Year in PR purgatory for Government

By Andrew Koubaridis

Challenges highlighted some important rules over how to engage with the public and keep them on board.

The Ports of Auckland strike was one of the more difficult PR jobs. Photo / Greg Bowker
The Ports of Auckland strike was one of the more difficult PR jobs. Photo / Greg Bowker

Marmageddon was a coup, an insurance company sponsorship of the sacred All Blacks jersey was a near-miss, while the Government was on a hiding to nothing with controversial changes to the education sector.

The stories have featured in one public relations company's list of the 12 toughest PR jobs of 2012.

Wellington-based BlacklandPR has assessed which high-profile events this year faced the biggest challenges and director Mark Blackham said it was no surprise Government matters dominated the list.

"With each one we looked at what factors were in play and what are most complicated and most difficult to deal with - and Government seems to hit the wall every time."

The class size debacle and the plan to close Christchurch schools were always going to hit a nerve.

Mr Blackham said people had a strong emotional reaction to education issues.

"Because they have kids and their kids go to school every day so it's part of their lives ... So you put that stuff in there and you have a very tough PR challenge."

Some events, such as the Christchurch central city rebuild, had to happen and were always going to run into opposition.

"Sometimes in PR you say to your clients, 'Do you really want to do this?' and they do, so you have some modifying to do because there's no way stopping this being a PR disaster. But for them, they just have to do it."

However, AIG's sponsorship of the All Blacks was "textbook" PR.

"I think from the outside looking at it they got the job done. It was a fairly textbook-style announcement with talking about people's possible concerns [and] putting it in context - which is one of the biggest challenges in PR - saying, 'This is the world we live in now; you might not like it but you can't argue from that basis.' They did that well."

He said it was hard to predict how a story would run. "When you have a large mix of people involved they can get pulled in all sorts of ways that PR people can't stop from going."

Fleur Revell, managing director of Impact PR, said the Government "never had a shot" at selling the class size plan due to the number of educational experts who opposed it.

"To effectively communicate a restructure in an emotionally charged environment, it needs to be adequately sold to those concerned - in such a way that stakeholders can understand these changes are either an absolute necessity or the changes will result in a benefit where you will be at least as well off as you are now."

Ms Revell felt that was where most of the damage was done. "These well-versed groups were able to ensure their messages were heard throughout the media and put considerable pressure on the minister, forcing the Government to back down."

In terms of crisis management, when something went wrong it was best to tell the truth quickly and move on, she said.

Brand Strategist Wayne Attwell said it would be interesting to see what effect the AIG sponsorship would have on the All Blacks brand in a few years time because he felt it diluted the brand.

But he felt the Marmite shortage was a "great opportunity" that used a legitimate shortage as a brand exercise that also created demand.

"We have these anecdotal stories of people hoarding and selling on Trade Me so the company has used the opportunity well to reinforce their brand."


Toughest PR jobs

1. Government: Plan for schools in Christchurch

2. Government: Class size increase plan

3. Government: Introduction of the Christchurch Central Development Unit

4. Government Communications Security Bureau: Kim Dotcom

5. Solid Energy: Job cut announcement

6. Ports of Auckland: Strike

7. Fonterra: Trading Among Farmers scheme

8. ANZ-National: Merger day

9. Wheedle: Launch day

10. Government: Report on Pike River

11. Sanitarium: Continued non-production of Marmite

12. All Blacks: Inclusion of AIG as sponsor.

Source: BlacklandPR

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 26 Oct 2014 16:15:28 Processing Time: 425ms