The PR Hits and Misses of 2014

With the year drawing to a close, we thought we’d share our take on some of 2014’s biggest public relations hits and misses – which campaigns succeeded and which ones flopped.

There’s no definitive pattern here, but one thing is clear: the companies and organizations that try too hard to get things just right are often the ones scrambling in the end.

The Hits

  • ice bucketALS Ice Bucket Challenge: There wasn’t a day that went by this summer without seeing your Facebook news feed filled with videos of friends dumping buckets of ice over their heads in support of the ALS Association and the fight against Lou Gehrig’s disease. The campaign reached unprecedented levels of success, generating more than $100 million in donations. Like so many social media campaigns out there, it’s hard to pinpoint why some go viral and others don’t. What we do know is that this viral sensation was one part luck and two parts strategy, initially starting off as a joke between two individuals and blossoming into an internet phenomenon once the ALS Association ran with it.
  • #BringBackOurGirls: The kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian school girls by extremist Islamist group Boko Haram could have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for a few angry tweets by Nigerian citizens using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Their response snowballed across all major social media platforms, with more than one million people tweeting and hundreds of thousands posting photos of themselves on Instagram and Facebook calling on the Nigerian government and international community to act. Even though the girls are still being held captive, this campaign has turned the world’s attention to a region too often overlooked.
  • tannehillThe Miami Dolphins: Now for some local color. It wasn’t so long ago that the Dolphins were the laughing stock of the NFL — and indeed, South Florida. One year ago, the franchise was mired in a bullying scandal, their on-field play was lackluster, and ownership’s attempt to upgrade its stadium proved futile. Fast forward to today and the Phins are winning back fans and turning the beat around. The scandal is in the rear-view mirror, efforts to overhaul the stadium are progressing once again, and most importantly: they’re winning.

The Misses

  • 370The response to MH370: The mysterious disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines jetliner dominated news waves for weeks this spring. But one has to wonder if the media’s coverage of the tragedy would have carried on so long if it wasn’t for the catastrophic response orchestrated by the airline and the Malaysian government, which provided fodder than news outlets could handle. Between press conferences chock full of misinformation and incomplete details, official statements that did little to calm the waters, and the absence of company leadership for days on end, this was a workshop in how not to manage a crisis.
  • #myNYPD: If there’s one thing New York’s Police Department (NYPD) learned this year, it’s that you can’t control how people will use hashtags. After creating #myNYPD in an effort to improve the department’s social media presence and persona, what was meant to be a positive social media campaign turned into a PR nightmare. Instead of posting friendly photos with NYPD officers, more than 70,000 people responded with tweets and photos of police brutality and the use of excessive force. The campaign led to the creation of other hashtags like #myLAPD. The NYPD tried to spin it by issuing a statement and retweeting the positive photos. But like any nightmare, sometimes there’s nothing you can do but wait until it’s over.

  • sterlingThe Donald Sterling affair: You’ve got to wonder what goes through a billionaire’s head when their world is crashing down around them and yet they go about their business without bringing in experts in crisis management. Such was the case when LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling found himself in the middle of a race-driven scandal that took the country by storm and decided to go it alone. This one had everything: audio tapes of racially-charged comments, Magic Johnson as a victim, a girlfriend and an ex-wife, you name it. The chaos reached fever pitch when Sterling appeared on CNN for an interview with Anderson Cooper in which he claimed “I’m not a racist” three times. So much for not repeating the negative. If there were ever an instance of doing more harm than good by engaging the press, this was it.