The modern world is quick to jump on PR fails, and they certainly make for good fodder in an age of rampant sharing on social media. But in an effort to get people to appreciate the complexity of PR issues, Wellington PR agency BlacklandPR has created a list of what it deemed the most difficult PR challeges of 2012. And the merging of Christchurch schools took top spot.
BlacklandPR director Mark Blackham says the company assessed which high profile events faced the most complex and sizable communication challenge and the Christchurch school issue rated the highest because the far reaching scope of the building and logistics plan contrasted with the strong emotions of pupils and parents, against the background of the Christchurch earthquakes.
“Factors in the issue would challenge the world’s best PR exponents; Christchurch schooling has to be reorganised, thousands of people will be affected, and all of them fear change that affects their children’s educational futures,” he says.
Also in the top three PR challenges were the Government’s plan for changing class sizes, and the introduction of the Christchurch Central Development Unit.
Blackham says it was no surprise to find Government matters dominating the rankings, which it compiles to contrast with the 'PR Blunder' lists that make shallow judgements about issues.
“Government is always about very complex issues. It has to juggle competing and incompatible vested interests, professional sticky-beaks, and the national interest ... Complex matters, strong emotions and high stakes require astute communications. It’s easy to criticise others and to misinterpret events. It’s also easy to say something was a disaster just because it is controversial. Controversy is not in itself a blunder. In a pluralistic society, people are going to disagree. The job of public relations is to keep onside with those that matter, and to avoid other people getting so agitated they stop you doing your thing,” he says.
Blackham says the company predicted the toughest PR jobs in 2013 would be in Government, state assets, education, oil and gas, and sport.
The BlacklandPR 12 Toughest PR Jobs in 2012
Government: Plan for schools in Christchurch
Due to structural damage and population changes following the Christchurch earthquake, the Government proposes to close, merge and build new schools. Response: don’t talk about the issue beforehand. Announce plans to all schools with a big function. Colour code attendees according to their destiny. Explain thoroughly. Manage project in Christchurch. Respond to all dissent ignited. Offer consultation period. School and parent reaction understandably bad. Public protests. Programme still on track, and long term reputation effect TBC.
Government: Class size increase plan
As part of improvement and cost-saving programme, the Government plans to increase school class sizes, which research shows is a central tenet of parent’s assessment of school quality. Response: tough out plan for two days, announce new lower cap, then as dissent still builds, drop it entirely, blaming public reaction. Reputation loss (competence, management, parent-appreciation) severe.
Government: Introduction of the Christchurch Central Development Unit
After a long period of dispute and frustration, the Government is compelled to take over the local Council’s effort to post-earthquake rebuild. Response. Hyped announcement painting picture of what will happen next. Public reserve judgement.
Government Communications Security Bureau: Kim Dotcom
The secretive GCSB, unable to talk to the public, is found to have acted illegally against an assertive millionaire with an international profile, and the Prime Minister is implicated. Response: Apology from the PM. Agency trustworthiness damaged among citizens.
Solid Energy: Job cut announcement
The company central to the identity and employment of the West Coast announces layoffs, in a recession. Response: Unambiguous announcement and explanation. No reputation damage.
Ports of Auckland: Strike
The major export and import port is shut down in a bitter dispute and worker strike. Response: Present case publicly without fear. Business loss TBC. Reputation loss negligible.
Fonterra: Trading Among Farmers scheme
Numbingly complicated financial proposal of the company at the heart of NZ’s exports needs to be voted by 75% majority of member farmers. Response: Lots of communication from cheer leaders about benefits. Passed.
ANZ-National: Merger day
A respected and known brand is subsumed by a brand which is less so. Tens of thousands of customers affected by change in technology and branding. Response: Lots of communication about BAU. Customer reaction TBC.
Wheedle: Launch day
Big investors and marketing of a challenge to the iconic Trade Me. The online system fails on the first day. Response: Close and say you’ll try again very much later. Public reaction TBC.
Government: Report on Pike River
Government is judged to have had responsibility for some of the causes of the Pike River tragedy, which stopped a country. Response: Minister resigned. Looked like over-reaction, but blood was let.
Sanitarium: Continued non-production of Marmite
Marketing campaign builds up expectation of resumption of production of loved product, which then has to be delayed. Response: wrapped problem into campaign extension, but customer reaction TBC.
All Blacks: Inclusion of AIG as sponsor.
Iconic brand. History of dissent over commercialisation and changes to the “black jersey”. Response: got it done, with explanation and public shrugged.