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Turei’s benefit fraud ‘confession’ the toughest PR job in 2017

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

In a year dominated by politics, New Zealand’s toughest public relations challenge for 2017 has been named as the fallout from Metiria Turei’s benefit fraud ‘confession’.

The annual ranking issued by BlacklandPR concludes that Metiria Turei’s benefit ‘confession’, the Wiri pipeline breakage, and Labour’s first 100 days, were the nation’s toughest PR challenges of the year.

It was the first time in the annual list that three issues were tied at the top. In a tie-breaker, it was determined that the emotions sparked by Turei made it the most challenging PR job.

"Turei’s confession stands apart because it tapped into deeply-dividing views on fairness and justice," Blackland PR Director Mark Blackham said.

"It evoked strong emotions and had high levels of ‘talkability’. Everybody had a position on it. That makes managing such an issue incredibly hard.

BlacklandPR uses a scoring system that ranks issues out of 10 in four factors - Impact (how many people are consciously affected directly or indirectly), Profile (media coverage and ‘talkability’ in everyday life), Emotion (the intensity of emotional reaction), and Complexity (complications and technicalities of the issue).

In previous years the PR Challenges list has been headed by issues like Housing, Roastbusters, vegetable recalls and the Fonterra botulism issue.

"The Wiri pipeline breakage was complex because of the blurring of responsibility between the large number of organisations and people involved. But it was made harder to resolve from a PR perspective because of public figures speaking about the issue, and speculation by media.

Mr Blackham said political issues on this year’s list were comparatively not complex, but still ranked highly because of national profile, impact on people’s lives, and emotions stirred.

"We grouped the Coalition’s policy plans into the single issue of the "first 100-days". The reputational challenge was hardest not from any single policy promise, but because of the intensity of public scrutiny, and complexity of getting the policies started," Mr Blackham said.

The list’s assessment team separated the end of education 'National Standards' from the Coalition’s 100-days because the policy reversal would place high communication demands on the Ministry of Education, and the impact was still to play out for tens of thousands of parents.

Contamination fears reflected by Government agencies

Mr Blackham said public hazard and bio-security issues were responsible for one-quarter of the top 20 PR challenges for 2017.

"Issues relating to people’s health or safety are a regular feature of this list, but there are more than usual this year. We think this is due to stronger awareness and interest in health and bio-security, rather than an actual increase in such risks.

"The heightened alarm has many contributors, from more monitoring and research, and media and public interest in risk, and an institutional bias toward publicising - particularly ahead of any need or benefit from doing so."

"The irony is that more publicity about risks only seems to increase interest and worry about risks, rather than reassuring people. Publicity also tends to generate unreasonable expectations about what can be done to diminish the chances of things going wrong."

Waikato DHB: 2017’s annus horribilus

Mr Blackham said the assessment team gave special mention to Waikato DHB for its "annus horribilus".

"Waikato DHB stood out this year for what we call a ‘black hole’ issue, where a small PR issue grows and threatens to suck in a whole organisation.

"What started as a story about incompetence and financial mismanagement has morphed into scrutiny about the DHB’s abilities to perform core functions such as accrediting drinking water."

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