Book of Lists offers the chance to learn from this tumultuous year

The annual Book of Lists is one of the most fun, and most exhausting, features to work on at PRWeek. It's draining because it requires that the entire editorial staff review the past 12 months very carefully. This can be difficult to do when you're working on a weekly magazine and daily Web site, and are often absorbed in the most current events.

The annual Book of Lists is one of the most fun, and most exhausting, features to work on at PRWeek. It's draining because it requires that the entire editorial staff review the past 12 months very carefully. This can be difficult to do when you're working on a weekly magazine and daily Web site, and are often absorbed in the most current events.

While it involves a heavy amount of research and countless office debates about whether something actually occurred in 2007 or 2008, at the same time the process is interesting and, yes, ultimately fun because it allows us to see just how much has happened in a year - and more importantly how communications played a role in virtually every big news story of the year. In that regard, it can also serve as a lesson to our readers. After all, very often it is possible to learn from the spectacular failures as well as the brilliant successes.

This year was definitely an interesting one because it was primarily dominated by two stories - the presidential primaries and election and the decline of Wall Street and subsequent ongoing financial turmoil. In those two instances, we saw extreme examples of communications done right and where it went terribly wrong.

Soon after President-elect Barack Obama's election, we heard from countless PR practitioners asking us to write the "how he did it" article - detailing how Obama had used a savvy combination of social media and old-fashioned grassroots PR to win the presidency. The idea was that Obama's victory provided the ultimate proof that their clients had been asking for to understand the true power of social media. Anecdotally, I've heard from some agency sources that many of their skeptical clients were ultimately convinced to take the plunge into social media following the election.

If Obama's triumph provided an example of PR at its best, then Bear Stearns serves as the perfect cautionary tale of what not to do. The financial giant's communications strategy prior to its ultimate demise earlier this year was simply lacking and contributed to the firm's damage in reputation long before it was sold to JPMorgan for a laughable price.

So, while the Book of Lists might seem like just another whimsical, end-of-the-year feature - and it certainly is a fun read - it would be wise to look at it as a resource as well. Last year, we had a category called "Agency Web sites that annoyed," and while it could be the craziest coincidence of all time, four of the five sites listed there changed drastically soon after last year's feature was published. This year, we've introduced two new categories - "five companies that get social media" and "five companies behind the social media curve." We'll have to wait until next year to see if it had any lasting impact.

Most of the time, PRWeek is serious in its approach to informing the industry about the latest news in communications. But every now and then, a little humor can go a long way.

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