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NZ's 12 toughest PR jobs 2012

According to a new ranking issued today by BlacklandPR, the merging of Christchurch schools was the toughest public relations job faced by anyone in New Zealand in 2012.

BlacklandPR Director Mark Blackham says the company assessed which high profile events faced the most the complex and sizable communication challenge.

The Christchurch school issue rated the highest because the far reaching scope of the building and logistics plan contrasted with the strong emotions of pupils and parents, against the background of the Christchurch earthquakes.

“Factors in the issue would challenge the world’s best PR exponents; Christchurch schooling has to be reorganised, thousands of people will be affected, and all of them fear change that affects their children’s educational futures,” Mark Blackham said.

Also in the top three PR challenges was the Government’s plan for changing class sizes, and the introduction of the Christchurch Central Development Unit.

Mr Blackham said it was no surprise to find Government matters dominating the rankings. “Government is always about very complex issues. It has to juggle competing and incompatible vested interests, professional sticky-beaks, and the national interest.

He said BlacklandPR compiles the rankings to contrast with “PR Blunder” lists which make shallow judgements about issues.

“We’d like people to appreciate the complexity of PR issues. Complex matters, strong emotions and high stakes require astute communications. 

“It’s easy to criticise others and to misinterpret events.   

“It’s easy to say something was a disaster just because it is controversial. Controversy is not in itself a blunder. In a pluralistic society, people are going to disagree.

“The job of public relations is to keep onside with those that matter, and to avoid other people getting so agitated they stop you doing your thing,” he said.

“The 13th most challenging issue was introduction of the Ministry of Education’s teacher pay system. The difficulty with ICT glitches is that it’s hard to disentangle human error from technical problems. PR’s main job is to establish and hold empathy between everyone involved,” Mr Blackham said.

Note: See full list below. 

Contact: Mark Blackham, Director, BlacklandPR. 021 891 042 / 04-499 6940

BlacklandPR is a Wellington-based PR consultancy built for the social era. It specialises in today’s type of tough issues, using modern techniques to help organisations talk with real people.

The BlacklandPR 12 Toughest PR Jobs, 2012

  • Government: Plan for schools in Christchurch
    • Due to structural damage and population changes following the Christchurch earthquake, the Government proposes to close, merge and build new schools. Response: don’t talk about the issue beforehand. Announce plans to all schools with a big function. Colour code attendees according to their destiny. Explain thoroughly. Manage project in Christchurch. Respond to all dissent ignited. Offer consultation period. School and parent reaction understandably bad. Public protests. Programme still on track, and long term reputation effect TBC. 
  • Government: Class size increase plan
    • As part of improvement and cost-saving programme, the Government plans to increase school class sizes, which research shows is a central tenet of parent’s assessment of school quality. Response: tough out plan for two days, announce new lower cap, then as dissent still builds, drop it entirely, blaming public reaction. Reputation loss (competence, management, parent-appreciation) severe.
  • Government: Introduction of the Christchurch Central Development Unit
    • After a long period of dispute and frustration, the Government is compelled to take over the local Council’s effort to post-earthquake rebuild. Response. Hyped announcement painting picture of what will happen next. Public reserve judgement.
  • Government Communications Security Bureau: Kim Dotcom
    • The secretive GCSB, unable to talk to the public, is found to have acted illegally against an assertive millionaire with an international profile, and the Prime Minister is implicated. Response: Apology from the PM. Agency trustworthiness damaged among citizens.
  • Solid Energy: Job cut announcement
    • The company central to the identity and employment of the West Coast announces layoffs, in a recession. Response: Unambiguous announcement and explanation. No reputation damage.
  • Ports of Auckland: Strike
    • The major export and import port is shut down in a bitter dispute and worker strike. Response: Present case publicly without fear. Business loss TBC. Reputation loss negligible.
  • Fonterra: Trading Among Farmers scheme
    • Numbingly complicated financial proposal of the company at the heart of NZ’s exports needs to be voted by 75% majority of member farmers. Response: Lots of communication from cheer leaders about benefits. Passed.
  • ANZ-National: Merger day
    • A respected and known brand is subsumed by a brand which is less so. Tens of thousands of customers affected by change in technology and branding. Response: Lots of communication about BAU. Customer reaction TBC.
  • Wheedle: Launch day
    • Big investors and marketing of a challenge to the iconic Trade Me. The online system fails on the first day. Response: Close and say you’ll try again very much later. Public reaction TBC.
  • Government: Report on Pike River
    • Government is judged to have had responsibility for some of the causes of the Pike River tragedy, which stopped a country. Response: Minister resigned. Looked like over-reaction, but blood was let.
  • Sanitarium: Continued non-production of Marmite
    • Marketing campaign builds up expectation of resumption of production of loved product, which then has to be delayed. Response: wrapped problem into campaign extension, but customer reaction TBC.
  • All Blacks: Inclusion of AIG as sponsor.
    • Iconic brand. History of dissent over commercialisation and changes to the “black jersey”. Response: got it done, with explanation and public shrugged.


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