Qantas and Commonwealth Bank top worst PR disasters of 2010

Budding entrepreneurs can learn from the mistakes of Australia’s worst PR disasters of 2010, with Qantas and Commonwealth Bank topping a top 10 list of the year’s biggest slip-ups.


Reputation management specialist Gerry McCusker, author of blog site PR Disasters, partnered with Bree Dwyer of online and social media monitoring agency Cyber Chatter to determine the worst PR disasters of 2010.


To qualify as a PR disaster, the incident must catalyse sustained negative media coverage for the brand, business or person at the centre of the story.


Using online and social media tracking technology Alterian SM2, McCusker and Dwyer looked at the number of online conversations relating to incidents and the tone of those conversations.


“This has allowed us to accurately gauge the impact of these PR disasters on the public perception of these brands,” Dwyer says.


Their findings identify the Qantas A380 engine blast as the worst Australian PR disaster of 2010, followed by the Commonwealth Bank’s premium interest rate rise.


Other PR disasters which made the top 10 include the David Jones sexual assault case, the backlash against Labor for its proposed mining super profits tax, the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal, and the crash of Virgin Blue’s reservations and check-in system.


McCusker says social media is having an increasingly heavy influence on determining the impact and duration of PR disasters.


“There’s no doubt that social media can extend the duration of a conversation [about an incident] because it acts like a grapevine,” McCusker says.


“In this digital democracy, people are becoming editorial arbiters… As citizen media clearly aids commentary and sharing of bad news stories, it’s essential to have strategies to cope with online sniping and gossip.”


“Every business, irrespective of size, should have some kind of social media monitoring capability.”


“You can’t play catch-up with a PR disaster – you can’t wait for 24 hours and then think you can do enough to recover it.”


“The first 24 hours are critical in determining how a disaster will play out. Organisations need to be able to monitor [social media] spaces effectively.”


McCusker says a lot of companies are loathed to intervene in negative conversations in case they exacerbate the problem.


“Sometimes, acknowledging there is an issue and committing to remedial action acts as a sign of faith and an expression of good intent,” he says.


“It’s not necessarily what has gone wrong [that leads to negative publicity]. It’s how you behave and the resolution. Do you look like an organisation interested in trying to make good on any damage that has been done?”


McCusker’s tips for managing negative publicity:

  • Detection is important, followed by expressions of concern and regret.
  • Take responsibility by acknowledging the problem and taking remedial action. For example, ‘we want to sort this out so this is what we will do’.


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