Trump, #MeToo and Greta: The biggest PR moments that defined a decade

As we enter 2020, you can still dunk in the dark.

Donald Trump's election in 2016 shocked communicators who almost unanimously predicted a Clinton win. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
Donald Trump's election in 2016 shocked communicators who almost unanimously predicted a Clinton win. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

It was the biggest PR moment of the decade: the stunning U.S. presidential election victory of businessman and former reality TV star Donald Trump on November 9, 2016, that few communications pros saw coming

Or was the biggest moment actually United Airlines’ mother of all social media crises in 2017 when a viral video showed airline security violently dragging a passenger off a flight? 

Or perhaps it was one of the social movements that brought people together to fight for unity and equality, like the push for marriage equality that resulted in a historic Supreme Court ruling in 2015 or the rise of the #MeToo movement in 2017 that brought down seemingly untouchable men in business and entertainment. 

PRWeek asked leading agency and in-house executives to pick the most defining moment of the past decade. 

Gail Heimann, president and CEO, Weber Shandwick 

"MeToo was the everything moment of the decade. From a PR perspective, it forced every organization to reevaluate itself from within and to actively continue to do so. It was a truly defining moment for every aspect of society because it opened the door to addressing the issue of gender harassment and inequality head-on, and in a really honest way."

Corey duBrowa, VP, global communications and public affairs, Google

"United Airlines' Dr. Dao episode on Flight 3411 certainly changed my perception not only of that airline for the worse, but also of that industry for the way worse. It was the moment when we perhaps collectively realized that social media had forever altered the way we receive news and perceive brands." 

Jim Joseph, global president, BCW 

"June 2015 when the Supreme Court confirmed marriage equality. It was a moment of solidarity, equality and love that any brand could join to show support, join the celebration and connect with its audience. It rallied the world."

Tony Cervone, SVP, global communications, General Motors

"The election of Donald Trump as president. While it may fit into the campaign [of the decade] category, it really wasn’t as much a campaign as a seminal moment for the world. That moment was election night because that was the day the world officially changed -- likely forever. Had he not won, it would have been a case study of what worked and what didn’t and rationalized away as a moment in time." 

Barri Friedman Rafferty, president and CEO, Ketchum

"Greta Thunberg and her school strike...that started her on a journey that rallied the world around climate change. It was inspiring to see a young, strong woman standing up to power without fear. Her straightforward tone and outrage resonated with many and challenged us all to think about how we could make a difference. Being named Time’s person of the year is evidence of the impact she has managed to generate in a short period of time. I was fortunate to see her at the World Economic Forum next to environmentalist David Attenborough, two individuals generations apart, but with a shared passion that left me feeling that we had more hope for the future."

Michael Sneed, EVP, global corporate affairs and chief communications officer, Johnson & Johnson

"I don’t know all of the ones over the last decade. The recent PR disaster with Tesla trucks and Elon Musk was very amusing though!" 

Matthew Harrington, global president and COO, Edelman 

"The Oreo Dunk in the Dark tweet at the Super Bowl. A moment that reinvented the way folks looked at Twitter and overnight became part of the cultural zeitgeist. It was a fast twitch based on a happening that moves quickly in a way that was uniquely earned." 

Sarah Gavin, VP, global communications and corporate brand, Expedia 

"Make-a-Wish’s BatKid wins by a long shot for being compelling and human, but for tying it to the brand."

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