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2020 PR Sins and Wins

First, the sinners

The year erupted in heated debate over Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s (ScoMo’) stealthy holiday in Hawaii at the height of fires devastating the nation. But, did anyone pause to think… that he may just have had a premonition on our future world – where boarders would close and international travel cease, meaning it certainly was ScoMo’s last chance to sip on a poolside Mai Tai and enjoy his tropical itch.

Media and social commentary splashed photos of Morrison enjoying his getaway. While #Hawaii and #howgoodishawaii began trending on Twitter along with #Wherethebloodyhellareyou and #wheresScotty. There are a number of elements that sparked the media storm, from the timing, to the absence of an announcement and upfront communication leading the public and media to ‘own’ the narrative. While the apology and his trip cut short were important steps forward, it came following articles of the Leader of the Opposition lending his hand and sadly lives lost to volunteers.

As Aussies gathered their thongs, chucked a shrimp on the barbie and sipped on their VB, they did not expect to see dedicated health professional and mum, Michelle Bridges, in a weighty ordeal charged with drink driving charges with a minor in her car. Stories of the charges dominated headlines and social media commentary for many weeks. The interest surrounded the antithesis of a wholesome guru caught in a dangerously unhealthy act. The public saw a persona or someone usually so strong, confident and together, suddenly depicted in a sorrowful distressed state. What worked for Bridges in this instance was her upfront ownership of the situation, although social commentary did question some of the details relayed. What could have strengthened her image at the time, was not conveying her relationship breakdown as a justification one hand while confirming it was not an excuse on the other.

When Harry and Meghan (The Duke and Duchess of Sussex) announced they would be stepping down from Royal duties and moving to the US, this amplified the very media attention they were overtly seeking to avoid. Kind of like the Kardashians announcing a social detox and posting the news on Instagram. The public were split with some acknowledging the hardship the couple faced with relentless scrutiny of their every move. Another source of backlash was their voiced intention to scale back and remove themselves from the face of media, but suggestions of staged photo opportunities followed by a major Netflix deal questioned the true intent of the move. Another element that contributed to the image mishap was the pair taking on the media with a lawsuit at the height of the pandemic.

Speaking of tone deaf, 2020 was the year the world faced isolation. Some took it better than others. Like billionaire David Geffen who shared his hope that “everyone is staying safe” in an Instagram post uploaded from his $590 million super yacht. And Ellen DeGeneres who compared quarantine to being in jail while broadcasting from her multimillion-dollar mansion.

In fact, this instance spearheaded the fallout of Ellen’s personal brand. As someone who continuously spruiks compassion and care, we witnessed people in her team “not being kind to one another” reporting bullying and a toxic workplace. The latest reports reveal the show is now struggling to book celebrity guests and to attract advertisers after a year of negative headlines. Even her apology didn’t accept upfront ownership, which worked against her brand image. Celebrities, talent managers and sponsors undertake due diligence and need to be cautious in who they align to, ensuring they don’t compromise their own brand.

The wins 

But amid the sins, some amazing wins circulated at a time when it was needed most, commencing with the bushfire effort to restore communities. Celeste Barber won the world over in her remarkable fundraising effort attracting millions of donors and raising over $50 million. The crux of the positivity to her personal brand was how one ordinary person (albeit with a strong social following) had the power to raise such an incredible amount. Of course the legalities surrounding where the funds would land was unfortunate and led to the public being more tentative around appeals moving forward. Other celebrities stepped forward to lend their hand from Chris Hemsworth reportedly donating $1 million, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban’s $500,000 to Russell Crowe’s $400,000. In times of hardship, it is a very compassionate and positive move for people with a profile to step forward and make a pledge to support those less fortunate. In fact, it can put the spotlight on the ‘haves’ who bunker down and choose to lay low.

The pandemic provided a platform for politicians to sink or swim. From Scott Morrison, to Glady Berijiklian to Dan Andrews, Australia observed these leaders front up to press conferences night and day, leading the country in the ever changing all-consuming demands of the situation along with the juggle of various stakeholders. The community saw their distress and appreciated the hard decisions and ongoing support to individuals and businesses. The ongoing interviews and window into the personal and family side of these state and national leaders, enabled the public to view them from new lenses and ultimately contributed to a more favourable image. The brand equity built in this time, meant that when allegations surfaced of Berijiklian’s personal relationship, the controversy was short-lived as people respected her integrity and leadership through a very difficult time.

The Black Lives Matter movement, while devastating, led to a global movement of awareness. In the US alone it is estimated 15 million to 26 million people rallied; with protests held in more than 60 countries. Daily headlines and social media commentary enabled new conversations and the opportunity to rethink embedded culture. The cause prompted individuals and organisations to reflect on their values and the way they communicated to embrace inclusivity.

Who would have thought David Attenborough’s debut on Instagram would win him a Guinness World Record. Outshining Jennifer Anniston, he reached one million followers in under five hours.

2020 was certainly eventful, with everything thrown at it from natural disasters to a global pandemic. It was also the year toilet paper became our nation’s most prized possession. The wins often triumphed from times of adversity, while the sins will sure be lessons learnt. We can all now appreciate the value in taking the time to pause.

Nicole Reaney, Director of InsideOut PR and founder of influencer agency, #AsSeenOn . Nicole has extensive experience in corporate and consumer PR and Communications and is available to comment on topics.

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