In a year dominated by politics, New Zealand's toughest public relations challenge for 2017 has been named as the fallout from Metiria Turei's benefit fraud confession.

The annual ranking issued by BlacklandPR found the former Green Party co-leader's confession, the Wiri pipeline breakage, and Labour's first 100 days to be the nation's toughest PR challenges of the year.

It was the first time in the annual list that three issues were tied at the top. In a tie-breaker, it was determined that the emotions sparked by Turei made it the most challenging PR job.

Turei stepped down from her co-leader position after revealing she had committed benefit fraud 20 years ago.

"Turei's confession stands apart because it tapped into deeply dividing views on fairness and justice," Blackland PR director Mark Blackham said.

"It evoked strong emotions and had high levels of 'talkability'. Everybody had a position on it. That makes managing such an issue incredibly hard."

BlacklandPR uses a scoring system that ranks issues out of 10 in 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), and Complexity (complications and technicalities of the issue).

In previous years the PR Challenges list has been headed by issues such as housing, Roastbusters, vegetable recalls and the Fonterra botulism issue.

"The Wiri pipeline breakage was complex because of the blurring of responsibility between the large number of organisations and people involved. But it was made harder to resolve from a PR perspective because of public figures speaking about the issue, and speculation by media".

Political issues on this year's list were comparatively less complex, but still ranked highly because of national profile, impact on people's lives, and emotions stirred, Blackham said.

"We grouped the coalition's policy plans into the single issue of the 'first 100-days'. The reputational challenge was hardest not from any single policy promise, but because of the intensity of public scrutiny, and complexity of getting the policies started."

The list's assessment team separated the end of education system "National Standards" from the coalition's 100-days because the policy reversal would place high communication demands on the Ministry of Education, and the impact was still to play out for tens of thousands of parents.


Contamination fears reflected by Government agencies

Public hazard and biosecurity issues were responsible for one-quarter of the top 20 PR challenges for 2017.

"Issues relating to people's health or safety are a regular feature of this list, but there are more than usual this year. We think this is due to stronger awareness and interest in health and biosecurity, rather than an actual increase in such risks," Blackham said.

"The heightened alarm has many contributors, from more monitoring and research, and media and public interest in risk, and an institutional bias toward publicising – particularly ahead of any need or benefit from doing so.

"The irony is that more publicity about risks only seems to increase interest and worry about risks, rather than reassuring people. Publicity also tends to generate unreasonable expectations about what can be done to diminish the chances of things going wrong."

Waikato DHB: 2017's annus horribilis

The assessment team gave special mention to Waikato DHB for its "annus horribilis".

"Waikato DHB stood out this year for what we call a 'black hole' issue, where a small PR issue grows and threatens to suck in a whole organisation.

"What started as a story about incompetence and financial mismanagement has morphed into scrutiny about the DHB's abilities to perform core functions such as accrediting drinking water."

The rankings

1. Green Party - Metiria Turei 'confession'

2. Government - 1st 100 days

3. Refining New Zealand - Wiri pipeline breakage

4. Hasting District Council - Water contamination inquiry

5. Winston Peters - Coalition announcement

6. Ministry of Transport - Joanne Harrison fraud

7. Ministry of Primary Industries - Kauri dieback

8. Ministry of Education - Changes/removal of National Standards

9. New Zealand Transport Agency - Reopening of SH1 (Kaikoura)

10. Regional Councils - Commercial water bottling

11. Labour Party - Jacinda Ardern secures party leadership

12. Fuel companies - Fuel price inquiry

13. Waikato DHB - Financial impropriety and incompetence

14. Auckland Council, Team NZ, Government - America's Cup hosting decisions

15. Government - Pay equity for caregivers

16. Fonterra - CEO salary and bonus

17. Ministry for Primary Industries - Mycoplasma bovis

18. Ministry for Primary Industries - Myrtle rust

19. Bay of Plenty Regional Council - Edgecumbe flooding and inquiry

20. Ministry for Primary Industries - Bonamia in oysters