Book of Lists 2011

From Osama bin Laden's demise to Occupy Wall Street's rise, 2011 was full of memorable comms stories. PRWeek's editorial team looks back on the year that was in the world of PR.

From Osama bin Laden's demise to Occupy Wall Street's rise, 2011 was full of memorable comms stories. PRWeek's editorial team looks back on the year that was in the world of PR.

10 news stories that revolved around communications
1. Word from the White House
Over the last few months, we have seen a number of messages with global impact from the White House. President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden and more recently confirmed he would be keeping his 2008 promise to the American people by withdrawing troops from the Middle East. Both announcements could go a long way to boosting Obama's re-election chances next year.

2. Burson, Facebook busted for smear campaign
Burson-Marsteller agreed to conduct a secret campaign against Google on Facebook's dime by planting negative stories about the former's service. Both Facebook and Burson admitted in statements that the strategy was misguided and should not have been followed. The agency was soundly criticized by the industry for the lack of ethics displayed during the snafu.

3. Netflix is sorry now
Netflix has proven to be out of touch with consumers this year. Its “apology” for lack of proper communications during the July price hike and the announcement and hasty overturn of Qwikster has resulted in a substantial drop in subscribers and share price.

4. Occupy Wall Street takes off
The movement went global in barely a month, spawning occupations in cities around the world. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are responsible for the rapid growth and organization of the movement that rallies against corporate greed and signifies citizens' frustration over the struggling economy.

5. Twitter vs. Wild
And Twitter won. When the Virginia earthquake hit in August, the first tweets sent from people at the epicenter began almost instantly at 1:51pm – about 40 seconds ahead of the first shock waves felt in New York, according to calculations by social media company SocialFlow.

6. Record iSales
During its debut weekend, the iPad 2 sold a record 1 million units, a number that wasn't reached by the original until 28 days after its release. The iPhone 4S also far outsold the previous model during its launch weekend, causing Apple's share price to rise 14%, the highest in the company's history.

7. Steve Jobs passes
Apple closed all stores for the duration of cofounder and former CEO Steve Jobs' memorial service after his death from pancreatic cancer. Jobs often acted as his own PR representative, taking it upon himself to contact major media outlets and personally pitching for new business. Jobs took the top ranking on PRWeek's 2010 Power List. In a statement, Apple said it “has lost a visionary and a creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor.”

8. Telecomms tug of war
AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile for $39 billion faces strong opposition. A negative FCC report said the deal would not be in the public's best interest. The acquisition would bring the number of major US carriers to three.

*Editor's note: The original version of this article mistakenly suggested that the proposed deal had already been completed. We regret the error.

9. Ethics CrunchTime
In 2010, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington announced at the annual TechCrunch Disrupt conference that he was selling his venture to AOL. At this year's conference, he announced his departure from TechCrunch. Trouble arose when Arrington unveiled a plan to launch a venture capital fund with AOL's backing – news that did not sit well with his boss Arianna Huffington. A very public battle ensued over journalistic ethics and Huffington fired Arrington.

10. US fails to make the grade
Standard & Poor's, unhappy with the Obama administration's finance management and Congress' debt- reduction plan, showed its disapproval by downgrading the US rating below AAA for the first time in the country's history. Shockingly – and to much public backlash – Obama publicly dismissed the downgrade.

10 stories you heard here first
1. Ketchum wins Lipitor (January 19)
Pfizer awarded Ketchum a global assignment for Lipitor as the pharma company prepares for its top-selling drug to go off patent at the end of this year.

2. Porter Novelli adds tech firm  (February 24)
Omnicom's Porter Novelli acquired Voce Communications, a technology PR and social media agency, which reported about $12 million in annual revenue for 2010.

3. MSLGroup faces gender discrimination lawsuit (February 24)
Monique da Silva, a former global healthcare director at MSLGroup, filed a $100 million class action lawsuit against Publicis Groupe and MSLGroup, alleging “systemic” discrimination against female PR employees. It seeks to represent a class of women who worked in the US for the PR firm from 2008 until date of judgment.

4. Starbucks brings aboard US Airways corporate comms lead (March 4)
Starbucks appointed US Airways communications lead Jim Olson to head corporate communications. Prior to joining US Airways, he was SVP in Waggener Edstrom's digital strategies group in Seattle, where Corey duBrowa, then president of Waggener Edstrom North America, hired him. Later, duBrowa left Waggener Edstrom to join Starbucks.

