Thursday, January 9th, 2014 - Gerry McCusker of the PR Disasters blogsite.


The Essendon footy club has grabbed the flag at the annual list of PR blunders and gaffes awarded by spin doctor watchdog and blogsite

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.

As Australia’s new Liberal government took office, deteriorating relations with Indonesia after spying allegations scooped a bronze in the Awards. The old Labor government’s contentious attempts at media reform also won a gong securing spot ‘5’ in the listings.

Colourful horse racing personalities Gai Waterhouse and John Singleton nosed into a fourth-placed finish when their spat erupted into a very public war of words. Politician Craig Thomson’s court battles kept a place in the top ten PR blunders list for the second year in a row.

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.

Gerry McCusker, the ‘PR Disasters’ blog owner observed:

“The ways that some brands and governments handle PR issues often actually makes their image problems worse. Trying to manipulate and ‘spin’ rather than talk straight still seems popular, yet can make the issue hang around longer.”

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 expenses – 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.

Contact Profile

Gerry McCusker of the PR Disasters blogsite.

The ‘PR Disasters’ blogsite – run by reputation management specialist Gerry McCusker – monitors real-life outbreaks of PR gaffes. Now in its 9th year, the site is designed to help individuals and organizations avoid actions, decisions or strategies that can attract negative media attention, thereby damaging their reputation or ‘PR’ status.

Gerry McCusker
P: +61 407 805070


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