The PR Guru

September 29, 2010

Australia’s Next Top Model PR Disaster

Here at Richard Swancott Associates we are always on the lookout for PR Gaffes to share with you and there seems to be a never-ending supply.

Yet another PR disaster hit the headlines last night, with the news that Australia’s Next Top Model announced the wrong winner during the live final of its sixth series.

This is obviously a PR crisis for the TV show because, in the digital age, the announcement would have been spread across Twitter and the Internet as it happened. It has also found its way onto YouTube, here.

Kelsey Martinovich had been revealed as the champion (through the public voting system that is so popular these days) and was making an acceptance speech when presenter Sarah Murdoch (Rupert’s daughter-in-law, a model and TV presenter) interrupted her.

Ironically, Sarah was completely distraught to have to announce that the real winner was 18 year old Amanda Ware, but Martinovich took the news really well.

The most intriguing thing for us though is the way they attempted to cover up the gaffe by claiming that the lead kept changing and that it was an incredibly close decision. They also said that this was one of the drawbacks of live television.

Fox obviously felt obliged to compensate Martinovich for the mistake and gave her the equivalent of £15,162 and a free trip to the US by way of apology. Ware won an eight-page spread in a women’s magazine, a contract with a modelling agency, a Levi’s campaign, a cash prize, a new car and a trip to New York.

However, this is not the first bit of conspiracy surrounding the show. When Jodhi Meares was host she blundered her way through the show’s 2007 final, and pulled out of the 2008 broadcast with just 48 hours’ notice. It seems that the finals are cursed.

This news brings back memories for me of the 2008 Strictly Come Dancing final, when Tom Chambers won. Many felt that the winner had been wrongly announced then. Let’s hope that the new series, which starts on Friday, has none of these hiccups.


September 27, 2010

India suffers a PR nightmare

PR Gaffes happen all the time, because people speak without thinking and what they have said is instantly recorded by the press. Even months later, the press can pick up on things, such as how the Indians promised the forthcoming Commonwealth Games would turn the country around and have failed to deliver on their promise.

It seems that the Indian Commonwealth Games are going to be a public-relations disaster because the Indian Authorities talked up just how much the event would show the country’s new-found maturity. However, images of collapsing footbridges, bug-infested accommodation and child labourers suggest that the £2 billion invested by India‘s government was misused.

People have been shocked by just how little has actually been done, especially since there have been some successful developments in India; including the Bombay-Pune highway and the Delhi Metro. However, nothing like this seems to have been constructed around such a high-profile event like these games. The country’s rivalry with China will also be hurt because the Beijing Olympics in China were wonderfully organised; with the birds-nest stadium being a hit with the world and the grand opening ceremony a spectacle for viewers to see.

The crisis in Delhi is not the fault of the poor people living in shacks adjacent to each venue, as shown by the media, but is all down to the rulers who promised that things would be different. Most Indians don’t care about the Games, because it will not have much effect on them and they are just using the crowds as a way to make money.

On the day the negative stories about the Games first surfaced, the Bombay Stock Exchange hit a new high. India is led by a man who has probably profited more from absolute poverty than anyone else living today. It seems this PR Gaffe could actually be benefiting the country more than hindering it.

Because expectations were not high, the country will survive the PR disaster, but the image of India they wanted to create has been destroyed.

Of course, PR gaffes happen locally too. Some local PR stories in the last few months include Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service spending £500,000 on public relations and communications, as well as Prince Philip’s reference to Stoke-on-Trent as ‘ghastly’. Will people ever learn to think before they speak?

April 28, 2010

PR Gaffes for April

Has Gordon Brown just blown what limited chance he had of winning the General Election?

In the PR gaffe to end all PR gaffes, he was heard on microphone calling a voter he’d just spoken to ‘a bigoted woman’, and has probably destroyed what was left of his plummeting popularity.

Gillian Duffy, a 65-year-old former Labour voter from Rochdale, grilled the PM on crime and the economy, before moving onto the issue of immigration and specifically the number of Eastern Europeans in the country.

He made the comments as he got back into his car, not realising a Sky News mic was still attached to his shirt.

Speaking later on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2, he apologised unreservedly for his comments – he had no choice really as the recording was played back to him in the studio – but you have to wonder how the electorate will react.

