PRWeek's editorial team looks back at some of the highs and lows of an eventful year in PR.
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Those who predicted 12 months ago that 2002 would be a little kinder to the PR profession could be forgiven for indulging in a little wishful thinking. After all, flipping the first page of a new calendar breeds fresh optimism, and who didn't want to see the back of 2001?
But 2002 spawned another unexpected monster. And when the Enron story broke, so did the dam of trust in corporate America, and the financial landscape became flooded in the dirty waters of corporate scandal.
The media, still finding its teeth after September 11, lapped it up. Corruption charges came so thick and fast that coverage ran like a bad-taste soap opera, and the baying public became engrossed in this serialization of distrust. The stars were America's new bad guys - a shameful gallery of white-collar rogues who became the public focus of blame for melting down the markets, humiliating a nation, and evaporating our 401(k) plans.
More bad guys emerged from other disciplines: Numerous Catholic priests were charged with child sex offenses, while a sniper took potshots at the public around DC. Bush may have scored a PR hit by condemning the global Axis of Evil, but as far as the average American was concerned, all the bad stuff was going on right here, on TV. It was compelling, too.
But there was also a need to embrace the good, and seek out a moral high ground. We weren't ready to stop waving our flags yet. We got behind the efforts to rescue the Pennsylvania miners. We tried to get behind the US Men's National soccer team in the World Cup. We boarded planes once more. We screamed for Martha to be locked up with her crooked peers. We gasped at the lunacy of Michael Jackson. We decided Eminem is actually cuddly and lovable. And we wholeheartedly backed our President, along with his crusade to crush the "evildoers."
But the economy continued to bully PR agencies, and layoffs became a common theme. Clients cut budgets and demanded firms do more with less - and then prove that their money was well spent. Shops competed fiercely for work, diversifying business, and lowering their fees. Some managed to reap a successful year, but for most cautious optimism in January had been undermined by uncertainty. If 2001 had knocked PR to the ground, then 2002 kicked it repeatedly while it lay there.
In the corporate world, all talk was of "transparency" and "governance." No amount of Botox, it seemed, could smooth over the damaging lines of miscommunication. But America had to rebuild trust in its corporate infrastructure, and PR possessed the tools and the personnel for the job. And so PR continued its rise from an add-on, to a valuable resource, to an essential discipline. In November, two-thirds of respondents to the PRWeek CEO Survey said their appreciation of the corporate communications function had increased in the past year. PR, it seems, has arrived in the C-suite, and that's good news.
In this, our final issue of the year, the editorial team has compiled a special review of 180 people, companies, events, stories, and campaigns that defined the PR year. Our six beat reporters also share their insight of the sectors they cover. The Book of Lists 2002 celebrates the good, highlights the bad, and will hopefully raise a smile as we enter the holiday season. Enjoy.
Happy New Year. Let's hope it's a good one.