PR watchdog names Qantas grounding the biggest PR disaster of 2011

The Qantas grounding has been selected as 2011’s biggest PR disaster according to a public relations watchdog.

The PR blogsite and its author Gerry McCusker said the airline’s decision to ground its fleet was a “business decision that inconvenienced and angered a nation”.

Qantas managed three disasters in the top ten.

The airline placed second with the #QantasLuxury twitter promo in which it asked customers what luxury meant to them and resulted in a Twitter backlash; and fifth with the rugby-related black-face controversy, in which the airline awarded two fans tickets to the Bledisloe Cup for painting their face black like Wallaby player, Radike Samo.

It’s the second year in a row Qantas has topped’s list, securing the top spot in 2010 for its A380 emergency.

The airline also placed number 1 in Mumbrella’s social media controversies for #QantasLuxury.

The list was calculated by the online monitoring agency CyberChatter.

  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 – bitchy 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!

McCusker said: “The data suggests that microblog tool Twitter is most often used to vent anger at brands and personalities who get their PR wrong. And the most vocal Aussie critics appear to be those in the 25-34 age bracket, although over-50s were out in force against the Qantas grounding.”


  1. Ann
    10 Jan 12
    9:25 am

  2. I think people will forgive Qantas and move on.

  3. Marrickvillain
    10 Jan 12
    10:18 am

  4. Qantas wasn’t a PR disaster. It was very controversial behaviour. Calling it a PR disaster implies that the incident was something that could have been better communicated and ‘fixed’ by PR. PR cannot magically protect or repair a company’s reputation when it behaves badly.

  5. Peter Rush
    10 Jan 12
    11:53 am

  6. Creepy that this topic should come up.I was just looking out the window wondering where the my next freelance job coming is coming from (16 years’ agency experience, contactable through Linked In ) and wouldn’t you know it, a Qantas plane flew overhead. Freaky.

  7. Sam
    11 Jan 12
    9:44 am

  8. Although I have some sympathy for Joyce and the decision he had to make regarding the grounding of the fleet, I’d have to agree that from a PR perspective it probably was the worst one of the year. Sucks for Qantas making the top two on the list. Ouch…

  9. High Flyer
    11 Jan 12
    10:19 am

  10. It may have been “a PR disaster” but it was the right move by QANTAS and therefore irrelevant

  11. Jörn Sanda
    11 Jan 12
    11:10 am

  12. This watchdog must be a dachshund… Poor thing lacks perspective.

    One’s got to give Gerry McCusker credit for creating a site that people turn to, but like so much on the internet, its value is questionable.

    Not sure if a subjective list of disasters is of much value to anyone when there’s no alternative approach offered. And anyway, Qantas grounding it’s fleet was probably not a decision taken by the PR department…

    And anyway – what makes it a disaster when the business has emerged in the best way possible, facing a disaster of being held to ransom by strikes…

    Bet you there are several ‘disasters’ happening right now with PR’s sending the wrong releases to the wrong journalists, or God forbid, there’s probably a junior PR person currently hassling a journalist by calling to find if the press release made it through. There’re disasters the industry is responsible for. . .

  13. fraser
    11 Jan 12
    12:02 pm

  14. I think other than Alan Joyce announcing a huge pay rise just days before the grounding the strategy was a success from both a PR and business prospective.

    The PR strategy was perfectly managed and executed with Joyce everywhere and articulating why the action had to be taken, Joyce acted as the figurehead/scapegoat for all PR and it helped ensure he took all the blame as opposed to Qantas the brand. From a business prospective it finally put an end to the very costly strikes. I think how the trade unions acted and communicated was more of a PR disaster, for Tony Sheldon to publicly say that the Transport Workers union would ensure a slow roasting of Qantas was short sighted and an embarrassment for all its members.