It was only a matter of time before a PR gaffe happened on the campaign trail, but somehow you knew it wasn’t going to be David Cameron or Nick Clegg who came out with it.

With the outcome still far from decided, the PM‘s outburst could mean the difference between him being involved in the next Government and not.

And while we know he has never been the most media savvy politician, surely that should have been at the forefront of his mind before he opened his mouth?

Or will he be respected more for expressing his opinion?

I think we all know the answer to that question. I bet Cameron and Clegg are wetting themselves laughing, especially with the last leaders’ debate coming up!

Of course, he’s not the only politician to have made a PR gaffe this month.

Here are our thoughts on the so called “Twitter Suicide” of Stuart MacLennan, 24, who was standing in the Moray constituency for the Scottish Labour Party.

MacLennan’s sacking as the party’s candidate follows a plethora of gaffes made on Twitter, from referring to OAP’s as “coffin dodgers”, calling Nick Clegg “a B******”, and labelling fellow passengers at Stirling train station “chavs”.

Politicians and leading figures should be wary, because once someone has committed comments to the blogosphere it is nigh on impossible to remove them from the internet.

If in doubt of the appropriateness of a comment do not use them (especially not when there is a forthcoming General Election).

Given that MacLennan‘s comments first surfaced in December of last year, the Labour Party seem to be incapable of monitoring the suitability of their social networking activity.

Why were these comments not moderated and dealt with by MacLennan‘s colleagues?

Politicians do need to work harder than ever before to both appear more human and show some individuality. Foul mouthed tirades such as those of MacLennan are entirely the wrong way to do this.

Hopefully the electorate will make their decision next Thursday on which party will run the country properly, rather than PR gaffes like these.

In either case I think the Labour Party is in pretty big trouble!

And finally, a long-awaited change of subject for our final gaffe.

Almost every modern family in the western world has one.

That unusual furry, fluffy, feathered or scaly individual we’ve come to accept as being a normal member of our close family.

I’m taking, of course, about our pets.

We spend countless hours trying to get a grasp of their complex personalities, a remarkable amount of our hard-earned cash to keep them happy.

We personalise their belongings, some of us even tuck them into bed at night.

Remember the grief you had as a child when Fluffy “ran away”?

Now imagine how that would be amplified if you found out your little friend had been baked to death in the hands of industry professionals whilst you were out running your weekly errands.

A branch of Pets At Home in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, left pedigree Shih Tzu puppy Daisy in a drying cage unattended and as a result  the dog chocked to death on her own vomit.

Not the most pleasant of endings by a long chalk.

The staff member who was in charge of the dog went on her lunch break and asked two other members of staff to “keep an eye on” the dog while she was out.

It just goes to show that having the most stores does not make you the best.

A spokesman for the company said: “We have given our condolences to the family”.

I understand that taking a life of a family pet is not an easy thing to reconcile, but surely more than an apology is due here?

With outraged comments on the Daily Mail’s website, from users demanding to know why the police or the RSPCA we’re not involved in this matter, you would think that the company would go out of its way in order to at least take more responsibly on the matter.

Here’s a prime example where taking a strong business approach is crucial.

The glitz and glamour of a whirlwind PR campaign would simply add insult to injury. A lifetime’s supply of food and merchandise for future and/or other pets just would not cut it in this case.

The only way out of this is to knuckle down, reform your training ideas and as a company, step up to the mark, and rectify your tragic mistake.

That’s it for this month. See you again in May for more cases of foot-in-mouth disease.

March 22, 2010

PR Gaffes for March: bonus content :)

I know we added a post about March’s PR gaffes last week, but I could hardly contain myself from commenting on two big stories to come out since that post…

Everyone enjoys a little break from the hectic office schedule now and again and, with the added promise of a something sweet to nibble on, our urge to indulge is that little bit greater. However it came to light on Wednesday that our tradition of elevenses could be damaging more than just our waistlines.

Greenpeace reported that Indonesia’s largest palm oil supplier Sinar Mas is coping with the vast increase in demand by employing illegal deforestation techniques, and therefore destroying the natural habitat and source of food for the Orang-utan.

The report by the organisation also claims the company are treating the animals as “pests”, with workmen killing off younger Orang-utan in order to prevent them from causing a problem in the future.

