2010’s Top Dogs in PR

As another year comes to an end, a lot of us sit back and enjoy the variety of award shows that follow to see who or what made it to the top of the charts. While watching the SAG Awards on Jan. 30, 2011, I began wondering: Who came out “on top” in the world of PR this year?
I did what any person today would do to find the answers: I Google-ed it! It’s always good to know what is going on currently within the field you aspire to work in, whether the news is good or bad.

My search for the top dogs of 2010 (with the help of PR News Online, Beyond the Hype, and Crenshaw Communications) resulted in many finds. I narrowed it down to the three following PR triumphs that, in my opinion, stuck out the most and deserve the most credit: The Chilean government, Sarah Palin, and Conan O’Brien, to name a few (there’s no way to give recognition to all!).

Chilean government: We all remember the phenomenal rescue of 33 trapped miners after a mine collapsed in Chile back in August. President Sebastian Piñera supported the coverage of the crisis by the press. Despite the devastating situation, the pride of the Chilean government during and after the disaster was emphasized by the media coverage, President Piñera’s personal greeting of the miners and families, and his address to the public. As a result, Chile is viewed as a strong, well-developed Latin American country.
Good PR is not only about creating/ promoting a favorable image, but it involves maintaining that image, especially when put to the test during times of catastrophe. In my book, the Chilean government receives 1st place in the category of intelligent PR moves.

Sarah Palin: Fan or not, Sarah Palin has made it to the list – another example of how social media networks, like Facebook and Twitter, can help create a good image for one’s self. She tries to directly appeal to the public, not only through social media outlets, but with her TV series “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” Though many don’t see her as “president material,” her PR strategies are well-planned, admirable, and successfully boost her image.

Conan: Regardless of his 7-month TV hiatus, Conan O’Brien’s newly acquired social media savvy and fan-created “Team Coco” campaign have shown that although he was fired from his show, he had no negativity towards NBC and their decisions. Conan used his Twitter account to broadcast how he felt keeping a lighthearted, humorous attitude toward the entire situation. A big reason for Conan’s continued success are his loyal fans’, and the support they provide him.
We can also give some credit to Tiger Woods’ ex-wife, Elin Nordegren, and Jesse James’ ex-wife, Sandra Bullock, (though it may just be the inner “Gossip Girl” inside me talking) for keeping their cool through the scandals they faced. They made good PR moves simply by remaining calm throughout difficult situations.

I don’t want to focus all my attention on the good stuff. Instead, I am going to switch it over and discuss some of the big PR mistakes we have seen in the past year. Though mistakes are harmful at the time, they serve as a good precedent of what not to do during similar situations. So my next question is: What were some of the PR “boo-boo’s” of 2010, and what can we learn from them?

BP Oil Spill: Besides the physical disaster of the BP oil spill, the overflow (no pun intended) of bad press it received labels it as the worst PR disaster of the year. From pinning the blame on Transocean, the rig owners, to CEO Tony Hayward’s notorious “I’d like my life back” comment, BP displayed itself as insensitive, and proved that the littlest of comments can cause bad publicity. When faced with crisis, it is best to take full responsibility in order to avoid losing credibility, no matter how sticky the situation. One important thing about public relations is to know when to apologize and accept the blame.
The LeBron James Decision: Talk about kicking Cleveland while they’re down. Many saw this broadcasted decision of free agent LeBron James as a humiliating exploit for his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though common for a player to switch over teams, this particular decision became one of the worst PR moves the world of sports has ever seen. It was an entire publicity disaster that took him from being viewed as a hometown hero, to a mere “sell-out” for the chosen Miami Heat – a bad move on your PR part, LeBron.

Steve Jobs: After the launch of the iPhone 4, customers had reported defects with the phones’ antennas. During a press conference specifically held to address the alleged problems with the iPhone 4, Apple CEO Steve Jobs made his way to the list of top PR mistakes. Instead of expressing his regrets for the problems and claiming that Apple was doing what they could to fix them, he not only denied the issues, but also demeaned competitors, such as the makers of Motorola and Blackberry, in a poor attempt to avoid losing customers.

Instead of telling your audience what they want to hear, it is always best to tell them what they need to hear. Lying to cover up mistakes, avoiding issues, and speaking ill of competitors are distasteful tactics and ultimately, bad PR for a client.
So what can we learn from the best and the worst?

Public relations is about sustaining not only a good reputation, but good relationships with one’s audience. It is about being professional and prompt during a crisis, handling dilemmas tastefully and with caution, using all resources of the media to get one’s message across, and finding different and efficient ways to communicate. It’s not essentially glorifying a brand or person; PR people focus on all the details. It is the smaller and more thorough steps we take that make us PR – professionals!

Gabrielle Barikian, Junior Public Relations Major, English Minor

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