PR Disaster Awards – nominations and data flowing in

Have we missed anything you thought was a public relations gaffe in Australia this year?

Here are some of the PR blunders jostling for 2015’s PR disaster accolade. The initial data is in but we’re still crunching numbers and processing sentiment before we decide the year’s biggest blunder. Whatcha think?

7-Eleven staff low wages fiasco

Australia Border Force; ‘clumsy’ press release

Belle Gibson – blogger who cured her own cancer

Bernard Tomic Miami arrest

Bill Shorten union Commission

Bronwyn Bishop choppergate scandal

Joe Hockey – get a good job that pays good money

Nick Kyrgios

Volkswagen emissions scandal

Woolworths ‘Lest We Forget’

7-Eleven ambushed in slow-motion by aggrieved stakeholders

 

7-Eleven logo

With ABC Four Corners, Arbitrator Michael Fraser, a class action lawyer, FairWork Australia, Alan Fels (ex-ACCC), a cohort of highly sympathetic and apparently disadvantaged ex-staffers (plus a changeorg petition) lining up to ruin their reputation (a process of over 18months it seems) , my only query from a PR disaster and reputation “good call/bad call” viewpoint is; “Why did it take them so long to intercept and try to clean up the issue, far less issue any PR messaging on the topic?”

It’s like giving Man Utd 3 goals of a start and hoping to score 4 in the second half.

Yet while hubris is no asset to PR, will it really cause a significant change in the purchase habits of convenience shoppers in a country that’s somewhat insensitive to race disadvantage? Stay tuned…

 

 

Clumsy media release causes PR disaster for Border Force

“ABF officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with…”

This is the ABF media statement (below) which saw civil (kinda) rights protesters gridlock parts of Melbourne’s CBD today. As a stakeholder engagement piece it was stupendously successful – not only were parts of the statement provocative and “Orwellian” (h/t protester sound bite) but it also directed anti-AFB activists where to congregate to spoil the (media) party. It’s also the first time I’ve queried the wisdom/value of equipping media releases with ‘social share’ buttons (foot of page). This facility possibly enabled protesters to quickly share and amass their forces to disrupt the inter-agency “initiative”. As many PRs on the planet will be musing…there but for the grace of God go I…

Bordfer Force PR disaster

Tomic arrest, Kyrgios tantrums – an issue of character

Tomic&Kyrgios

In sports – think AFL, cricket and NRL for example – we often see how the PR gaffes of individuals or small groups have the ability to tarnish the reputation of the code or sport they represent. To my PR eyes, Tennis Australia is experiencing it differently; despite being dragged into unseemly PR disasters via the childlike antics of Messrs Tomic and Kyrgios, the public is able to clearly see where the root of the wrongs lie. It’s said that you can’t control your reputation, only your character. Culpability for these repeated, tennis-related PR disasters lies squarely at the baby feet of a couple of flawed characters whose actions speak as loud as their often immature utterances. I hope they will soon listen to the experience, strength and wisdom that, surely, must be being offered to them.

The PR train wreck that is Nick Kyrgios (aged 20 and a bit)

PR Disasters are usually caused by something; bad choices, behaviour, inattentiveness or wanton disregard. This precise article from the UK Telegraph’s Oliver Brown is “ace” in the way it describes the defects that drive Nick K’s manifold PR disasters. “…indeed hundreds of those fans on No 2 Court who watched his petulant implosion with mounting incredulity, felt most put out by was Kyrgios’s spoilt-child syndrome.” Nicely served, Oliver.

Australia's 2014 PR Disasters – Finalists

As we assess the data for 2014’s Australian PR Disasters Awards, two heavyweight teams are emerging as the main column centimetre negativity contenders; a) Tony Abbott’s coalition government and b) the NRL’s most wayward rugby stars. While political players such as George Brandis and Scott Morrison did their best to stain and murder their personal and party reputations by seeking to punish whistleblowers and asylum seekers respectively, several rugger buggers created a trickle of bad press over their oral (Todd Carney) and public (Greg Bird) urination episodes that, in turn, created a stream/torrent of social and MSM media criticism. Some surprise contenders such as Zoos SA’s attempt to marginalise a local ice cream supplier in favour of a palm-oil favouring globalcorp raised hackles in Adelaide, while coffee and coffee magnate Phillip De Bella’s expletive-infused Facebook rants had Brizzie caffeine lovers in a froth. And while Rupert Murdoch made a late charge with his emotionally-vapid, corporation-aggrandising Tweet over the #sydneysiege, it’s increasingly looking like PM Abbott will snatch the Award with his globe-spanning “shirtfront” proclamation – we will announce the winners very soon.

PR Disasters Awards contenders

Seems like a list of some the usual suspects – celebs, footballers, politicians – lining up to take the 2014 PR disasters awards this year past. Some of the contenders include: NRL’s Paul Gallen (c-tweet), PM Tony Abbott (wink wink), James ‘Punchy’ Packer, Malaysia Airlines, and even a late overseas entry from a Mr William Cosby

Your nominations before we start crunching the data, please…

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 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.

PR Disasters 2013 – nominations and data flowing in

Reviewing the candidates and numbers for 2013’s Annual PR Disasters Awards is proving challenging; the feeling is that sport may very much dominate the field rather than previous years which saw government and corporate PR disasters abound. Just to whet your appetite, prospective candidates (in no particular order yet) for the Awards include:
Political expense abuse claims
Tom Waterhouse/Gai Waterhouse/John Singleton snafu
Essendon Bombers* performance drug scandal
MP Geoff Shaw court and stakeholder skirmishes
Collingwood boss Eddie Maguire’s King Kong gaffe
Myer’s Bernie Brookes NDIS pronouncements
VW car recall
Australian government phone spy scandal with SBY
Mark Textor tweet
Cronulla Sharks doping allegations
Young political candidate media gaffes

What stands out for you as the Aussie PR blunder of the last year?

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.