Year in review for communicators 2009: 2009 the year when..

From MPs' expenses to recession-led job cuts, 2009 was a challenging year for PR professionals. Cathy Wallace looks back on the biggest comms stories

JANUARY

Chef Gordon Ramsay split from publicist Gary Farrow after five years, following newspaper allegations that Ramsay had cheated on his wife Tana. The move proved ill-advised - the chef's reputation suffered throughout 2009.

Labour unveiled the LabourList website as part of its new media strategy, inspired by the Obama campaign. But New Labour guru Philip Gould told bloggers the party could not control the internet the same way it tried to control the media under Tony Blair.

PR agencies Brunswick, Cohn & Wolfe, Lexis, Brando, Borkowski, The Wriglesworth Consultancy, FD, Merlin and Ketchum all made job cuts as the recession bit hard.

The BBC came under fire for refusing to broadcast a Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for relief for Gaza. Despite pressure from the public, politicians, religious leaders and its own staff, it stood by its decision.

FEBRUARY

South East England experienced the heaviest snowfall in two decades, leading Highways Agency press officers to field five times the usual number of media calls and showing once again the power of the unpredictable British weather to dominate headlines. Many of us enjoyed a day at home.

It was to prove the 'Year of Twitter' and in February, PRWeek's Twitter 'league table', based on research with Porter Novelli, caused uproar as the microblogging site saw an upsurge in popularity. PR professionals were divided about the methodology used.

Details of former RBS chief executive Sir Fred 'The Shred' Goodwin's huge pension came to light, and he was pilloried by the press, the public and politicians. Goodwin became the 'face' of the economic crisis.

PR agencies Grayling, Premier PR and Pitch made job cuts.

MARCH

Reality TV star Jade Goody died of cervical cancer at the age of 27. Throughout her battle with the disease and after her death, Goody attracted overwhelming media attention.

Marcoms groups WPP and Chime reported strong annual growth in PR, leading to hopes the industry would be better placed to survive the recession than other marketing disciplines.

The Daily Telegraph began publishing details of MPs' expenses claims, a story that would claim the scalps of many senior MPs and Commons speaker Michael Martin.

PR agencies Pelham, Tulchan, Lansons and Launch Group made job cuts.

Matthew Freud was named the most influential PR professional in the UK in exclusive PRWeek research for the Power Book 2009. The number two slot went to Finsbury co-founder Roland Rudd, while Brunswick founder Alan Parker was at number three.

APRIL

The G20 summit in London, designed to show global leaders were united in tackling the economic crisis, was overshadowed by a debate on how the police handled protests. A video obtained by The Guardian showed newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson facing away from police just before an officer in riot gear attacked him from behind. Tomlinson died of an abdominal haemorrhage. The Metropolitan Police's reputation was in tatters after it initially failed to mention contact between police and Tomlinson and was accused of misleading the media.

Conservative blogger Guido Fawkes revealed emails between Gordon Brown's special adviser Damian McBride and LabourList editor Derek Draper discussing plans to smear several Conservative figures with made-up gossip. Draper and McBride resigned as a result of the scandal, dubbed 'Smeargate'.

PR agencies Edelman, Jackie Cooper PR, Cake Group and Sputnik slashed jobs.

MAY

Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, forecast tough times for the PR industry as PR revenue slumped compared with the previous year.

Celebrity couple Katie Price, aka Jordan, and Peter Andre announced they were to divorce. Price subsequently split with her long-time publicist and manager Claire Powell of Can Associates and appointed Outside Organisation. Media coverage of Andre was highly sympathetic and portrayed him as a heartbroken and loving father, but Price suffered a blow to her reputation after a week-long holiday in Ibiza. The difference in coverage of Price and Andre, who remained with Can Associates, was so marked The Sun branded its stories 'The she-devil and St Peter'.

Actress Joanna Lumley celebrated victory after a high-profile campaign to allow Gurkhas the right to settle in the UK. The actress secured audiences at the highest level, including one with the Prime Minister, culminating in a government U-turn and calls for Lumley to enter politics.

JUNE

A new mother became the first person in the UK to die from swine flu. The World Health Organization said the world was officially in a flu pandemic and the Department of Health announced it was prepared, but media coverage became increasingly frenzied.

BNP leader Nick Griffin was elected as an MEP. Harriet Harman described the result as 'terrible' and David Cameron called the party 'fascist racist thugs'. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said people had voted for the party as a result of 'anger and frustration'.

A host of ministers including Jacqui Smith resigned from Government over their expenses.

Tourism Queensland won the inaugural Cannes Lions PR Grand Prix.

JULY

Sun editor Rebekah Wade (right) was appointed chief executive of News International. The role put her in charge of The Sun, the News of the World, The Times, The Sunday Times and the doomed thelondonpaper. Former News of the World editor turned PRO Phil Hall predicted Wade would have no difficulty moving into her new role. Sun deputy editor Dominic Mohan was named as Wade's replacement.

The government of Iceland launched a comms campaign to restore confidence in the country's economy as it overhauled its discredited banking sector. City PR agency FD was charged with explaining how the country was reviving its banking system and its UK CEO described the challenge as 'a major step but the first step'.

PR agency MS&L announced job cuts.

AUGUST

David Cameron used the word 'twat' live on air at Absolute Radio when discussing Twitter. The radio station benefited from a boost to its 'cheeky' reputation and the profile of interviewer and breakfast show presenter Christian O'Connell.

