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Biggest PR blunders of 2011 revealed, Qantas features heavily


Qantas plane

Qantas has been listed three times in the annual PR Disasters Awards, after a spate of embarrassing PR glitches hit the airline in 2011. Are there any lessons SMBs can learn from Qantas’ mistakes?

PR watchdog and blog PRdisasters.com revealed its 2011 Disaster Award winners yesterday, with Qantas taking the first, second and fifth spot on the list thanks to the grounding of its fleet, its disastrous luxury pyjamas Twitter promotion and the rugby union competition that asked Wallabies fans to paint their faces black to win a prize.

Brendan Fevola’s spectacular fall from AFL grace and Tony Abbott’s awkward TV interview with Seven News reporter Mark Riley rounded out the top five.

Catriona Pollard, public relations expert and director of CP Communications, told Dynamic Business SMBs can learn a number of valuable lessons from the 2011 disaster list.

“In a world of social media and 24 hour news a simple mistake can now quickly turn into a PR disaster reaching a wider audience faster than ever before,” Pollard said.

According to Pollard, the lessons to be learnt from the top PR disasters of 2011 are:

1)    Test your theory on a smaller audience. If Qantas had asked a sample of their staff or friends if they thought luxury hashtag idea was suitable, perhaps they could have stopped the crisis before it even went online.

2)    Do some research. A quick Google search of marketing mistakes and social media crises might just give you a snapshot of what has been done before – and what has gone wrong.

3)    Choose the right spokesperson for your business, not always the most senior person. Ensure they are media trained and come across as knowledgeable and genuine.

4)    Don’t underestimate the power of social media. Customers nowadays turn to this medium to share positive opinions and vent when they are unhappy. Monitoring your social media accounts and addressing an issue in a professional manner as soon as possible is the most proactive solution.

5)    Think before you send. The problem with making snap decisions and reacting quickly to the fast-paced world of social media is a mistake can be seen by thousands incredibly quickly. Do some research, ask some questions, make a plan and stick to it.

Pollard also suggests SMB owners can avoid PR mishaps simply by thinking before they speak, treating others how they’d like to be treated and by ensuring they’re honest and accountable for their actions.

“By treating the world of media, social or traditional, with the same respect as you treat the real world, the chances of a PR mishap will be much less,” she said.

Australia’s Top 10 PR Disasters for 2011 are:

1. Qantas grounding – business decision that inconvenienced and angered a nation
2. Qantas luxury Tweet – poorly conceived Twitter promo which drew ire not idolising
3. Brendan Fevola – termination of troubled star’s contract with Brisbane Lions
4. Tony Abbott – mute, shaking-head TV interview freeze
5. Qantas golliwog – social media promo, which catalysed a racial brouhaha
6. Ricky Nixon – PR fallout from unseemly association with the St Kilda teen
7. Larissa Behrendt – rude  comments against Bess Price published on Twitter
8. Kyle Sandilands – personal vendetta against a journo forced a humiliating apology
9. Australian Defence Force – Cadet Skype-cam sex scandal
10. Gasp Retail – bad customer service flowed from in-store to email; a PR 101 fail!

The awards are calculated by online monitoring agency CyberChatter and highlight the worst examples of business, celebrity, government, media and sports PR blunders. The results assess the most talked about PR disasters in both traditional and online media, including social media spaces. 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.