In PRWeek's Power Book 2012, we asked the industry's top practitioners which campaigns they most admired from last year.
It is little surprise that the stand-out favourite is the impeccable comms operation around the royal wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William in April.
T-Mobile's spoof royal wedding video was named as the second best campaign of the year. Its popularity illustrates that, done well, tying campaigns to major events can prove a fruitful endeavour.
Major movements such as the Arab Spring, which toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and the global Occupy movement came third and fourth respectively. These were praised for creating widespread awareness of social and political problems and the use of social media to canvass grassroots support.
Finally, The Royal British Legion's work to raise funds for the armed forces and their families was also praised.
On the following pages, we analyse why these campaigns were so popular, and what the PR industry can learn from them.
1. THE ROYAL WEDDING
'The royal wedding was the PR coup of 2011,' says London Stock Exchange's group comms director Victoria Brough. 'It was a fantastic feel-good story at home and a wonderful global export for the UK. It proved that a well managed campaign can leave a legacy that can resonate for months, or even years,' she adds.
It was certainly no mean feat to keep the public engaged, while guarding the couple's privacy and managing the reputation of the monarchy in the full gaze of the world's media.
The careful stage management of events saw Clarence House's comms secretary Paddy Harverson crowned PR Professional of the Year at the PRWeek Awards 2011.
The lesson for the PR industry is to be meticulous when planning campaigns and to think more broadly about a campaign's potential.
As Pagefield's founder and senior partner Mark Gallagher argues, the event not only promoted the young couple, but also gave the monarchy, London and the UK a boost. 'This was a classic case of taking an already significant event, building strategic comms around it, and then applying hard work and ambition,' he says.
Fleishman-Hillard London's head of public affairs and senior partner Nick Williams says that the wedding, combined with the Queen's visit to Ireland, also shows how a well established entity can mix the old and new to maintain public interest.'The ability of the monarchy to renew itself in the eyes of the public...is a testament to clear leadership,' he says.
The lesson: Be meticulous about campaign planning
2. THE T-MOBILE ROYAL WEDDING
Many brands associated themselves with the royal wedding, but it was T-Mobile's spoof video involving M&C Saachi PR that received the most praise - and 25.9 million views on YouTube. Inspired by the online trend for wedding dance videos, the film featured 15 royal lookalikes, including the Queen and Prince Harry, dancing their way down the aisle. The 'wedding guests' had responded to an invitation on the brand's Facebook page.
'For me, this was a "stand-out" campaign.
It absolutely tuned into the news agenda and got people talking. It used social media to its best and the end result was compelling,' says John Lewis' head of comms Helen Dickinson.
The video was a success because it was relevant, timely and linked into the news agenda, says Department for Communities and Local Government comms director George Eykyn. He adds: 'It caught the public mood of enthusiasm and anticipation surrounding the royal wedding and exploited it in a memorable, fun way.'
Everything Everywhere's director of comms and corporate affairs Stuart Jackson says the video was a risk for the brand: 'It was difficult to gauge exactly how it was going to be received. Was it going to be plastered all over the tabloids as "A right royal outrage", or was the public going to embrace it?' But it worked because the tone was right.
Crucially, it was also specifically relevant to T-Mobile's brand and how customers use its services, says Morrisons' director of corporate affairs and comms Richard Taylor.
The lesson: Capture the public mood
3. THE ARAB SPRING
It began with a market trader's sense of injustice, led to the toppling of tyranny through popular uprising and continues to this day in Syria.
For Maitland's chief executive Neil Bennett, the Arab Spring was the PR moment of the year because despite a lack of coherency over plans or policies, the protesters' calls for change and democracy 'were so intoxicating that they carried everything before them'.
News reports told of the role that social media played in the revolution, as groups organised themselves and spread the word. Raoul Shah, founder of Exposure, says the movement showed how effectively a message or idea can spread through earned rather than paid-for media. He adds that the power of the individual should never be underestimated in a world in which new channels of comms 'are continually fragmenting and diversifying'.
Shah says this change in the comms landscape means PR professionals need to be more targeted about which channels they use: 'The mass marketing approach is not enough.'
For Bennett, events across the Arab world reinforce some key comms principles; namely people 'are attracted by the new', and that 'a small number of opinion formers can change the world'.
However, despite the role of social media in events, he is keen to warn PROs not to get carried away: 'We must not lose sight of the fact that the word on the street is a far more powerful tool than social media.'
The lesson: Never underestimate the power of the individual
4. THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT
The global Occupy movement was widely praised for its clear message, passion and commitment to forcing an issue on to the news agenda. The protesters were mainly peaceful and were committed to the cause - the London contingent spent four-and- a-half months in tents outside St Paul's Cathedral during the winter months. The movement placed social justice issues, from corporate tax avoidance to executive pay, on the news and political agenda.
'Occupy reminds us that great communication is most effective when it catches the national mood. What every marketing director dreams of is a true zeitgeist moment. Occupy proved to be a lightning rod for sentiment that existed in the country but lacked focus,' says Lansons Communications' CEO Tony Langham.
Speaking of the Occupy Wall Street protest, Tetra Strategy's founding partner James O'Keefe says: 'Through precision of message... the campaign was able to capture and visualise the debate around a supercharged banking economy gone mad. It was a powerful challenge to that other essential encapsulation of Wall Street, Gordon Gekko's "Greed is Good!"'
In the wake of these protests, the corporate world needs to pay attention to the growing anger of the public, the potency of social media and the ever hungry newsroom. 'The reminder to business is that young people of today, like their 1960s counterparts, can be motivated by conscience. So issues of fairness, governance, sustainability, fair trade and environment matter,' says Langham.
The lesson: The public wants companies to be socially responsible
5. THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION
Last year, The Royal British Legion broke into the top 20 of the music charts with a silent single called 2 Minute Silence.
The campaign was just one of the highlights of a year that saw awareness of the Poppy Appeal spread wider and the charity continue to advance its Honour the Covenant campaign. The organisation was praised for its ability to continue to innovate and increase awareness of its annual Poppy Appeal, particularly among a new, younger audience.
Robert Lee, acting assistant director corporate comms at the charity, points to the introduction of 'poppy bling' - which saw celebrities wear more elaborate versions of the paper poppies - as an example of the need to be bold when planning campaigns.
'With time, the danger is becoming stuck to tradition for tradition's sake - it's about being bold and not being afraid of a backlash,' he says.
The results spoke for themselves, with Lee claiming the numbers of people wearing poppies rose to 46 million in 2011, from 27 million in 2008.
Citigate Dewe Rogerson MD Jonathan Flint believes PROs should also pay attention to the 'good and wise' use of those in the public sphere, from David Cameron to David Tennant.
He says the campaign reached a wide audience because celebrities spread the message across different multimedia platforms: 'The Royal British Legion was also very tactical about picking the people with the right level of gravitas and influence.'