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From Pete Evans and Ellen DeGeneres to Meghan Markle, these were 2020’s biggest PR fails

He had been slowly transitioning from loveable foodie to persona non grata for a while, then Pete Evans really hit rock bottom.

It’s no secret that 2020 has been rough on all of us – but it has been especially brutal for once-beloved celebrity chef Pete Evans.

While Evans has been making headlines for the wrong reasons for years now, it was in 2020 when he cemented his reputation as a full-blown conspiracy theorist, with his decision to share a Nazi symbol on social media seen as the final straw by many outraged Aussies.

Aussie public relations expert Nicole Reaney told Evans was a “serial source of controversy”, with his sensational claims that he doesn’t “believe in” the deadly coronavirus pandemic also causing widespread fury this year.

Evans has also made headlines for all the wrong reasons in the past for everything from his divisive views on diet and health to his criticism of sunscreen and his spruiking of a $15,000 “BioCharger” which supposedly eradicated COVID-19 – a move which saw him slapped with a $25,000 fine by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

“His outlandish claims land him in the ‘high risk’ bucket, bringing caution to any brand that may wish to partner or align,” Ms Reaney said.


US comedian Ellen DeGeneres compared coronavirus quarantine to being in jail while broadcasting from her multimillion-dollar mansion earlier this year – a comment which spearheaded the demise of her personal brand.

Since then, a string of employees have come forward with claims of bullying and a toxic office culture behind the scenes of her popular talk show – which is all the more galling given her reputation as someone who continually spruiks kindness.

“The latest reports reveal the show is now struggling to book celebrity guests and to attract advertisers after a year of negative headlines,” Ms Reaney said.

“Even her apology didn’t accept upfront ownership, which worked against her brand image.

On Australia Day, Michelle Bridges dominated the news cycle after being charged with drink driving with a minor in her car.

According to Ms Reaney, the scandal caused the health guru’s “usual uplifting, confident and wholesome persona (to) be shattered with a negligent decision”.

However, unlike other celebrities, Bridges was able to turn things around.

“What worked for Michelle Bridges in this instance was her upfront ownership of the situation, although social commentary did question some of the details relayed,” Ms Reaney said.


When Harry and Meghan announced they would be stepping down from royal duties and moving to the US, it kicked off a flurry of media attention of the kind they were apparently trying to avoid.

While there was a great deal of public sympathy regarding the relentless scrutiny the couple were under, their subsequent actions tarnished their image.

“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,” Ms Reaney said.


There have been some PR success stories in 2020.

This year, TV king Karl Stefanovic managed to claw back from a disastrous 2019, which saw him booted from Today.

But he’s risen from the ashes and returned to the show that made him a household name this year, with the public responding positively to both his work and personal life this time around and Stefanovic helping to narrow the ratings gap with competitor Sunrise.

“The chemistry and collaboration with Allison Langdon has been strong and the public has enjoyed having them as part of their morning’s entertainment,” Ms Reaney explained.


At the start of the year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was copping serious flak after jetting off on a Hawaiian vacation while Australia burned during the deadly bushfires.

But according to Ms Reaney, he has managed to reinvent his image in just 12 months by steering the nation through the pandemic.

“He trended from Scotty from Marketing #Wherethebloodyhellareyou and #wheresScotty to a Prime Minister who fronted up to press conferences night and day, leading the country in the ever-changing demands of the situation and the juggle of various stakeholders,” she said.

“Hard decisions were made and support mobilised to impacted individuals and businesses.

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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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