The PR disasters to avoid this year

We have analysed some of the biggest PR disasters of 2017 to forecast the most likely issues set to hit Australian businesses this year.

Assessing data from news and social media insights company Meltwater, here are the five topics that I predict will create PR challenges for Australian brands in 2018:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Incidents that occur on company property
  • Issues around marketing campaigns
  • Cyber attacks
  • Trust breaches

While crisis-aware businesses commonly rehearse for operational accidents like explosions or toxic contamination, they have hitherto not really viewed sexual harassment or marketing fails as serious crisis liabilities.

The rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are evidence of the new types of threats that will affect company image and repute. Both movements have successfully topicalised the issue, and mobilised people to openly call out workplace abuse. This is a good thing for company culture and staff safety, but not for brand repute.

Monitoring the data of cases from the entertainment and media industries also revealed strong negative stakeholder sentiment across many social and online news channels. It’s possible that the harassment issue has been too-long dormant in many other industries and could emerge imminently, when the issue is so widely reported.

The Meltwater data also shows the increasing globalisation of online content as incidents occurring in one country can travel to every corner of the globe. Take United Airlines’ incident from last year that saw a passenger heavy-handedly off boarded from a flight; the US-based incident was shared on Chinese social media platform Weibo, and received more than 550 million views and 240,000 comments.

Analysis showed that while most organisations will encounter new kinds of PR vulnerabilities, companies that take action early are able to reduce the long-term impact on brand reputation.

This is my advice for companies and organisations keen to protect their brands in 2018:

  • Start with staff – ensure any employee/staff issues are handled responsibly and sensitively
  • Listen better – use monitoring technology to find the online conversations circulating about your brand
  • Patch things up – computer updates must become a regular part of your workplace maintenance schedule
  • Do the drill – test and rehearse your crisis response plans, especially on topics that your business may have viewed as too difficult or confronting previously

Gerry McCusker, PR Disaster Analyst, EngageORM

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