5. Cigna selects Fleishman-Hillard as global AOR (July 27)
Cigna, a worldwide health insurer, hired Fleishman-Hillard as its global AOR, following a highly competitive review. Cigna sought a firm to provide integrated communications services focused on “value-added” customer engagement, employee engagement, and CSR.

6. Zeno Group wins Unilever's Lipton account (July 28)
Unilever confirmed that Zeno Group won the Lipton account, which was previously handled by Ogilvy PR Worldwide. Zeno was chosen for the account following an RFP. Lipton is the first Unilever brand the Barby Siegel-helmed firm will be handling.

7. Bill Wohl tweets the news of his departure from HP (August 26)
In mid-August, Hewlett-Packard  CCO Bill Wohl relinquished his corporate communications responsibilities and took on a special assignment for the company's software business following a tumultuous week at the IT behemoth. Within, two months, however, Wohl tweeted out that he had left the company entirely and was pursuing other opportunities.

8. Subaru of America hires MWW Group as AOR (September 14)
Subaru of America chose MWW Group as its AOR, with initial work to include promotion of the automaker's 2012 Impreza via traditional and social media.

9. BAE taps Weber Shandwick as AOR (September 21)
BAE Systems formalized its longstanding relationship with Weber Shandwick by naming the agency its AOR after a competitive review that stretched over the last year. The PR firm had worked with the global defense company, which manufactures systems for air, land, and naval forces, for more than a decade when BAE decided to issue an RFI in the spring of 2010.

10. Burger King names Coyne AOR for US (September 20)
Burger King selected Coyne Public Relations as its AOR for PR in the US, following a competitive RFP process involving five agencies. Coyne will build consumer awareness nationwide, promote products and initiatives, and provide counsel on corporate communications and nutrition efforts.

5 memorable PR plays of 2011
1. Tax fraud
In April, the AP accidentally posted a fake press release about GE, stating it would give the government a $3.2 billion tax refund. The hoax was created by activist groups Yes Men and US Uncut, who posted the release on genewscenters.com, a one letter difference from GE's actual news site, genewscenter.com. The AP retracted the story 35 minutes after publishing it.

2. Quick crisis response
A tsunami hitting Japan, where Aflac generates 75% of its revenue, was devastating enough, but insensitive jokes on Twitter from comedian Gilbert Gottfried, the voice of Aflac's duck mascot, made matters worse. Aflac responded quickly, apologizing for the remarks and firing Gottfried within days. It then held a high-visibility nationwide casting call for the new voice of its mascot. From almost 13,000 entries, an unknown “every man” sales manager was chosen to fill the role.

3. Don't drink and tweet
After a Red Cross staffer tweeted under the organization's Twitter handle about getting drunk, or “slizzered,” on Dogfish Head beer, the Red Cross recovered by deleting the tweet and sending out one that read, “We've deleted the rogue tweet, but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we've confiscated the keys.” Dogfish Head then tweeted at fans to donate to the Red Cross. The staffer was embarrassed, but not fired.

4. A frozen feast
In an effort to be edgy and creative, consumer and commercial food manufacturer ConAgra and PR agency Ketchum invited food and mommy bloggers to a restaurant in New York's West Village, promising a gourmet meal, when in actuality they were served a frozen lasagna from Marie Callender's, a frozen line of ConAgra Foods. The event led to negative online posts, but Ketchum and ConAgra apologized to the bloggers for any disappointment.

5. A super-sized recruitment
This spring, McDonald's took on unemployment and aimed to eliminate the term “McJob,” which is used to describe a dead-end career, by hiring 50,000 new employees across the US in 24 hours. At the end of the day, it wound up giving jobs to 62,000 people, 24% more than expected.

5 people/companies that could use a course on communications
1. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings
The on-demand media service's image took a hit when CEO Reed Hastings announced a price hike in July, infuriating customers. Two months later, he wrote that they “messed up” on his blog on Netflix's corporate website and hastily announced a spinoff of its by-mail service into the awkwardly named Qwikster. Nearly a month later, the plan was scrapped after the company realized its customers didn't want it. Netflix lost 800,000 US subscribers in Q3.

2. Bank of America
As Occupy Wall Street gained ground across the US this fall, Bank of America announced it would roll out a $5 monthly debit account charge, effective in the new year for those with its most basic checking accounts. Upon revealing the news, the bank offered little explanation to the media, which led to an online backlash from consumers and criticism from members of Congress. The bank shifted its messaging to focus on how consumers can avoid fees, but amid continuing negative press, ultimately scrapped the fee.

