Friday, January 9th, 2015

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott finished 2014 with an award for Public Relations. But following his many media gaffes, it’s probably one he won’t want to claim.

The PM topped the list of 2014’s biggest PR Disasters, publicity blunders and media mis-steps awarded by spin doctor watchdog and blogsite

After assessing media monitoring statistics and trends on sustained, negative media mentions, the PM scooped the accolade thanks largely to his “winkgate” and “shirtfront” PR nightmares.

NRL – a regular feature of each year’s awards – was again well-represented thanks to a stream of contributions from Todd Carney and Greg Bird, while TV’s most lambasted ‘pop-up’ star – Blake Garvey from The Bachelor – won a bronze after a series of reputation-ripping, romantic flip-flops.

The Australian PR Disaster Awards – now in their 9th year  – highlight the worst examples of business, celebrity, government, media and sports PR “cock-ups”. The awards assess PR problems in both traditional and online media, including social media.

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 2014 (biggest disaster first):

1. Tony Abbott – when the PM sleazily winked at an ABC radio host over a sex-line pensioner’s phone-in contribution, then threatened to ‘shirtfront’ Russia’s Vladimir Putin, mainstream media and social channels were ablaze with vocal condemnation.

2. Malaysia Airlines – despite a near textbook PR response, the airline was still heavily criticized criticised for the lack of clarity, efficiency and speed in handling crisis information and assistance over its – still – missing MH370 flight.

3. Blake Garvey/The Bachelor – the star, and the reality TV show he appeared in, became objects of media scorn and ridicule. Blake was dubbed the “most hated man in Australia” after dumping Sam Frost weeks after proposing on the TV show finale, only to start dating the show’s 2nd runner-up.

4. Joe Hockey – when the Liberal Party’s money man quipped that ‘poor people don’t drive cars’, in his attempts to smooth waters over a planned fuel tax increase, he had effectively driven his own reputation into the ditch.

5. Rolf Harris – shock revelations that the Aussie entertainer had preyed on young girls while his career was at its peak, hit headlines all across Australia instantly turning the once well-regarded Rolf into the much-reviled Rolf.

6. Scott Morrison – 2014 was the year that Mr Morrison’s sparse, media drip-feed policy regarding ‘on water matters’ was implemented. Despite attempts to restrict information flow on a ‘hot topic portfolio’, Morrison’s sporadic pronouncements were strident to the point of provocative; the resultant media coverage and commentary was decidedly unflattering.

7. Palmer United Party – after a series of disastrous media interviews by party head Clive himself, then internal squabbling, fraud investigations and PUP Senator Lambie quitting the Party, the media headlines that followed anything Palmer-esque were typically negative.

8. Greg Bird – the Gold Coast Titans’ co-captain saw his repute reputation disappear into the gutter after being charged with public urination – on or near a police car – following his wedding in northern New South Wales. The incident was an embarrassing look for the NRL star, and for his club and code.

9. Todd Carney – as photos of the soon-to-be-sacked Cronulla Sharks rugby star started ‘bubbling up’ across social media, the viral sharing effect meant that images of the apparently self-hydrating Carney would become a matter of unmovable digital record.

10. Packer Gyngell Brawl – the sight of two of Sydney’s most recognisable media heavyweights street-fighting in Bondi proved to be a media feast and one that showed how frustrated egos makes for extended, explosive media coverage and criticism.

Gerry McCusker, author of the ‘Public Relations Disasters’ book and blog commented:

“2014 characterised how many of those who made the Top 10 failed to see how decisions in their professional life, would have negative repercussions for their personal reputation and vice versa.”




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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


PR disasters, PR disaster, PR gaffes, public relations, Tony Abbott, shirtfront, winkgate, MH370, The Bachelor, Blake Garvey




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