This in itself is bad enough; but when you add Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage corporation into the mix, things are only headed for the worse.

With Palm oil being a key ingredient to the firm’s globally popular Kit Kat products (the company produces the equivalent of the height of the Eiffel Tower every five minutes) it is easy to see how demand for the Palm oil has almost doubled in three years.

Greenpeace UK (as expected) has taken an aggressive front on this crusade. With the cleverly sinister parody of the iconic Kit Kat advert floating around video sharing sites like You Tube as well as staging boycott campaigns outside the Nestlé’s offices in East Croydon which featured activists dressed as Orang-utans scaling the office building, you would have thought that Nestlé would of ensured the use of very contrite PR methods to rectify the potentially destructive situation.

However, eager to defend the company’s fair trade policies, Nestlé took an equally aggressive front, demanding that the video be removed from You Tube under the grounds of copyright infringement and unleashed their ire on Facebook and Twitter protesters.

When will corporates learn this is not the way to deal with a social media outrage?!

In response to whether the company was going to work harder in order to source palm oil from sustainable sources at a much sooner date, as opposed to the company’s original forecast of 2015, the reply was simply this: “as soon as quantities are available we will be doing that … but we are not going to promise things we can’t deliver.”

Again, not the humble, caring attitude expected from such a huge multinational company during such a controversial PR firestorm.

Secondly, this week’s media has still been under the barrage of the seemingly never ending British Airways strikes.

With day three well underway, it is increasingly hard to keep up with reports of who really is “winning” the war between Willie Walsh and the hundreds of cabin crew that are demonstrating their anger on the picket lines.

With numerous reports on The Guardian’s news blog showing that BA’s claims that strikes are barely affecting business as “pure fantasy” as well as a catalogue of cabin and ground crews views on the situation, it seems that the energy surrounding the epicentre practically bellows over any PR attempts that BA bosses utilise.

It seems that the disputes have morphed into a fact checking row that has somehow over taken the initial point in hand. Much like a school yard chorus of “He said, she said” it’s virtually impossible to distinguish the facts, let alone trying to focus on the underlying issue among the din.

BA has responded to the endless list of acquisitions with a very serious timbre, “As a PLC, British Airways is legally obliged to ensure that it does not release information that is misleading or inaccurate… Any suggestion in media reports that information we have issued is untrue implies that the airline’s management is acting unlawfully… Unite has no way of obtaining accurate figures as to how many customers are on our aircraft or how many crew are reporting for work.”

But, despite the tittle tattle and  inconveniences caused to tens of thousands holiday goers (the hook that regularly features in the media, that is presumably BA bosses main hope to swaying them back into favour), it is hard to ignore that “sick it to the man” element to the whole episode.

I think the vast majority of us just wish they’d get it sorted out.

December 31, 2009

PR Gaffes of the Year 2009 (Part Three)

Apologies for the delay with this update, I succumbed to the dreaded lurgy this week.

Anyway, moving swiftly on to May’s PR disasters, there are a few to choose from. Pigs were continuing to get a bad rep for spreading their swine flu around.

And Silvio Berlusconi was back in the news after his wife filed for divorce, after claims the 72-year-old had attended a young girl’s 18th birthday party.

With his usual dignity and humility, he subsequently blamed the story on his political opponents in the Italian media, and bizarrely claimed his soon-to-be-ex-wife had fallen into a trap!

Perhaps he should have been more contrite and apologised for his behaviour?

But by far the biggest story of May 2009 – and the obvious winner of the prize for this month – was the MPs’ expenses scandal.

Using documents leaked by a civil servant, the Telegraph revealed over the course of several weeks that the British tax payer had footed the bill for:

  • toilet seats,
  • bath plugs,
  • biscuits,
  • teddy bears,
  • a duck house (my own personal favourite),
  • chimney sweeps,
  • a moat-cleaning,
  • porn,
  • dry-rot
  • and a partridge in a pear tree (sorry, I’ve still got my Christmas head on).

Perhaps the most galling element of the whole story was the insistence by many MPs they had done nothing wrong. Many, including our own favourite Alan Duncan, still feel they did nothing wrong.

Well perhaps that’s true, according to the letter of the law, but did they not think such crass waste of our money might grate with us, just slightly?

