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Top 30 NZ PR Disasters of 2011

Media Release: 30 December 2011
Author: Billie Jordan, PR Consultant, Auckland

Top 30 NZ PR Disasters of 2011

2011 has provided many cringe-worthy PR disasters across both the private and public sector says Auckland based Public Relations consultant Billie Jordan.

“Reputations have been tarnished, or in some cases, irreversibly damaged and the people at the centre of the scandal have often lost their jobs. A number of very prominent product brands have also suffered reputational damage this year resulting in angry customers and lost sales.

“There is always an honest and positive way to get yourself or your company out of a hole. However,unfortunately many of the people and organisations in this Top 30 list have either ignored good PR advice or received very bad PR advice,” says Jordan.

1. Adidas. Adidas set a New Zealand retail price for replica All Blacks jerseys that was more than double the price they charge overseas e.g.$220 in New Zealand versus $92.68 on the website. When kiwis decide to order the jersey from overseas retailers instead of buying it locally Adidas enforces cross-border agreements to stop overseas retailers from selling to NZ residents.New Zealand is also removed as a delivery option on the worldrugbyshop website.

2. EQC. Despite having over 65 years to prepare for a major earthquake, it is revealed EQC had no systems in place to deal with large numbers of claims and had failed to implement a lot of the recommendations outlined in a ‘readiness’ report they received in 2009. Poor communication,lengthy delays, the CEO’s reluctance to front-up and many other operational issues caused irreversible damage to EQC’s reputation in 2011.

3. Don Brash. In September Act Party Leader Don Brash announces he would like to explore a policy to decriminalise cannabis for personal use. He fails to involve or even warn other Act Party members (including Deputy Leader John Banks) that he will be making this controversial policy statement.

4. Darren Hughes. In early March the police receive a complaint from an 18-year-old male. The incident is reported to be of a sexual nature and alleged to have occurred at Labour Party deputy leader Annette King’s home, where Hughes lived. Witnesses report seeing the complainant outside and naked that morning. Although Labour Leader Phil Goff knows about the police complaint for two weeks he takes no action and his office tells the media that no Labour MP is involved in any such complaint to Police. During this time both Darren Hughes and Annette King participate in a debate performed in front of the entire press gallery with the moot “Politics is a grubby business.” After being grilled by the media Phil Goff then admits Darren Hughes is at the centre of the Police investigation but defends Hughes stating it is a matter for the Police. He then refuses to accept Darren Hugh’s resignation (but changes his mind later on). Labour Party President Andrew Little only finds out about the matter when it hits the news headlines.

5. TeacupTapes. Two weeks before the general election Prime Minister John Key and Act Party Deputy Leader John Banks have their conversation recorded while having a cup of tea in a cafe in Auckland. The contents of the recording is then leaked and/or distributed to members of the media and other third parties. Winston Peters publicly announces he has read a transcript of the conversation and that it reflects badly on the characters of both John Key and John Banks. The occasion helps to leverage publicity for the NZ First party just days leading up to the election.

6. Auckland Rugby World Cup Transport. Chaos occurs on the night of the Rugby World Cup Opening Ceremony due to major transport problems. Trains and buses are either delayed or not working and a large number of people miss the entire opening ceremony and the game that followed. Some people are also injured.

7. Rena. Container Ship Rena runs aground off the coast of Tauranga on 5 October. Maritime New Zealand initially says that chemical dispersements were doing an effective job in cleaning up the oil spilling from the wreck. The pumping of the oil off the vessel doesn’t begin until 16 October. As time goes on it is also revealed dangerous substances are in some of the containers being battered about on the reef.

8. Phil Goff and the numbers. During The Press debate and in interviews on both Q&A and The Nation Labour Party Leader Phil Goff bumbles the numbers and fails to respond to questions with accurate figures that are the very basis of his party's policy proposals.

9. Pike River Mine CEO. Gordon Ward, who was the CEO of the Pike River Mine up to two months before the fatal mine explosion refuses to appear before the Royal Commission into the Pike River Mine disaster.

10. Tony Marryatt. Christchurch City Council CEO Tony Marryatt accepts a $68,000 pay rise then fails to return from his holiday or answer media queries when the pre-Christmas earthquakes occur. This follows his re-appointment as CEO in September after Major Bob Parker said he would resign as Mayor if Tony Marryatt’s contract was not renewed.

11. Wellywood Sign. Wellington International Airport announce they plan on erecting a Wellywood sign on a Miramar hill overlooking the Wellington airport despite strong public opposition. The City Council then gets involved and other options are explored.

12. Telecom. After Telecom’s ‘Abstain for the Game’ television advertisement was put on You Tube there was an international public slating of the advertisement which asked people to refrain from sex during the Rugby World Cup. The entire ‘Abstain for the Game’ campaign was then pulled before it even officially launched.

