It’s been a drama-filled year for some of Australia and the world’s biggest names, with a slew of celebrities and politicians making headlines — for all the wrong reasons.
According to Aussie public relations expert Catriona Pollard, some of 2018’s biggest public relations disasters have involved Barnaby Joyce and Karl Stefanovic’s messy relationships, Melania Trump’s “I really don’t care, do you?” jacket, Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet and Cricket Australia’s ball tampering fiasco.
And the surprising thing is, most of these scandals were entirely preventable.
“What ties these examples together is the fact they are interesting stories involving people who we form an emotional connection to — either positive or negative,” Ms Pollard told news.com.au.
“But another thing that links these situations is that they had the potential to be avoided.
“It’s important to note that a lot of these celebrities might not follow the advice of their own PR people — they are their own person, and just because Melania Trump’s people might have told her not to wear the jacket, it doesn’t necessarily mean she has to follow that advice.
“In that example, she may have even worn it for a reason, such as taking the heat of Trump in the media for a day — it could have been part of a bigger strategy, because from a PR perspective, we think holistically.”
But Ms Pollard said there were many ways to recover from a scandal or avoid it happening in the first place.
“The biggest way of bouncing back from mistakes is to take responsibility for the situation — people often try to cover it up, which worsens the damage. You need to be proactive and transparent about how you are going to manage the situation instead of just hoping it goes away,” she said.
“Another thing to understand is that now social media has a massive impact on any media story, so it’s important not to ignite it.
“But it’s also important to realise some celebrities use negative media coverage as a way of enhancing their careers — some people follow the old adage that all publicity is good publicity.”
Here’s a roundup of some of the biggest public relations fails of 2018.
According to Ms Pollard, Cricket Australia “failed miserably” by not being transparent once the ball tampering debacle was revealed.
“Not only was the issue aggravated by the mass speculation, but the organisation failed to quickly disclose all the facts,” she said.
“Crisis requires leadership and communication from the top down, and unfortunately for Cricket Australia, their lack of decisive action left the organisation to face horrible ramifications in the public eye.”
Melania Trump’s infamous “I really don’t care, do you?” jacket — which she wore to a children’s centre on the US border — immediately caused outrage.
While her spokeswoman claimed it was “just a jacket”, from a PR perspective it was a “poorly deliberated fashion decision”, Ms Pollard said.
She said fashion choices could boost or slash a celebrity’s reputation — something Meghan Markle has handled well by opting for a wardrobe of ethical and sustainable fashion.
One racist tweet made in poor taste destroyed the US star’s career and reputation and led to her sacking from her own sitcom.
“For better or for worse, tweets have come to craft reputations in the public eye,” Ms Pollard said.
But social media can also be used for good, with Ms Pollard pointing out Cher’s entertaining “stream of consciousness” twitter feed as an example of a celebrity who has nailed social media.
Ms Pollard said Barnaby Joyce’s decision to pocket a cool $150,000 after he and new partner Vikki Campion sold their story to the Seven Network was an example of “disgraceful PR”.
“Barnaby cashed in on his own infidelity, at a time conveniently leading up to the release of his own book,” she said.
“Barnaby’s lack of discretion exploited not only the dysfunctionality of his own personal affairs, but also the private life of his ex-wife, Natalie Joyce.”
By contrast, she said Natalie Joyce’s powerful, unpaid interview for Women’s Weekly was a brilliant move.
Ms Pollard said the Today host was a “recurring headline” for most of 2018 thanks to the “poor and very public management of the breakdown of his marriage” with ex-wife Cassandra Thorburn.
“Instead of keeping things under wraps, Karl enabled constant publicity surrounding issues on his personal life to interfere with not only his own reputation, but the reputation of his colleagues and the show,” she said.
As a result, Stefanovic’s future on Today is up in the air while Ms Thorburn has “positively taken advantage the media’s spotlight to cultivate her public image”.