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.

UK author attacks flacks, hacks and churnalism

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2008/s2348362.htm

Click above to hear UK journalist and author Nick Davies lambast today’s commercial media as passive processors of PR puff, led by the nose by powerful corporate PR influences. As well as aiming a kick at flacks, hack Nick echoed points I’ve previously made in my ‘Public Relations Disasters’ book. Particularly he explained how the death of the deadline has further depleted the resources of ‘time-pressed, deadline-stressed’ journalists. ‘Churnalism’ was the keyword of Nick’s interview with ABC’s Kerry O’Brien.

And against a backdrop of all powerful PRs and depleted newsrooms what does news org Fairfax do? Scythes its staff by 550 jobs, including 100-plus losses from its editorial complement. PR’s rejoice!! More potential success for thinly-disguised advertorials surely?