As the year starts nearing it’s end, we here at Soundbytes thought it was about time we took a look at some of 2013’s biggest public relations hits and misses — who scored big and who really flopped. Read our thoughts below!
Hit: The Catholic church. The college of cardinals sent shockwaves around the world when it tapped Jorge Mario Bergoglio as its newest pontiff on March 13. What could have been seen as a disastrous year following the sudden, scandal-ridden departure of Pope Benedict became a ‘win’ that created a clear line of demarcation between two papal reigns. The election of Pope Francis was a sign that the Catholic Church was in acknowledgement that it needed to right the ship at the Vatican and that its demographic makeup was changing – becoming more diverse and, yes, more moderate.
Miss: You can pin any number of snafus on the Federal government this year (the roll-out of HealthCare.gov, the wiretapping debacle and the IRS targeting conservative groups all come to mind). But when it comes to long-term impact, these examples pale in comparison to the Edward Snowden affair. The news that a computer systems contractor stationed in Hawaii had pilfered 1.7 million top-secret documents – including detailed descriptions of potential Chinese, North Korean and Iranian threats – was an incalculable blow to the nation’s intelligence community. While it’s too early to assess the net outcome that may stem from this breach, the sheer humiliation suffered by the NSA this year ranks this story #1 in my book.
Hit: It’s not easy to get a whole city behind any decision, but somehow, San Francisco managed to pull it off this November for 5-year-old Miles Scott. The Make-a-Wish Foundation pulled thousands of volunteers to turn the city into Gotham, and let “Bat Kid” save the day – from being driven around the city in a Batmobile, to saving a damsel in distress tied to the train tracks. Even President Obama got in on the fun and sent Miles a personal thank you.
Miss: When passengers set sail aboard the Carnival Triumph, coming home on what would be dubbed the “poop cruise” was likely the last thing they expected. A small fire aboard the ship caused it to lose electricity for four days. Adrift at sea without working air conditioning, kitchens, and worst of all, toilets, pictures like this one made their way on to social media and around the world – yikes! People making tents on the top level of the Triumph to avoid hallways filled with sewage is a definite PR miss.
Best: Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post was a definite PR hit for him, the Amazon brand, and the Post itself. After 135 years as the gold standard of family-owned newspapers, an internet mogul bought the Washington Post, which has lost about 44% in revenue over the past 6 years. However, by taking the company private, Bezos will be free to experiment without the pressure of showing an immediate return on any investment – and with a track record of long-term strategic thinking, he may just be the mind needed to reinvent and reinvigorate the newspaper industry.
Miss: The Toronto mayor Rob Ford put his mark on the map this past fall when news broke of his rather illustrious drug habits. Rather than admit defeat, Mayor Ford openly acknowledged his substance abuse problem, and then affirmed that he would not step down from his position. The whole debacle escalated with Ford revealing a few too-intimate details of his marriage, with him chasing a City Council member around a meeting and then bowling her over, and most recently, with an actual car chase around the streets of Toronto with a Rob Ford impersonator… Sometimes, it’s good to know when to cut your losses and take a bow.
Hit: Last week we told you about the WestJet Christmas Miracle, and I’m sticking with it as my PR hit of 2013. While airlines and flying during the Holidays is usually associated with negativity – lines, delays, lost luggage, poor customer service due to overworked employees – it was fantastic to see WestJet try to do something about it, and moreover, succeed at attaching some “warm fuzzies” to Holiday travel.
Miss: Kanye West. Need I say more? While his rather outlandish statements are definitely getting him press, they are really just making him look ridiculous. From comparing himself to an officer or soldier in the line of duty, and having to be put in his place by an actual police officer, to delivering a manifesto on architecture to Harvard students, someone on his team should just recommend he stick to what he knows best — music. Although to be fair, his Twitter feed, and it’s spoofs, are hard to beat.
Hit: This past summer, the “Share a Coke” campaign launched in the UK earlier this year when Coca-Cola replaced its iconic branding with the world’s most popular names on its cans and bottles. The result was millions of people taking pictures on social networks, buying cokes just to have their names on it or sharing a coke with a friend and their named coke. Coca-Cola obviously couldn’t include every name created, so although some people were disappointed at not finding their names on bottles and cans, they still got excited when they found their friends and family’s names (I got in on the fun and found my name on a bottle during a visit to London this summer). The campaign was short-lived but was an overall success because it encouraged people to generate content for Coca-Cola by posting pictures with the personalized Coke bottles and sharing it with their networks on Facebook and Twitter. The campaign was engaging to consumers, and because it was open to interpretation for people to share and enjoy how they wanted, it became a great PR campaign for the legendary brand.
Miss: Abercrombie’s attitude towards plus-sized women stem from Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, whose resurrected comments about the lifestyle brand’s exclusive pursuit of “cool, attractive” kids sparked a social media furor and a blaze of protests after Jeffries claimed his comments were taken “of out context” when brought up again in an article by Business Insider contributor and retail expert, Robin Lewis, earlier this year.
In 2006 during an interview with Salon.com, Jeffries claimed he only wanted “thin and beautiful people” shopping at his stores. He added,
“It’s almost everything. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that. In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong.”
To make up for Jeffries’ revolting comments, Abercrombie executives met with National Eating Disorders Association and other awareness groups and began a so-called “commitment to anti-bullying and diversity.”
I mean, can a leopard change its spots?
Hit: My number one choice has to be Beyonce’s recent album release. While her non-marketing tactic may have been a surprise to most people, we know that a lot went behind the release of her album. Let’s hand it to her and the PR and marketing pros who used social media to make sure that fans knew about the release and have managed to continue the hype a week later!
Miss: One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned at Schwartz Media is the importance of a good interview. Not only should the interviewed be prepared, but the reporter should be as well. My PR miss for 2013 goes to Fox News’ Spirited Debate host Lauren Green for not preparing for her interview with author and scholar Reza Aslan about his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. She interviewed him with the agenda of showing that a Muslim should not be writing about Jesus, and ended up with an embarrassing and viral video on YouTube.
Hit: At a time when tracks get easily leaked and we’ve gone from buying albums to downloading singles, it was refreshing to see Beyonce announce – directly to her fans – a surprise album this week. The timing couldn’t be better with the holiday season upon us. The new songs will be available as a full album, not for individual song purchase (more $$). Not only are her fans feeling special, but she is getting the applause of music critics and the media landscape. A bold move, and in many ways, a public relations move. By not wanting to create a huge buzz, Beyonce has once again surprised her audience and the music industry, while at the same time creating the same level of publicity in a more organic way. Just like when she unveiled her baby bump to the world at the MTV VMAs following her performance of “Love on Top.” Once again, she delivers a historic moment for the music industry.
Miss: Lululemon is a great brand, but suffered from a little public relations malfunction this year, when the clothing company’s CEO recently stated in an interview that some women’s bodies are not in the right shape to wear its athletic gear. While most CEOs are passionate about the companies that they run, you can never forget your audience. Today, the mass media landscape is much broader and your audience is the general public, not just the consumers of your product. If there is one thing any man should know – and much more one who is running a women’s clothing company – is that no woman likes to be called fat.