3. Hewlett-Packard
HP's year began with a fresh, united vision under new CEO Léo Apotheker and former SAP colleague CCO Bill Wohl. By summer's end, press and consumer confusion resulted after a number of announcements, including an evaluation of its PC business for a possible spinoff and the acquisition of Autonomy, a UK information-management software firm. Some saw this as indicating an exit from the PC market, but HP then launched a new PC weeks later and announced in late October that it would keep its PC division. It also axed its first tablet offering. Eventually, there was a hasty reshuffling and exodus of top management. Apotheker and Wohl were out. New CEO Meg Whitman and CCO Lynn Anderson were in.

4. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN)
In October, five New Hampshire campaign staffers resigned from GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann's camp. What resulted was an embarrassing misstep by her national director who denied the exits more than once. This added to a drama-filled 2011 for Bachmann. She has become known for her on-camera blunders, off-putting quotes, and claims that the Virginia earthquake and Hurricane Irene were cases of God sending a message to politicians.

5. Research in Motion
In October, BlackBerry customers worldwide were slammed with outages and disruptions to their service, operated through RIM. What began as a service blunder in EMEA and India, days later reached North America. It took nearly four days for co-CEO Mike Lazaridis to apologize via a video clip on RIM's corporate website. Compensation came to users a week later in the form of free access to “select” premium apps. By the end of October, two class-action lawsuits in the US and Canada were filed, accusing RIM of breach of contract, negligence, and unjust enrichment.

5 people who could teach a course on communications
1. Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ)
Straightforward and plainspoken. Few politicians can claim to be both, but Christie can. His regular-guy approach – he often says he's not a rocket scientist, just an everyman pushing common-sense solutions –plays well to voters and fellow politicians. The latter was verified by the GOP's dogged efforts to recruit him to run for president. If he ever does pursue the White House, the aforementioned traits will serve him well.
 
2. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY)
On the other side of the political aisle sits a man who has been lauded for accomplishments such as getting the state budget approved on time and legalizing same-sex marriage. Equally as impressive are his eloquence and keen grasp of what his constituents need. His ex-New York governor father, Mario, obviously taught him well. And while some criticize his unwillingness to engage the national press, his rationale for doing so – saying he wishes to focus solely on matters impacting the Empire State – is hard to dispute.

3. Steve Jobs
Even if this were merely a posthumous acknowledgement, it would be more than worthy. Here, however, we focus on what turned out to be his final speech.

On June 7, Jobs addressed the Cupertino, CA, City Council to seek permission to build a new corporate headquarters for Apple. The leader of the world's most valuable corporation – in terrible health, no less – personally addressed the city council. The speech was typically powerful, as was the fact he delivered it at all. Our list will always have room for this eternal champion of communications. Later in the year, Jobs created buzz following his death when Walter Isaacson's biography about him revealed he had told President Obama he was “headed for a one-term presidency” because of the US' competitive disadvantages with China and a “crippled” education system.

4. Simon Sproule, corporate VP of global marcomms, Nissan Motor Co.
There's crisis communications and then there's communicating in a crisis. The latter is often much tougher. Simon Sproule discovered this on March 11, 2011, when Japan was hit with a tsunami triggered by a massive earthquake. Amid all the chaos and danger, the Yokohama-based Sproule maintained corporate transparency while keeping employees and their loved ones informed on the welfare of the staff. A crisis comms test in the truest sense and Sproule passed with flying colors.
 
5. Wael Ghonim
You say you want a revolution? Well... you know – or at least should – this young Egyptian who hoped to end his nation's decades-long culture of fear by starting a Facebook page, “We Are All Khaled Said.” (Said was a young Egyptian tortured to death by police in Alexandria in June 2010.) In January 2011, he initiated a call on that page for a peaceful revolution. Eventually, 12 million Egyptians united to remove Hosni Mubarak's regime. This is a master class in using social media as a communications tool. 10 media stories that made news
1. News of the World shuts down
The 168-year-old British tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. crumbled after news was released that its journalists were involved in hacking the cell phone of Milly Dowler, a murdered UK teenager. The scandal was furthered when other hacking allegations involving cell phones of military families and the victims of the July 7, 2005, London bombings surfaced.

2. Huffington Post sold to AOL
Arianna Huffington, who founded her website six years ago on a shoestring budget, agreed to sell for $315 million. She snagged the role of president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group, which includes Tech-Crunch and MapQuest.