I have no problem with our money being used to pay for the spending associated with holding the highest office in the country. I have no problem with them having a second home, if their constituency is a distance away from London.

But duck houses??? Moat cleaning???

Whether this has done untold damage to Westminster’s reputation remains to be seen. I suppose we will find out at the ballot box next year. But it’s not exactly endeared MPs to the rest of us, has it?

On the plus side at least they have won our tinpot prize for May.

June was also a good month, with Sir Fred Goodwin kindly agreeing to reduce his pension by £200,000 per year (although he kept his £2.8m lump sum and his £2.6m bonus, and will still rake in £345,000 pa), and scores of Government ministers resigning.

And WHSmiths embarrassingly ruined their Father’s Day gift displays by suggesting ‘The Crimes of Josef Fritzl’ as a possible present! Perhaps they thought of it as a ‘How Not To…’ guide.

But the winners for June had to be the French. Some might say they are a walking PR disaster and deserve a category all of their own! I could not possibly comment on that 🙂

However, they certainly did themselves no favours this summer. Not content with refusing to invite the Queen to their D-Day celebrations at the end of May, they were also on the receiving end of an hilarious snub from President Obama!

News came out in June that the President and First Lady, in France attending those D-Day celebrations, declined a dinner invitation from their French counterparts, Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni.

Relations between the two leaders have not been great, since Sarkozy privately criticised Obama’s supposed lack of knowledge on climate change, but this is unlikely to improve them – to the amusement of those of us looking in.

It capped a bad couple of weeks for Sarkozy, pilloried by his own media for his snub to Queen Elizabeth, and while he had no part in this himself, he can have this prize as a little consolation.

December 24, 2009

PR Gaffes of the Year 2009 (Part Two)

March saw UK Financial Investments, the body managing the UK taxpayers’ stake in the bailed-out banks, reveal that Royal Bank of Scotland could have slashed Fred Goodwin’s pension in half by sacking him, and online backup company Carbonite admit to losing 7500 customer backups.

And as a precursor of things to come later in the year, Tory MP Caroline Spelman was forced to make a humiliating apology for spending £10000 of taxpayers’ money on her nanny. And most importantly repay the cash.

The money had come from Spelman’s expenses, breaking Commons rules. She described it as an ‘unintentional’ breach – little did we know how many times would we hear that description in 2009!

Westminster’s reputation certainly took one helluva battering this year.

The prize for March has to go to Stoke-on-Trent City Council though. My local council is no stranger to the PR gaffe (despite spending almost £1m per year on their press and PR office), and this one is no worse than some of the other disasters, but it just made me smile.

This time they hit the headlines for building a new library in Stoke town centre, a sanctuary for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life – right next to a loudspeaker repair shop!

This was despite repeated warnings from shop owner Simon Boote before construction work began.

Not only that, but they then complained about the noise! Mr Boote could now be forced to close his business, SGB World Services, which hires and tests PA systems.

So, congratulations to Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which surely deserves the prize for their services to the PR industry over several years.

April was another good month for PR gaffes.

One lead to panic in New York City, as the US Defense Department approved a new photoshoot for Air Force One, the President’s plane. Not controversial in itself, but which idiot decided it was a good idea to have a plane flying very low over Manhattan?

This one.

This is Louis Caldera, director of the White House Military Office and the man who authorised the shoot, supposedly without President Obama’s knowledge. He resigned shortly after the incident.

Maybe you should tell the people of Manhattan before your next photoshoot, eh?

April was also the month Italian President Silvio Berlusconi decided to insert his Size 9 forcefully into his mouth – not for the first time, and I’m sure not the last.

He suggested the 17000 Italians made homeless by the country’s biggest earthquake for 30 years should ‘see it as a camping trip’. Yes, what a brilliant little jolly, forced to deal with sub zero temperatures for God knows how long and sleep next to people you barely know!

Just how on Earth has this man become a billionaire? It gives hope to the rest of us at least.

But the prize for this month has to go to Domino’s Pizza employees Kristy Hammonds and Michael Setzer, who posted a video of themselves doing disgusting things to sandwiches on YouTube.

The duo filmed themselves putting cheese up their noses, bogies on the food, and ‘violating other health code standards’ which shouldn’t be revealed on a family blog.

