Australia's 2013 PR Disasters Announced

The Essendon footy club has grabbed the flag at the annual list of PR blunders and gaffes awarded here at 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.

PR gaffe as football chief labels coach a "control freak"

Frank Costa – Chief Exec of AFL football club Geelong – has been moved to make a PR apology after ‘private’ comments he made at a breakfast seminar were heard and reported in the media by a journalist. The comments are now turning into a mini-PR disaster for him and the club he represents. This illustrates a new reality of reputation management…there’s no such thing as a ‘private comment’. Whether you know that an official reporter is there or not, there’s always likely to be a journalist (old media or social media) at any business or social function you’ll even attend. So be careful what you say, as it’s always likely to make its way into our newly integrated media.

Didak, Shaw, Pies, PR Gaffes and Lies

Pies President Eddie Maguire.

A PR disaster all about employee trust, and how individuals control the collective reputation. AFL club Collingwood today faces not just an embarrassing PR disaster, but surely a serious HR issue too. After the club CEO Ed Maguire publicly flamed one young player (Heath Shaw) for involvement in a drink driving car crash, then dismissed claims that another player (Alan Didak) was involved, it’s been revealed Didak fled the DUI car!! Before a media conference, both players insisted to the club and leadership group that Didak was not involved, despite eye-witness reports saying otherwise. This goes to the heart of organisational and HR culture. In a toe-curlingly embarrassing moment, club President Maguire threw out Didak’s poss involvement, inferring the player would be implicated in the Kennedy assasination next! Didak is no stranger to dodgy drink related car escapades, either. And the club previously lost a sponsor over another drunken player episode. So how does Collingwood regain the reputational lost ground now? By letting the players ‘play on’ – the club laughably spins this as a punishment – or by showing its public(s), that it’s HR policy is really intolerant of behaviour – drunkenness, feeing the scene of an accident and lying within the ‘company’ – and metes out a credible deterrent?

The club’s decision has just been announced: Collingwood has suspended Alan Didak and Heath Shaw for the remainder of the 2008 season, including finals, for lying about a drink-drive accident.