England won the Ashes, providing a much-needed reputation boost for the team, in particular for all-rounder Stuart Broad.

PR agency Hill & Knowlton made job cuts.

Media hysteria surrounded the release of Lockerbie bomber Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi by the Scottish Government on compassionate grounds. US president Barack Obama called it a 'mistake', and 55 per cent of UK respondents to a poll felt the Scottish Government's reputation had been damaged. The UK Government initially denied any involvement in the decision but later said potential trade and oil deals had played a part.

SEPTEMBER

Naked Climate Camp protesters broke into PR agency Edelman's office in protest against the agency's work with energy giant E.ON. CEO Robert Phillips said the protesters had refused to take part in a conversation with the agency and accused them of being disorganised and using 'old-fashioned PR'.

The Huntsworth Group announced it was merging PR agencies Trimedia and Grayling as part of a wider reorganisation of its 26 brands into just four: Grayling, Citigate, Red and Huntsworth Health. The move led to a number of redundancies but Huntsworth CEO Lord Chadlington said the reorganisation was in response to client demand for 'seamless global service'. It was speculated the move followed a failure to win the BA global account, with BA thought to have raised concerns about the disparate nature of Huntsworth's global network.

Chime Communications posted upbeat interim results but revenue dropped at fellow marcoms groups WPP and Huntsworth.

Long-standing Porter Novelli MD Jean Wyllie announced she was to leave the agency without a job to go to, saying she did not feel she had the right skills to take the agency forward.

The Scott Trust confirmed The Observer newspaper would not close after a campaign to save the under-threat paper.

OCTOBER

London freesheet thelondonpaper closed after making losses. Shortly afterwards the London Evening Standard announced it would become a free newspaper, sounding the death knell for London Lite, which folded a month later.

A gagging order on The Guardian requested by law firm Carter-Ruck on behalf of its client Trafigura, regarding a parliamentary question by Paul Farrelly MP, was lifted. Despite the attempt to gag The Guardian from reporting the question and the organisations concerned, Trafigura became a trending topic on Twitter the same day. PROs accused Trafigura of committing 'one of the worst sins of crisis management' and the move was widely acknowledged as a spectacular failure for the oil-trading company, which allegedly dumped harmful chemical waste in the Ivory Coast.

Portland PR hired Sun political editor George Pascoe-Watson as one of a series of high-profile scalps.

Paul Charles left Virgin Atlantic after more than three years as comms director, to take up a senior management role at Lewis PR.

NOVEMBER

The CIPR admitted to financial problems and forecast a £700,000 shortfall for 2009, but said it was 'business as usual' and reassured members a recovery plan had been put in place.

Gordon Brown sent a letter of condolence to Jacqui Janes after her son was killed in Afghanistan. The letter contained spelling errors and Brown was lambasted in The Sun.

England's 2018 World Cup bid named former Chelsea FC comms director Simon Greenberg as chief of staff.

Rain and floods in Cumbria led to collapsing bridges, widespread evacuation of residents, and the tragic death of policeman Bill Barker.

Just months after Dubai launched a PR offensive to boost its flagging reputation, growing panic over the country's debt crisis saw markets slump and led to fears the world would be plunged into another recession.

DECEMBER

World leaders met at Copenhagen for the UN Climate Change Conference.

PRWEEK REPUTOMETER
HOT...
Twitter - the microblogging site took off
English cricket - Ashes returned to England
Tamiflu - drug became a household name
Jenson Button - won F1 World Championship
David Haye - WBA heavyweight champion
Joanna Lumley - Gurkha's heroine
Guido Fawkes - sparked Smeargate row
The Daily Telegraph - MPs' expenses scoop
Chime - agency share price more than doubled
Aleksandr Orlov - Meerkat ad phenomenon Jedward - The X Factor twin
sensation
Peter Mandleson - gained gravitas
Peter Andre - sympathetic media coverage
...AND NOT
Habitat - slammed for 'Iranelection' hashtags
Gordon Ramsay - series of crises
Derek Draper - Smeargate scalp one
Damian McBride - Smeargate scalp two
Trafigura - waste dumping allegations
Carter-Ruck - gagging order on The Guardian
Thierry Henry - the new Maradona?
Kerry Katona - 'car-crash' behaviour
Dubai - debt came home to roost
Fred Goodwin - poster boy for the recession
Big Brother - farewell/good riddance
Jordan - all her good work undone in media
Tiger Woods - squeaky clean image in shreds
MPs -Smeargate, then the expenses scandal
Banks -an annus horribilis, reputation-wise

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Latest Articles

Max Clifford trial jury to reconvene tomorrow after majority verdicts direction

Max Clifford trial jury to reconvene tomorrow after majority verdicts direction

The jury in the trial of celebrity publicist Max Clifford on 11 charges of indecent assault has been sent home for the day after being told by the judge earlier this afternoon that he will now accept majority verdicts.

Labour "fooling themselves" over plans to combat attacks on Miliband

Labour "fooling themselves" over plans to combat attacks on Miliband

Conservative-leaning public affairs experts have questioned the value of Labour's adoption of US-style campaigning tactics in the wake of the opposition hiring election strategist David Axelrod.

PLMR appoints Professor Tim Morris as non-executive director

The vet who helped establish the British Horseracing Authority's anti-doping and animal welfare programme has joined PLMR as a non-executive director.