2014 has been a year filled with monumental public relations nightmares both for individuals and institutions. In this first of a three-part series, we take a look back at the year and bring you a list of the biggest public relations nightmares both for the government, opposition and individuals, as well as the rare success stories in communication during the year. By all standards, the government has been the biggest victim of the most damaging PR blunders during the period. But the main political opposition was also not spared the embarrassment.
Below is the first summary of the biggest political PR Nightmares of 2014:
The Biggest Political PR Nightmares
1. $156million Sanitary Pad Loan: Funny as it may sound, the decision by the current government to add a line item for the provision of free sanitary pad to underprivileged students as part of a US$156 million loan from the World Bank became one of the major PR nightmares for the regime. Despite the credible evidence of girls dropping out of school as a result of experiencing their menstrual cycle, there was a major furore in the media over the decision. The political oppositional make capital out of it and created the impression that the government went to borrow a whopping US$156 million dollars to buy sanitary pads. The initial attempt at setting the records straight did not appear to be adequate. But with time, the issue died a natural death.
Professionally, we believe the negative vibe against government could have been avoided by simply including the item under a different generic label. The fact that only a minute portion of the money was going to be spent on this item made it worthless of the negativity it brought to the image of the government.
2. The US$3.5 million Brazil Fiasco: Perhaps the grandmaster of all PR Blunders for 2014 was the government’s decision to airlift a whopping $3.5million to Brazil to pay the appearance fees of the players of the Senior National Team. Although there was evidence to the effect that it was not the first time government was flying money out of the country to pay the players, it was indeed the first time ever that the decision was announced on live radio by a minister of the government. The entire event was handled in a manner accustomed to a dramatic scene in a blockbuster Hollywood movie with armed guards as escorts. The event was beamed by live television cameras to the world, with the players spending the night to kiss and count their booty just hours before their last group match which they lost.
Impact: It was by all standards, the gravest display of state incompetence in the 21st century and brought the country the biggest international shame. The fact that this heavily dented the image of the country internationally was not in doubt. But the controversy it generated internally was even more troubling. We even hear Hollywood is producing a movie about the event, leading the President to appeal to the producers not to exaggerate the incident. Professionally, the incident was one of the worst PR disasters any government could ever face. The entire communication around the incident was not planned, lacked any strategy and complicated the PR problem. Worse still, the abysmal showing of the Black Stars at the World Cup competition added more insults to the reputational injury of the country. It was the country’s worst ever performance since participating in the World Cup for the first time in 2006.
The Expensive Lesson: We believe the country has learnt a lot from the experience, and hopefully, we will not live to see another kind of this disaster happening again. From our professional point of view, the best way to deal with a PR crisis is to prevent the crisis situation from occurring in the first place. It is better to anticipate and cure any potential PR crisis hazard than living to deal with a real crisis. The money incident could have been handled in a better way than it was handled. Nevertheless, the current effort by the government and the Football Association to ensure that all future payments are made electronically suggests that the country would prefer not to have a repeat of the embarrassing experience in the future. It is important to bear in mind that any communication crisis, no matter how big or small results in reputational damage, which normally takes a lot more time and resources to repair.
3. The Ruby Cocaine Scandal: As if the Brazil fiasco was not enough, then came the biggest ever cocaine bust involving a Ghanaian in 2014. Described as Africa’s drug Cleopatra, Ruby Adu Gyamfi, alias Nayele Ametefe, was arrested at London’s Heathrow airport with a colossal 12.5killogram cocaine with a street value of 5million pounds. Her ability to travel through the VVIP lounge of Ghana’s only international airport, Kotoka with the alleged assistance of the airport officials allowed cynics to allege that she is associated with high profile personalities in the establishment. The most embarrassing bit of the scandal was the Narcotic Control Board, (the state agency’s) claim that it collaborated with the British authorities to arrest Ruby; a claim which was flatly denied. More injury was added when the Communication Minister in a rare move openly challenged the agency to produce evidence to back its claim. This was followed by the dissolution of the board by the President, and a negative public reaction by the board chairman.
The Impact: Certainly, it was a scandal which dented the image of the Narcotic Control Board, and by extension, government.
The Lesson: In our opinion, the government’s reaction to the story was prompt and robust. The disclaimer against its own key drugs agency’s claim was a sign of courage. However, the institution itself, so far appears to have been unable to recover from the shock. It seemed the communication wing of the agency did not anticipate the negative response from the British authorities and the Ghanaian government. So they appear to have been at a loss and probably settled for the option of praying for time to pass to allow the public attention to shift away from the embarrassment. It is our hope that the Narcotics Control Board has learnt its lessons and will immediately start developing their crisis communication plan and test their PR Crisis Response strategies before any other crisis hits them.
However, it is worthy to note that the year has not only been filled with PR Disasters. In our opinion, there have been some rare success stories. Below, we outline two of such PR Spectaculars:
4. Machete-wielding Opposition: An incident which severely dented the image of Ghana’s biggest opposition political party (New Patriotic Party) was when about a dozen of hefty-men wielding machetes besieged the party’s headquarters, disrupted a live press briefing being held by the party’s Chairman and its General Secretary, and threatened to inflict harm. It was seen as evidence of intolerance and the deep internal cracks within the party’s leadership.
Impact: The incident attracted widespread condemnation from all sections of the Ghanaian society, with many expressing disappointment that the party’s alleged intolerance has reached a crescendo. It created the impression that the party was not ready for political leadership of the country.
The Machete Lesson: We are however of the view that the reaction of the party leadership and the communication around the incident was quite coordinated and professional. Although the damage to the party’s reputation was high, it managed to quickly move away from it and held a successful electoral process which saw its veteran leader elected for the third time to represent it as the Presidential candidate for the 2016 elections. With 2015 being the penultimate year to the next election, it will serve the opposition a lot of good if it manages to avoid such embarrassing incidents in the coming years.
The second part of this series will focus on how the KKD rape charge, Itz Tiffany sex tape, Abodam ganjer arrest and many more have affected the finest brands in the showbiz industry.
By: James Kofi Afedo
PR Crisis Management & Communication Specialist