partner Rachel Taylor in Italy
9. David Jones – CEO sexual assault scandal
10. Lara Bingle – media relations following split with Michael Clark

Gerry McCusker commented:
“We’re seeing that social media is increasingly influencing the impact and duration of PR disasters. As citizen media clearly aids commentary and sharing of bad news stories, it’s essential to have strategies to cope with online sniping and gossip that affects your reputation.”

Storm in a teacup and a new Ryanair PR disaster

With staff who have insulted bloggers, a Chief Exec who wanted to figure out a way to charge for ice and plans to charge customers for using toilets, budget airline Ryanair is no stranger to PR disasters. Now, it seems they’ve charged an in-flight heart attack victim for a cup of tea and biscuits used to treat him in lieu of a defibrilator.

Where’s the heart? Without any emotional intelligence, organisations leave themselves open to creating PR disasters time after time.

Gillard, Arbib and the empty chair PR disaster

Apparently, Aussie PM Julia Gillard banned a senior Labour honcho – Mark Arbib – from appearing on the country’s most credible political panel discussion (Q&A) last night. Mischievously, the producers left Arbib’s seat empty thereby creating a risible talking point throughout the show. Having agreed to appear, then pulling the appearance, this looks like another major PR mis-step from the faltering Labour Party.

BPs Gulf PR disaster – give them a break!

As the author of ‘Public Relations Disasters’, I know that the critical commentary about BPs handling of its Gulf oil spill guarantees only one thing; this will go down in corporate history as the case study in how not to handle environmental crisis communications; from premature statements about modest impact to the now laughable “we have turned the corner” claim and the money-minded assertion there was “no reason for the share price movement”, many of the utterances signalled those of a self-interested and self-serving organisation.

However, many of the forensic, nay nit-picking, critiques by analysts, experts and profiteering pundits of every hue have been hysterical (against Hayward’s “I want my life back” and yacht trip, and Svanberg’s “…small people” comments), opportunistic (the US political pot-shotters) and aimed to inflict additional pointless discomfort (experts insisting how they’d’ve done it better) on an established brand and corporation patently struggling to cope with a natural and PR disaster beyond it, Haliburton’s and Transocean’s ken. Believe me, BP wants this to end and will be pursuing that goal 100%. Where is that perspective ever reported though?

So I ask you all; where is our balance, our perspective, our compassion to support all concerned in the midst of this horrible environmental catastrophe? Where’s our willingness to give everyone involved (yes, even BP) a break? Societal (ie media) statements, utterances and opinion is increasingly seeming like a harsh, judgemental and very ugly thing. Social Media in particular often supports the angriest critics, not the fair-minded voices of reason. What a cold, unforgiving and pointlessly punitive environment for PRs and communicators trying to convey any kind of company perspective or position.

The BP response has confused many PR experts, but perhaps that’s only because it ceased to be a PR issue months ago. As this AP article shows, the stakes exceed communications and reputation needs. It’s now all about limiting financial damage and the likelihood of corporate and personal prosecution. For example, some years ago I asked a former Comms Chief at a scandal-hit agricultural organisation why Execs listened to lawyers more often than they listened to PRs: “Lawyers can keep them out of jail”, was his deadpan reply.

X-Box gun stunt creates fear and a PR disaster

Imitation handgun

In Auckland’s Degree bar in NZ, a man approaches drinkers in an outside bar and waves an imitation pistol around. A scene from an underworld spat or crime show? No, a marketing promotion for X-Box (I’m deliberately not giving the product the PR oxygen it seeks). One company linked to the PR promo (Monaco Corporation) denied it was a deliberate controversy, saying it had farmed the work out to another company. The promo guys were cautioned by police and X-Box got some media coverage. A PR disaster or deliberately dumbass attention-grabbing stunt?

Ta to my NZ correspondent Geoff for the tipoff.

Five lessons from Nestle's Facebook PR disaster

International confectioner Nestle is being given more than two fingers for its foray into Social Media, proving my personal theory that Web2.0 often acts as a “whinge tunnel” for resentful consumers and other interest groups. Nestle has set up a Facebook ‘fan’ presence, and many visitors are using this space to criticise the company’s environmental and operational credentials. The overwhelming sentiment expressed is anti-Nestle. It’s been dubbed both a PR disaster and covert controversy management…For my money, there’s a few things Nestle could have considered to help avoid the critical excesses of this mini-pr disaster…

1) It says the site is for people who want to celebrate their favourite Nestle brands; clearly, consumers are disregarding and disrespecting Nestle’s house rules for its site; they’re not celebrating Nestle at all. But what did Nestle (with its controversial PR credentials) really expect, wine and roses?

2) Nestle’s Facebook tone of voice is all wrong; it’s at times scolding and a bit sarcastic – that doesn’t foster positive Web2.0 PR

3) Perhaps Nestle should have first selected a forum (other than Facebook) that allowed it to set stronger privacy and moderation setting? A niche Ning network, for eg, and a measured digital reachout campaign might have helped it cultivate a core cohort of digital Nestle fans. If it had done that, they might have had better, more credible defenders for their public Facebook site.

4) Mashups and deconstruction are an everyday part of SocMed; people don’t care about Nestle’s corporate logo – let them play with it; don’t sweat the logoplay too much Nestle. Not in this forum, anyway.

5) Web2.0 is a field where anti-corporate activists play smarter, more aggressively than corporates. It was maybe inevitable that any foray would restimulate interest in the Palm Oil/deforestation/orang-utang extinction debates. Opportunistically, Greenpeace are jumping on the bandwagon in this regard. And the viral spread may create additional stakeholder pressure; so, is Nestle prepared for the bigger PR battle it may have to fight, after traditional media pickup on digital PR activism?

As a belated mea culpa, Nestle changed its Facebook status to read – “Social media: as you can see we’re learning as we go. Thanks for the comments.” But from a digital PR perspective I have to ask, “Why learn the lesson so painfully and so publicly, when some Web2.0 PR savvy could have avoided this entirely?

Aussie PR hires actresses to fake a news story

Aussie PR Jothy Hughes has created a PR disaster that should sound the death knell for his PR career. Dumb-as-you-could-imagine and deeply-duplicitous, Jothy briefed a model agency to find actresses who’d pretend to be profiteering widows selling their marital gold at jewellery parties (for his client Gold Parties Australia). Despite hollow claims of “I made a mistake…”, Hughes is a former PRIA member, so well knows PR right from wrong.

Ta 2 Mumbrella as source.