13. Darien Fenton. Labour MP Darien Fenton launches a personal attack on Mad Butcher founder and philanthropist Sir Peter Leitch because he said something positive about Prime Minister John Key. She says that because he is “suckingup to John Key” and is a "sycophant” she is never going near him again and will be boycotting Mad Butcher stores. She then goes on to say she won’t buy anything from people who support Tories. After Darien Fenton apologies for her public outburst, Labour MP Louisa Wall quickly negates the apology by justifying her colleague's attack on Sir Peter Leitch by stating:"We would have assumed Sir Peter was a working-class champion...if you look at what the National Government has done, it has taken workers' rights backwards."

14. Alasdair Thompson. Employment and Manufacturers Association (EMA) Chief Executive AlasdairThompson says women’s periods affected their productivity at work. When questioned further by TV3 he reacts with hostility and, as a result of his conduct, loses his job.

15. Steve Williams. NZ Golf Caddie Steve Williams refers to his ex-bossTiger Woods as a “black a...hole” at an Annual Caddie Awards Dinner in Shanghai.

16. Greens vandalism of billboards. Greens Party member Jolyon White and Anne Heins (the secretary of Green Party Co-Leader Russell Norman) admit to being involved in the vandalism of over 500 National Party billboards.

17. NZQA. NZQA’s Maths Exams for NCEA Levels 1, 2 and 3 are riddled with mistakes prompting hundreds of complaints.

18. Human Rights Commission. Human Rights Commission Adviser Marama Davidson publicly apologises to Ngapuhi elder David Rankin for insulting him on Facebook. However, she then sends him a private email withdrawing her apology thinking no-one else will find out about it and states: “In my personal capacity, I completely withdraw in full the apology that I have made to you in are not worthy of an apology from me...”

19. Valley Animal Research Centre. Margaret Harkema of the Valley Animal Research Centre in Himitangi says no dogs have been dumped or disposed of on the property. A Campbell Live story shows that is clearly not the case. The media investigation followed complaints from people who purchased Beagles on Trade Me and then found out they were from the research centre and had all types of ailments (with some dying within weeks of being with their new owners).

20. Michael Laws. Radio Talkback Host Michael Laws gives his view about journalists who reported on the teapot tape stating: “If I had a gun I'd shoot them - put them out of their misery - because they have gone rabid and they may infect others ...have you noticed ... the Herald on Sunday,for example, which is rabid all the time ... no idea why somebody hasn't taken the shotgun there and just cleaned out the entire newsroom."

21. Hutt Valley High School. An Ombudsman Report finds that Hutt Valley High School failed to take violent bullying seriously including the torture and sexual abuse of students on the school grounds.

22. JetStar. The airline Jet Star refuse to allow two disabled TV presenters to board their plane unless they have two, not one, caregiver to accompany them on the one hour flight.

23. Maui Gas Leak. TheMaui gas leak cuts power to over 5000 businesses in the North Island.

24. Michael Laws. Radio Talkback Host Michael Laws states that disability sports are ludicrous and that it is “crazy” paraolympians were eligible for Halberg Awards. "If you have had your legs chopped off,you shouldn't be in there at all. The fact that that guy was able to fall down,get up again and still win, shows that really there wasn't a hell of a lot of competition in his field was there?"

25. Ruth Dyson. Labour MP Ruth Dyson uses tax payer’s money for a private trip for her and her husband to Ethiopia. She then agrees to refund the $16,000 once the media question her about it – stating she planned to refund the money all along.

26. Trevor Mallard. Labour MP and Election Campaign Manager Trevor Mallard accuses political strategist Matthew Hooten, Kiwiblog owner David Farrar, Minister of Finance Bill English and the PSA of apparently paying for Otago University political analyst Dr Bryce Edwards to make attacks against the Labour Party. The attack is launched after some political data showed Labour was down in the polls. Labour MP Clare Curran then joins the conspiracy theory adding that the young Nats and ‘non-Labour left’ are suspiciously ‘cosy’with the academic Dr Bryce Edwards.

27. Carmel Sepuloni. Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni insults National MP Paula Bennett after she thinks she has won the Waitakere seat off National. However, five days later once the special votes are counted Paula Bennett wins back the seat for National leaving Carmel with egg on her face.

28. Martin Devlin. The sports broadcaster is removed from a Jet Star flight by Police after the captain calls for outside assistance to help manage Devlin’s behaviour.

29. Murray Deaker. Sports Commentator Murray Deaker refers to one of his colleagues on SkyTV as “working like a nigger”.

30. Mayor Celia Wade-Brown. Wellington Mayor Celia-Wade Brown emails city councilors telling them they should consider taking up ballroom dancing to help them improve their work performance and reduce stress.

Billie Jordan is a Public Relations consultant based in Auckland. She has over 25 years experience in communications, marketing and public relations.

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