Taylor Swift, Optus, Barbie & Prince Harry: Here are the PR wins and sins of 2023

From Taylor Swift's record-breaking Eras tour, to Prince Harry's hugely-controversial media tour, 2023 has had some major highs and lows. InsideOut PR CEO and founder Nicole Reaney wraps up the biggest PR wins and sins of this year.

Who knew what would be in store for us when we spearheaded the year off the back of lethal spinach and headfirst into a chip shortage sending Aussies into a frenzy. Of course 2023 saw a range of PR wins and sins from brands and personalities in the public eye, here’s my take…

PR Sins

Prince Harry should have probably spared us his ‘tell-all’ Hollywood style interviews, appearances and documentaries and settled on just publishing his memoir, Spare. Despite the memoir missing peak Christmas trade, it became the fastest selling non-fiction book of all time with 1.43 million copies sold during its first day sale around the world in January, and 64,000 in the first week in Australia, netting him $20 million.

Despite the success in sales when it comes to Prince Harry’s personal brand – it has been tarnished through the former antics of the couple. In 2017 he was adored as the fun, cheeky, kind-hearted brother, but by 2020 his image has been totally transformed.

The Queensland tourism board surely has its sights on new tourism ambassadors for its ‘Queensland is Calling’ campaign. The spat with Michael Clarke and text messages shared with Pip Edwards caused a repeated stir in media, and perhaps on reflection he is thinking he probably should have called instead.

Talks of the great resignation was taken on quite literally with a number of political members walking out on their roles. Jacinda Ardern led the pack with her shock announcement in January. Her global popularity surge from her maternal leadership of the Christchurch massacre in her introductory years toppled with electoral polls revealing a slide to 29 per cent from per 2020 peak of 59.5 per cent.

While her initial pandemic approach was admired, this became overshadowed as it lingered to draconian lockdowns and the true social and economic effects of these decisions became realised with the ensuing state of poverty, housing and economy.

Dan Andrews and most recently Annastacia Palaszczuk followed in Jacinda’s footsteps announcing their resignations in September and December respectively. Commonly their polarising decisions around lockdowns, economic decisions and untimely holidays stemmed the fury.

The White House became a shadow of its former self when it took its name quite literally. News of the discovery of cocaine at the White House sent it into a spin with evacuation and investigations in place. With no forensic evidence to narrow the suspects beyond a list of 500 staff and visitors, the investigation was closed.

Shein has become Australia’s number one online clothing retailer. Interestingly, favoured most by eco and social conscious generation Gen Z, for its cheaply priced fashion, accessories and homewares. The company now operates in more than 150 countries and achieves A$688 million in sales on our shores. Shein has announced its intention to list in the US stock market in 2024.

While typically the popularity, sales and expansion would be ‘a good news story’, the company has lost its shine, hit with allegations of labour abuse, poor quality and unsustainable manufacturing output. Worldwide the fashion sector is under more and more scrutiny for its sourcing, social and environmental practises. Surely the success of this brand will reach a tipping point, unless is undertakes a significant refocus into the integrity of how its products are made.

When 10 million customers couldn’t call on Optus for nine hours for phone or internet access businesses were forced to shut down, suffer financial losses and downtime. The then CEO, Kelly Bayer Rosmarin was no where to be seen with no upfront communication as businesses were seeking to determine the extent and duration of the outage.

Finally when she did confront the media following the height of the crash, she was criticised for her lack of empathy and the meek offering of free data which didn’t even scrape the top of the damage companies endured. As a telecommunications business and following their data leak crisis last year, Optus should know this better than anyone. Recognising and owning the issue, communicating and determining a way forward should be the immediate approach for any business in damage control.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese shifted his image as a consequence of The Voice Referendum. A ‘Yes’ campaign ended up being a resounding ‘No’ on our leader with the nation voting against the proposed change in October. The campaign was handled abysmally with absence of details, clarity and clear communication explaining the proposition and what a Yes or No vote means. The average person didn’t actually know what they were voting for.

PR Wins

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a movement that took hold in 2023 with many businesses recognising the potential power from automating to providing additional lines of thinking without additional headcount.

IBIS World 2023 cites 551 Artificial Intelligence businesses in Australia as of 2023. Just as social media took hold in the early 2000’s, AI and adaptation are not likely to disappear. Businesses should be monitoring the technology, especially within their sector, trying out some of the tools to familiarise and determining when is the right time to adopt it for their business.

It was ‘the girls’ that won the heart of the nation in 2023. Taylor Swift was named Time’s Person of the Year, after her record Eras Tour ticket sales and concert film. It’s estimated that over $1bn in ticket sales was generated and a further $250 million for the film.

From music/entertainment over to sport, the Women’s World Cup hosted in Australia crushed it for women’s sport – elevating their profession and building a more balanced attraction of audiences. The team’s match against Canada was viewed by more that 2 million people – a ratings record despite the match clashing with the Ashes at the time. Coined the Matilda Effect, a subsequent $200 million was injected into women’s sport to help support female athletes and encourage greater female participation.

Handballing the entertainment over to film, the Barbie movie brought $1.3 billion to the worldwide box office, becoming one of the only female-dominated movies among the top-grossing films of all time. The movie attracted generations – with the doll debuting in 1959.

The Kings Coronation was a significant event in the world calendar with an estimated 400 million tuning in to watch – despite coming off the back of Prince Harry’s memoir. Decades back, as Prince Charles, he was met with criticism and perceived as the ‘colder’ member of the family. In recent years, we have seen his image evolve through adoration as a grandfather and his mild responses to the public slaying of the Royal Family.


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