PR Wins and Sins 2022

It’s been a whirlwind of a year as we emerged from COVID haze and saw a suite of PR wins and sins around the nation and the world. The year began with 1.5m distancing and closed with a 2.5k gathering of naked bodies in Bondi Beach – both an effort for health. Nicole Reaney, CEO, InsideOut PR breaks it down for us.

The Sins

When the Dom Perrottet announced the coined Let it Rip approach to managing Covid-19, it swung from wrapping us up in cotton wool (or masks) with extreme restrictions, guidelines, rules and daily press conferences to leaving the public to navigate the new variants and what ‘living with Covid’ meant. While isolation is something we were all familiar with, the new variants were not. Government lacked the necessary communication and support to provide Australians with guidance on what to expect and the impacts of Delta to them and in their various community, home, work and education environments. Scott Morrison announced RATs would need to be purchased, and then quickly backflipped realising the impact it would have on lower income earners and the elderly.

The messy regulations of vaccination saw an embarrassing handling of tennis champion, Novak Djokovic. Publicly voicing his no vax stance he arrived on Australian shores at a time where COVID cases were escalating and vaccination was mandated on the belief of a medical exemption. He was detained in a notorious immigration detention hotel and his visa cancelled. The court later overturned the decision to cancel his visa, but in a heated volley of conflicting powers then-Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used special discretionary powers to cancel it again, arguing it was in the public interest to do so. Djokovic was finally deported and world headlines exploded on Australia’s treatment of the international athlete, of course all this just ahead of the Tourism Australia’s campaign, Come and Say G’day.

As flights began to restore this year following state and international border closures, Qantas has been a serial headliner in the media – for all the wrong reasons. The airline was criticised for its inability to perform operations at a most basic level. Its customer service line was severely blasted in media and social forums with unanswered questions and claims of some customers waiting up to 20 hours on hold. Lost baggage became another major area of neglect with one passenger calling out Qantas after waiting three months for her bag to be returned. The airline streamlined and simplified its core offering and for meals this translated to “chicken or chicken”. Once priding itself as a leading airline with chef designed meals, customers were paying exorbitant flight fees and receiving an under-par experience on so many levels.

Decades of campaigning to profile, advance and position women in various aspects in society were said to be crushed this year as a portion of the public voiced concerns of a global leaning for more inclusive language. From Apple’s introduction of the pregnant man emoji to the announcement of the medical replacement of “mothers” and “women” to “birth-givers” and “pregnant people” and shifting references like “breastfeeding” with terms such as “lactating parents”. While inclusivity is welcoming and a crucial advance for our world, caution is needed to ensure it doesn’t have unintended consequences of disregarding and eliminating women which has serious implications in so many realms. This importation transition requires consideration to ensure what we do adjust is considered, balanced and supportive to everyone.

What’s an annual wrap up without Meghan and Harry entering the headlines. They continued their plight for privacy and their aversion to media, conducting interviews with The Cut, announcing a release of an autobiography to striking major media deals with Spotify and Netflix through podcasts and a docuseries. They appear to breach their own privacy demands. Further criticism circled the couple when Meghan revealed an unsubstantiated claim that her marriage to Harry was greeted in South Africa with a similar rejoicing as when Mandela was freed from prison.

As extreme weather events confronted the nation and Sydney battled its wettest year on record, it appeared the The Bureau of Meteorology wanted to get in on its rising notoriety. The Bureau asked media outlets to stop referring to it as “the BoM” and for it to be referred to as “the Bureau”. There were reactions of outrage and jokes at the mere suggestion, and days later the Bureau conceded and finally accepted that people can refer it to how they want. And THAT is the BoM.

While over to the Oscars, many questioned if they were viewing slapstick comedy when actor, Will Smith struck Chris Rock in what he reasoned as defence for his wife. Debate circled the socials, but in the end Will single-handedly shattered his image. He was served a 10-year ban from the Oscars and resigned from Hollywood’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In 2021 Optus called it a little too early when it announced its ambitions to be Australian’s most loved everyday brand. This optimism was shattered in a data leak impacting as many as 9.7 million customers. The communication to customers was delayed and unclear. Consumers were unsure of their exact impact and the steps they should or can take. As a communications company, people rightly expected more.

Founded on the premise to promote free speech, Instagram released a monetised service where subscribed followers are charged anywhere from 99c to $99.99 a month to view content from accounts with more than 10,000 followers. The charge is discretionary and there is no arbitrary determination to setting the fee. Meaning on a quick surf of the platform, one mega influencer with over 1m is charging $4.49 each month while a macro with 147k followers has chosen to charge a monthly of $14.49.

The Wins

Over the years we have seen viral selfies – from Ellen’s Hollywood group at the Oscars to Jen’s casual Friends reunion. But the year began with a different kind of selfie. It was the Covid selfie. One by one celebrities and media personalities were going down, from Hugh Jackman to Natalie Bassingthwaigthe to Sarah Harris. The Government couldn’t have asked for a better campaign with famous faces doing the hard work for them in a free publicity campaign. This wave of posts normalised the contraction of Covid and actually supported the Government’s intention of learning to live it.

Cancel culture was targeted to Spotify earlier this year relating to the Joe Rogan podcasts. The relationship was set up to diversity the brand’s and establish its podcast offering. Calls to #deletespotify were triggered due to claims of Covid misinformation and past use of racial slur. Rogan apologised and Spotify rightly removed 42 shows.

Companies can be quick to react to the loudest voices, but sometimes those voices aren’t representative of the total market and it’s a judgement call on the direction to take. Spotify handled the situation by acknowledging there were causes for concern and acted in the removal of those shows. The Joe Rogan Experience’ was just announced as the ‘the most-streamed podcast worldwide – demonstrating its widespread appeal.

2GB and Sky News have upheld their reputation as they took immediate action towards host and journalist, Chris Smith. It is so easy for corporations to delay or sweep scandals under the carpet. But acknowledging the protection of their staff has been paramount to how the public and advertisers will perceive their brands. After a couple of lockdown years it appears People & Culture heads need to remain vigorous and communicate policies of harassment ahead of the party season. As employees whether involved or not involved comment to media – another element to consider is company statements and media and social media policies.

The country celebrated Ash Barty for her win at the Australian Open, becoming the first home Australian Open singles champion in 44 years. She rocked the media world as she announced her shock retirement ending her career at an all time high. Ash is famed for everything she represents as a successful female athlete who is adored right around the country and brilliantly takes every win in her stride.

Queen Elizabeth’s passing was a monumental occasion. There are not many people in this world who would cause a global population to pause and mark their life in such a significant way. Monarch and republics put differences aside and what was celebrated was her leadership, resilience, dignity, calm. As challenges and conflicts unfolded right around the Royal Family, she remained poised, did not feed into the media frenzy and rumours. Whenever statements were made they were always concise, considered and kind. Queen Elizabeth worked to her last day in reigning in the new Prime Minister. It is estimated around 4 billion people watched the funeral, which included 3.9 million Australians.

Nicole Reaney, CEO, InsideOut PR


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