Needless to say there was an online outcry, and caused huge damage to the Domino’s brand in the States. Within a couple of days, the video had been viewed over a million times, and it dominated search engine results.

The pair were fired and arrested, before being charged with delivering prohibited foods. The company is also preparing to sue them.

Domino’s acted decisively, but took far too long to respond, hoping the furore would die down. By the time they’d released a statement, two days after the video was posted, the damage was done.

It certainly makes you wonder which bonus toppings are actually arriving on your Domino’s pizza doesn’t it!

We’ll be back on the 27th with our review of May and June.

December 17, 2009

And the winner is…

Congratulations to john at headline promotions, subscriber to this blog and winner of our laptop competition!

The lucky beggar has won an Advent Roma 1000, with a 2.2GHz Intel Celeron processor, 160GB hard drive, and 3MB memory. And it comes complete with Windows 7 OS and Microsoft Office 2007 too!

Just get in touch with us at Richard Swancott Associates as soon as possible and we’ll get your prize over to you!

We were inundated with entries – over 600 in all – but there can only be one winner (because I don’t want to bankrupt the company!) and John’s name was picked out of a hat last night.

So thanks to everyone who entered, and keep your eye on this blog because we’ll be running more competitions next year!

And in between we will be updating it with fantastic tips on improving your PR campaigns, podcasts with well-known entrepreneurs, video blogs and general musings on any PR gaffe in the news at the time!

December 3, 2009

Thoughts on Tiger Woods’ ‘personal sins’

Filed under: Uncategorized — richardswancott @ 1:28 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Tiger Woods gave a very public statement yesterday which was supposed to put the story of his little scrape at the weekend to bed. Sadly, it’s done exactly the opposite! And it’s also provided the perfect example of how not to do a media statement!

Here’s what he said, and what we think of his comments… (Tiger fans, look away now)

I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves.

In one fell swoop the opening line cranks up the level of mystery and interest, somehow leaving a loose end flapping about, as uncontrolled and dangerous as a downed power line.

I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect.

Hope you’re talking about not tipping in restaraunts or giving away the ending to books.

I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors…


with my family.


Those feelings should be shared by us alone.  

Bit naive here Tiger. You have a high public profile which you have fostered and maintained through adverts, guest appearances and tv interviews; you’ve seen enough people in your position go through situations like this to know how it works.

I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week, my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives.

Events that happen outside your house, down the street from your house or which involve the police turning up are NOT intimate Tiger. “Intimate” is the last word you want to be using; it translates into “sordid” in most people’s minds and even the slightest hint of sex is enough to set tabloid hacks burrowing away like woodworms in a finely-carved, irreplaceable piece of antique walnut furniture.

The stories in particular that physical violence played any role in the car accident were utterly false and malicious.

That might cut some ice if we hadn’t already seen the pictures of the car. At the very least, your wife shouldn’t have claimed she broke the car’s windows with a golf club to free you. People’s minds will start trying to work out the mechanics of that straight away and will notice the discrepancy between the phrases “backed into a tree” and “had to be dragged from the wreckage”.

But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy.                                                                                                               

Of course you have a right to privacy, but you’ve stirred up the angry bee-swarm of public interest. There’s no lake of anonymity to dive beneath the surface of and if you just try to ignore it, this story is going become more protracted and damaging with the papers and the internet making increasingly bizarre claims about your personal life which you will find it harder and harder to rebutt. Release a statement giving us the details, put the story to bed on your terms, then drop off the radar for six months to a year; you’ll get some privacy and the media will find something else to get excited about.

Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions.                                

The story’s in the paper now Tiger, the toothpaste is out of the tube and won’t go back in. It’s not going to go away any time soon and no journalist is going to be shamed out of covering it by you questioning their ethics or complaining about what this is doing to your family. You’re the one whose actions have done the most damage to your family and I doubt they’ll appreciate you holding them up as some sort of media-shield now.

I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves. For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology.                                                                                                

That’s a pretty lofty ideal to aim for; how about you just try to be a better driver. Nothing like this need come out again so long as you master the act of reversing a car.

Well, there you go. Never thought I’d be offering Tiger Woods advice on how to improve his driving. 🙂

He really needs to sack his PR team pronto, and put out another statement, if he’s going to put this to bed any time soon.

Blog at