3. New York Times launches paywall
Although the Times' March announcement to implement a paywall was met with skepticism, reader buy-in is growing. According to the company, there were 324,000 paid subscribers to its online edition at the end of Q3, up 40,000 from the second quarter.

4. News Corp. launches The Daily
In an attempt to “completely reimagine our craft,” News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch funneled $30 million into the world's first iPad-only newspaper. Reader response to the new platform has been less than stellar. As of late September, it was averaging about 120,000 readers a week, less than a quarter of what it needs to be profitable.

5. Comcast acquires NBC Universal
After gaining a 51% control of NBC Universal, Comcast had serious rules imposed by the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission to ensure NBC Universal content remained accessible at a competitive price to companies such as Hulu and Netflix. Comcast agreed to contribute $13.8 billion in cash and assets to close the deal.

6. Microsoft buys Skype
After announcing its intent to buy Skype in May, the deal was finalized in October for $8.5 billion, more than three times what eBay paid in 2005. Skype is Microsoft's biggest acquisition and the company has ambitious plans to integrate Skype into its software despite eBay's failure to do so.

7. Oprah Winfrey airs her last episode
After 25 seasons and becoming the highest-rated talk show in American TV history, The Oprah Winfrey Show aired its final episode on May 25. Tom Cruise and Madonna were among the guests during the show's final days.

8. Newsweek's new twist on covers
In what appears to be an effort to boost lackluster circulation, the brazen Tina Brown raised eyebrows by publishing controversial Newsweek covers, including an aged Princess Diana next to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and a dazed-looking Michelle Bachmann. Though no sales boost has been reported, the covers garnered a lot of buzz for the publication.

9. Google launches Google+
The staggering amount of Google+ subscribers gained within the first few months since its launch had us asking whether Facebook was about to meet its match. Online competitive intelligence service Hitwise reports that in the first four weeks of October, Google+ averaged 6 million total visits, a 30% jump from the previous month. Heated competition between the two companies will undoubtedly continue into 2012.

10. Facelift for Facebook
Arguably, 2011 was the biggest year of change for Facebook. Those include significant layout alterations, such as the “subscribe” button and ticker; partnerships with Walmart, Spotify, and Netflix; and mandating that wall commenting be allowed on all brand pages. Founder Mark Zuckerberg announced in September that the site is launching Timeline, in essence a user's history, and Gestures, which lets users create their own buttons using any verb.

10 defining sound bites of 2011
1. Roger Ailes, president, Fox News
“I hired Sarah Palin because she was hot and got ratings.”

2. Biz Stone, cofounder of Twitter
“We're long overdue to be knocked down by the press,” he said, commenting on a recent Fortune piece detailing company woes.

3. President Barack Obama
“There is no doubt we have killed Osama bin Laden. You will not see bin Laden walking on this earth again.”

4. News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch
“The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account, but failed when it came to itself,” he told parliament regarding the scandal that led to the paper's demise.

5. Mayor Bloomberg on 9/11 Memorial
Regarding the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the memorial's opening, Mayor Mike Bloom- berg said, “The rebirth of lower Manhattan will be remembered as one of the greatest comeback stories in American history.”

6. Carol Bartz, fired CEO of Yahoo
Called Yahoo's board “doofuses” in a Fortune interview, adding she was “f---ed over.”

7. Ex-Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky amid sexual-abuse charges
“I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them and I have touched their legs without the intent of sexual contact.”

8. NYC councilman Charles Barron
Regarding the city's plans to require Occupy Wall Street protestors to vacate Zuccotti Park: “You want to clean up something? Clean up these crooks on Wall Street.”

9. Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary
“They're a lot like the Tea Party,” he said of Occupy Wall Street protestors. “They're [both] mad at large institutions.”

10. Charlie Sheen
After being fired from Two and a Half Men: “I will not believe that if I do something then I have to follow a certain path because it was written for normal people who aren't special [and] don't have tiger blood and Adonis DNA.”

10 people moves that made the news
1. McDonald's taps Coffing
In May, the fast-food giant promoted Bridget Coffing to SVP of corporate relations, reporting to CEO Jim Skinner. She replaced CCO Jack Daly, who died in February after a battle with cancer.

2. BP calls in help from the Pentagon
After the 2010 Gulf oil spill, ex-Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell was hired as BP America's communications head.

3. Jack Martin takes over at H&K
Hill & Knowlton replaced CEO Paul Taaffe with Jack Martin, founding chairman of Austin, TX-based Public Strategies.

