What a cracker of a year it’s been for marketing and brand reputation, and we’re first to admit nothing is more shameless or disastrous than Tony Abbott.
But what happens when your brand has a colossal f*ck up, and all those marketing efforts disappear down the drain? We reeled in PR Disasters analyst and author Gerry McCusker to talk about reputation and PR disasters.
In the PR disasters of the decade, Essendon Football Club’s drug scandal came out on top, and in a country as obsessed with sport as Australia, it’s no surprise it went sour.
“Sport captures the passion and emotional soft sport of supporters,” McCusker told B&T.
“People are heavily emotionally invested in the outcomes of sporting games. It’s a ‘level playing field’. That’s exactly where the saying comes from – a level playing field is a place that is supposed to be fair, so people are doubly aggrieved.
“But in a PR disaster, facts don’t really matter,” McCusker added. “There is an appearance of wrongdoing, and we understand that it’s likely a trend, and it needs to be swallowed like a pill. Acknowledge culpability early on to move on. The thing to do is put your hand up early.”
McCusker’s hot tip is to follow the three R’s: “admit Regret, accept Responsibility, and take Remedial action”.
“When organisations are humble enough to do that, you get cut a little slack… The longer they wriggle to escape, the more it feeds the beast,” he told B&T.
“PR think they know the secrets but the audience knows the game.”
Asked what he thought of competitors capitalising on a rival’s total cock up, McCusker said, “It’s like asking someone for a date at a funeral”.
“It might be an opportune time, but there’s a vacuum they’re working in and it can be a really bad look.
Some brands could capitalise on another brand’s disaster,” he admitted. “But while it’s possible, it’s inadvisable.
“I think there’s a way for brands to have their reputation rehabilitated better than ever before. The loss of value in reputation is less important today.”
McCusker added that these days, people “expect sports people to do bad things”, and “we expect politicians to lie”.
“The trick is to go quiet for a long time, and let your actions speak for itself,” he said. “A brand that can’t catch a win can retreat for a while, act in more estimable ways… then step forward to show new intent and culture.
“We live in a much more shameless society, and reputation is less important today.”
Talking about past examples that have proven successful through clever PR, McCusker mentioned both Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia.
“Malaysia Airlines actually did the right PR job as far as crisis management is concerned.
“But AirAsia’s boss Tony Fernandes made a public announcement that was crafted and drafted perfectly. He spoke about concern, he spoke about empathy, and that’s evidence of PR in the ear of its chief exec… It was emotionally intelligent.”
And that’s one thing McCusker said is missing in the business of PR more than ever.
“It’s like people have a book of clichés. And they flick to page 25 and say, that’s close enough,” he told B&T.
“In the middle of a PR disaster, don’t use clichés to get out of it. Being emotionally expressive can position someone in a fresh way. In a disaster situation, you must avoid cut and paste clichés.
“The lawyer might think it’s the right thing to say, but no one else does. People understand how the game works.”