From the flag debate to the outrage surrounding the TPPA, according to a Wellington public relations firm, this year the government was at the centre of the country's three biggest PR challenges.

The flag debate was thumbed by BlacklandPR as the toughest challenge, because it combined the highest public profile with the "strongest emotional reaction, impact, and complexity".

Firm director Mark Blackham said the issue affected almost every New Zealander and evoked a variety of responses, which made it a tough public relations assignment.

"A flag debate has all the ingredients for argumentative chaos because it sparks so many different reactions. While some argued over which flag they liked, others argued the flag shouldn't change, and others argued that they didn't even think the issue warranted any discussion at all.

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"The toughest task in a PR challenge is to get people talking about the same part of an issue -- only then can you persuade them," Mr Blackham said.

Second and third on the firm's rankings were the 1080 poisoning threat and the TPPA signing.

Mr Blackham said the 1080 poisoning threat was in the top three because of the profile and fear it instilled in the population.

"The public appear to be more alarmed than in the past by food safety issues, which have not changed in frequency. It may be a legacy of the Fonterra botulism blunder."

BlacklandPR firm director Mark Blackham says the public appear to be more alarmed than in the past by food safety issues. Photo / Steve Carle
BlacklandPR firm director Mark Blackham says the public appear to be more alarmed than in the past by food safety issues. Photo / Steve Carle

The TPPA issue was third on the list because of its persistence in news coverage, tenacity of opposition, its widespread economic effect and the complexity of the topic, he said.

"If you were aiming to alarm or satisfy people about the TPPA, you had a challenge in getting people to understand, or to feel connected to it."

PR disasters that topped the charts in other years included the police handling of the Roast Busters in 2013 and the carrots and lettuce poisoning in 2014.

Every year, BlacklandPR uses a scoring system to rank issues out of 10 for four factors:

•Impact -- how many people are consciously affected directly or indirectly,

•Profile -- media coverage and "talkability" in everyday life,

•Emotion -- the intensity of emotional reaction,

•Complexity -- complications and technicality of the issue.

This year, the Government and its agencies dominated the list with only 25 per cent of the "disasters" on the top 20 list belonging to businesses or non-government organisations.

Mr Blackham said it was a sign of how central government dominated New Zealand life.

The biggest PR challenges of 2015:

1. Flag campaign launch -- Government

2. 1080 scare -- Ministry for Primary Industries

3. TPPA trade agreement -- Government

4. SAFE calves campaign -- Dairy Industry

5. Rates increase -- Auckland City Council

6. Reduced milk payout -- Fonterra

7. Foreign driver issues -- New Zealand Transport Authority

8. Zero tolerance on speeding campaign -- New Zealand Police

9. Red Peak flag campaign -- Government

10. Return of Christmas Island detainees -- Government

11. Roast Buster report by the Police Conduct Authority -- Police

12. Cricket World Cup -- Cricket World Cup Organisers

13. Release of Chinese ownership list -- Barfoot & Thompson

14. Solid Energy bankruptcy -- Government

15. Mount Eden prison fight mismanagement and its contract -- Serco

16. Funding melanoma medicine -- Government

17. Roast Buster report by Chief Social Worker -- CYF

18. Fruitfly operation -- Ministry for Primary Industries

19. New wharf -- Ports of Auckland

20. Match fixing allegations -- New Zealand Cricket / Saudi Sheep Deal -- Government