4. Laschever returns to Forbes
After a three-year hiatus, former ForbesLife publisher Jack Laschever returned as CMO for parent company Forbes Media.

5. Page replaces Schmidt atop Google
Larry Page was named CEO in April. Eric Schmidt, who became executive chairman, said it would “clarify our roles so there's clear responsibility and accountability at the top.”

6. Griffin's short stint at Time, Inc. ends
After less than a half-year, CEO Jack Griffin was reportedly forced out after executives deemed he didn't fit its corporate culture.

7. New head of Times' newsroom
Jill Abramson became The New York Times' first female executive editor in September when top editor Bill Keller stepped aside.

8. Allen leaves Ogilvy
Samantha Allen resigned as MD of global consumer marketing in September, saying it “was not the right fit.” She had relocated to New York in July 2010 to take the post.

9. Promotions at Burson-Marsteller
Pat Ford, US CEO since 2006, was promoted to global vice chairman for client service, effective January 1, 2012. Dave DenHerder, CEO of subsidiary Direct Impact, will assume the US CEO post.

10. Twitter's first CEO is back

Jack Dorsey (right), often compared to Steve Jobs for his emphasis on simple design, returned to Twitter as executive chairman in March.

5 social media gaffes
1. Inappropriate tweet ends politician's career
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) accidentally tweeted an underwear-clad photo of his crotch to a young woman. During the next three weeks, more photos and conversations were revealed. He initially refused to resign, but his determination quickly waned and his days in government were soon over.

2. Cairo reference decidedly unfashionable
Designer Kenneth Cole came under fire after using a photo of the Cairo riots to promote his new spring collection on Twitter. He later apologized, stating the joke “was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”

3. Don't tweet and drive
A New Media Strategies staffer with access to Chrysler's Twitter account tweeted to the brand's 8,000 followers an F-bomb in describing Detroit motorists' driving ability. The next day, Chrysler terminated its partnership with the agency.

4. John Galliano
Christian Dior's former head designer was fired in March after a video of him making anti-Semitic comments, including “I love Hitler,” surfaced online.

5. Blogger outreach hits a snag
Brandlink's comms VP, who was looking to promote the fact that Kim Kardashian was wearing his client's brand of pantyhose, accidentally forwarded a message in which he had called the blogger he was looking to connect with a “f---ing bitch.”

5 best social media campaigns
1. Pirating the pirates
AT&T teamed up with rock band Blink-182 to promote its new HTC Status phone. In return, AT&T helped promote the band's first single in eight years by going through fan-created YouTube videos and creating the “Blink-182 Film Festival You Didn't Know You Entered,” rewarding the band's fans for essentially pirating their music. “Thanks for being a fan,” the video states.

2. Grand Rapids alive and well
When a Newsweek piece listed Grand Rapids, MI, as a dying US city, the town raised $40,000 to create a world-record LipDub video to Don McLean's American Pie featuring 5,000 of its residents. Uploaded to YouTube in May, almost 800,000 people viewed the video in just a few days. Over 100,000 people “liked” it on Facebook. That month, it was the ninth-most watched YouTube clip.

3. Where's the beef?
Taco Bell, in defense of a lawsuit alleging that its beef filling is made of only 35% beef, launched an integrated campaign involving traditional advertising, PR, and social media. The counterattack included a print ad in numerous popular papers where the brand thanked the accusers for the lawsuit because it provided a chance to talk about its product, as well as a YouTube video message from Taco Bell president Greg Creed and social media engagement.

4. Barbie and Ken reunite
Mattel marked the 50th anniversary of its Ken doll with a digital campaign centered around reuniting Barbie and Ken, who split on Valentine's Day 2004. The brand leveraged Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Foursquare to play out Ken's saga of winning Barbie back. It also encouraged consumers to text or visit barbieandken.com to vote on whether Barbie should take Ken back. The effort also involved a Web series. Mattel worked hard to keep the saga cohesive, engaging, and entertaining across all social channels.

5. Good deal from AmEx, Foursquare
Banking on mobile marketing's popularity, Foursquare and American Express teamed up on a loyalty program that allows AmEx cardholders to sync their Foursquare profiles to a credit card and get notifications about deals at the venues at which they check in. The partnership, created to help brands connect with consumers in more targeted and meaningful ways, also gave merchants the chance to obtain measurable value of their promotional efforts. The program began at SXSW in March, then rolled out to the general public in June with offers at numerous popular retail locations.  

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